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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Top ISIS leader arrested in Mosul

It comes as the country sentences 19 Russian women to life in jail for ties to ISIS

Iraq sentenced 19 Russian women to life in prison for joining and supporting in ISIS at Baghdad's Central Criminal Court on April 29, 2018. Ammar Karim / AFP
Iraq sentenced 19 Russian women to life in prison for joining and supporting in ISIS at Baghdad's Central Criminal Court on April 29, 2018. Ammar Karim / AFP

Iraqi security Forces have arrested a top ISIS leader in Mosul as the country continues to try thousands of men and women for joining the insurgent group in a bid to contain its resurgence.

“Ibrahim Meshal Hassan Marei, ISIS’s so-called Emir, was arrested on Saturday night after a security crackdown in Al Entesar district in eastern Mosul,” Nineveh chief of police, General Hamad Al Jabouri told local media.

Little was publicly known about Marei prior to his arrest.

Despite earlier declarations of the group's defeat, ISIS sleeper cells have remained active across Iraq. During the past few months, security officials estimate that between 150-200 armed forces members have been killed in ISIS ambushes and insurgent attacks.

US and Iraq security officials have repeatedly warned that the country’s north could easily fall back into insurgent hands. Recent attacks across Kirkuk, Nineveh, and parts of Salahuddin and Anbar governorates have also killed dozens of civilians in an offensive that could disrupt parliamentary elections in May.

Attacks on security officials in Kirkuk have increased markedly in recent months, Iraqi member of parliament Arshad Salehi told The National. “We condemn the heinous attacks on security officials, we urge citizens in Kirkuk to take precaution during the run up to elections,” Mr Al Salehi said.

Most recently, the terror group killed at least three police officers and wounded three others in Kirkuk on Wednesday.

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Local media also reported that an ISIS fighter possessing a Kornet anti-tank guided missile was also arrested on Saturday in northern Baghdad.

Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi admitted earlier this month that the country is still engaged in a fight against ISIS sleeper cells, after earlier repeating claims that the insurgents had been being defeated. In December, Mr Abadi declared victory over the group, after security forces drove them from the last pockets of territory under their control.

ISIS threatened on Sunday to target polling stations in the country during elections. In an audio message, the group's spokesman said that anyone who participated in the vote "would be considered an infidel."

Mr Al Abadi is seeking another term after taking office in September 2014, shortly after much of the Iraqi military collapsed in the face of an ISIS advance which saw a third of the country fall. Mr Abadi has been praised for holding the country together after such a humiliating defeat but has since been criticized for pursuing a hardline policy of convictions against even low level ISIS members.

Since the premier’s victory declaration, officials have begun a series of court cases for people accused of connections to ISIS or suspected of other terror-related offences.

On Sunday, Iraq sentenced 19 Russian women to life in prison after being convicted on charges of terrorism, including providing support to ISIS operations.

The women were found guilty under Article 4 of Iraq’s anti-terrorism law which mandates a life sentence for supporting terrorism. Iraq’s anti-terror law also allows for the death penalty to be issued against anyone who is found guilty of joining a terrorist group.

In February, Human Rights Watch criticized Iraq for unfair trials which handed harsh sentences to women convicted of supporting ISIS. "The Iraqi courts need to redirect their priorities," the rights group said. "For those suspected only of membership in ISIS without evidence of any other serious crime, the authorities should consider alternatives to criminal prosecution."

Iraq has detained at least 19,000 people accused of connections to ISIS or other terrorist-related offences, and sentenced more than 3,000 of them to death, according to a March analysis by the Associated Press.