Original article by Wladimir van Wilgenburg

Kurdish anti-terror forces linked to the YPG, which provides the military leadership for the US-backed SDF. (Photo: Archive)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Counter-terrorism units of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced on Thursday that they had killed an Islamic State leader in the Syrian city of Deir al-Zor during an armed confrontation.

“Senior ISIS member Abu Omar al-Suri was eliminated in a raid carried out by SDF on Monday. He was responsible for arming and transportation of sleeper cells in the region,” Mustafa Bali, the head of the SDF’s media office, posted on social media.

According to the statement, Suri “is considered to be responsible for arming and transporting sleeper cells in north and east Syria.

After SDF troops began the raid in Al-Ruz village in the district of Basira, the statement continued, Suri attempted to throw a grenade toward them, despite their calls for his surrender. They returned fire, hitting and killing him.

“It is worth mentioning that Abu Omar Al-Suri is considered to be the mastermind of the work and supply of sleeper cells with explosives and he was returning from a meeting planning new attacks in the region,” the post continued, adding that it was “expected that the death of Abu Omar Al-Suri will reduce terrorist attacks across north and east Syria.”

The operation was launched in part as a result of tips given by the local population, which the SDF thanked, “for their cooperation and support to eliminate one of the leaders of the terrorist organization.”

Despite the SDF and the US-led coalition announcing the defeat of the extremist group’s so-called caliphate in March, Islamic State sleeper cell attacks persist in areas now liberated from its brutal rule.

In an audio message released on Sept. 16, Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi bragged that the group’s fighters continue to carry out daily operations in both Iraq and Syria.

Another SDF statement said that, between Sept. 2 and 9, its fighters carried out three operations in Deir al-Zor and Shadadi during which four Islamic State commanders were arrested and two more killed.

According to data published by the Rojava Information Center, there were 95 sleeper cell attacks in the area in the month of August alone, including those carried out by the Islamic State and also the Turkish-backed Ahrar al-Shaab, resulting in 35 recorded deaths.

A report the center published mentioned that “ISIS targets and assassinates mukhtars (village elders) in Raqqa and Deir-ez-Zor, seeking to drive Arab population away from the Autonomous Administration.”

Members of the US-led coalition, including the Netherlands recently, have often voiced concern over the serious risk that Islamic State sleeper cell attacks still pose in Syria.

Dutch Minister of Justice and Security Ferd Grapperhaus stated in a letter to the Dutch parliament on Sept. 13 that Islamic State fighters continue to carry out attacks especially in Deir al-Zor, in areas such as Markada, Busayrah, Kesra, Shafah, and Haijn.

“Officially, these attacks are carried out by ISIS, but it cannot be ruled out that other actors also benefit from destabilization in this area,” he wrote.

According to a report of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria released this month, “a degraded and dispersed ISIL force participates in low-level insurgency, conducting numerous attacks and assassinations throughout [Deir al-Zor] Governorate.”

It also noted that the SDF has carried out recent night raids in Deir al-Zor “with the aerial support of helicopter gunships provided by international coalition forces.”