ISIS kills dozens of its own in hunt for spies

  • ISIS fighters march in Syria. Recently, since the death of key leaders, suspicion about spies in the organization has risen. AP

  • ADVANCE TO GO WITH STORY MIDEAST ISLAMIC STATE KILLING SPIES BY BASSEM MROUE AND QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA, FILE - In this undated file image posted on Monday, June 30, 2014, by the Raqqa Media Center of the Islamic State group, a Syrian opposition group, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, fighters from the Islamic State group parade in Raqqa, north Syria. The U.S. -led coalition has been targeting top IS officials. Over the past months, American officials have said that the U.S. has killed a string of top commanders from the group, including its "minister of war" Omar al-Shishani, feared Iraqi militant Shaker Wuhayeb, also known as Abu Wahib. (AP Photo/Raqqa Media Center of the Islamic State group, File) Uncredited

  • ADVANCE TO GO WITH STORY MIDEAST ISLAMIC STATE KILLING SPIES BY BASSEM MROUE AND QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA, FILE - In this undated file photo released by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, militants of the Islamic State group hold up their weapons and wave its flags on their vehicles in a convoy on a road leading to Iraq, while riding in Raqqa city in Syria. The U.S. -led coalition has been targeting top IS officials. Over the past months, American officials have said that the U.S. has killed a string of top commanders from the group, including its "minister of war" Omar al-Shishani, feared Iraqi militant Shaker Wuhayeb, also known as Abu Wahib. (Militant website via AP, file) Uncredited

  • ADVANCE TO GO WITH STORY MIDEAST ISLAMIC STATE KILLING SPIES BY BASSEM MROUE AND QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA, FILE - In this undated file image posted by the Raqqa Media Center in Islamic State group-held territory, on Monday, June 30, 2014, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, fighters from the Islamic State group ride tanks during a parade in Raqqa, Syria. The U.S. -led coalition has been targeting top IS officials. Over the past months, American officials have said that the U.S. has killed a string of top commanders from the group, including its "minister of war" Omar al-Shishani, feared Iraqi militant Shaker Wuhayeb, also known as Abu Wahib. (AP Photo/Raqqa Media Center, File) Uncredited

  • ADVANCE TO GO WITH STORY MIDEAST ISLAMIC STATE KILLING SPIES BY BASSEM MROUE AND QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA, FILE - This file image made from undated video posted during the weekend of June 28, 2014 on a social media account frequently used for communications by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, shows Omar al-Shishani standing next to the group's spokesman among a group of fighters as they declare the elimination of the border between Iraq and Syria. The U.S. -led coalition has been targeting top IS officials. Over the past months, American officials have said that the U.S. has killed a string of top commanders from the group, including its "minister of war" Omar al-Shishani, feared Iraqi militant Shaker Wuhayeb, also known as Abu Wahib. (AP Photo/militant social media account via AP video)

  • ADVANCE TO GO WITH STORY MIDEAST ISLAMIC STATE KILLING SPIES BY BASSEM MROUE AND QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA, FILE - This file image made from undated video posted during the weekend of June 28, 2014 on a social media account frequently used for communications by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, shows Omar al-Shishani standing next to the group's spokesman among a group of fighters as they declare the elimination of the border between Iraq and Syria. The U.S. -led coalition has been targetting top IS officials. Over the past months, American officials have said that the U.S. has killed a string of top commanders from the group, including its "minister of war" Omar al-Shishani, feared Iraqi militant Shaker Wuhayeb, also known as Abu Wahib. (AP Photo/militant social media account via AP video)

  • ADVANCE TO GO WITH STORY MIDEAST ISLAMIC STATE KILLING SPIES BY BASSEM MROUE AND QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA, This undated image released by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, shows members of the Islamic State group as they prepare to kill men who were allegedly spying for the U.S.-led coalition in the province of Salah al-Din, Iraq. The U.S. -led coalition has been targeting top IS officials. Over the past months, American officials have said that the U.S. has killed a string of top commanders from the group, including its "minister of war" Omar al-Shishani, feared Iraqi militant Shaker Wuhayeb, also known as Abu Wahib. The Arabic caption on the photo reads, "the detention of a spying cell by the special security force." (militant photo via AP) Uncredited

Published: 6/5/2016 11:35:58 PM

In March, a senior commander with the Islamic State group was driving through northern Syria on orders to lead militants in the fighting there when a drone blasted his vehicle to oblivion.

The killing of Abu Hayjaa al-Tunsi, a Tunisian jihadi, sparked a panicked hunt within the group’s ranks for spies who could have tipped off the U.S-led coalition about his closely guarded movements. By the time it was over, the group would kill 38 of its own members on suspicion of acting as informants.

They were among dozens of ISIS members killed by their own leadership in recent months in a vicious purge after a string of airstrikes killed prominent figures. Others have disappeared into prisons and still more have fled, fearing they could be next as the jihadi group turns on itself in the hunt for moles, according to Syrian opposition activists, Kurdish militia commanders, several Iraqi intelligence officials and an informant for the Iraqi government who worked within ISIS ranks.

The fear of informants has fueled paranoia among the militants’ ranks. A mobile phone or internet connection can raise suspicions. As a warning to others, ISIS has displayed the bodies of some suspected spies in public – or used particularly gruesome methods, including reportedly dropping some into a vat of acid.

ISIS “commanders don’t dare come from Iraq to Syria because they are being liquidated” by airstrikes, said Bebars al-Talawy, an opposition activist in Syria who monitors the jihadi group.

Over the past months, American officials have said that the U.S. has killed a string of top commanders from the group, including its “minister of war” Omar al-Shishani, feared Iraqi militant Shaker Wuhayeb, also known as Abu Wahib, as well as a top finance official known by several names, including Haji Iman, Abu Alaa al-Afari or Abu Ali Al-Anbari.

In the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, the biggest city held by ISIS across its “caliphate” stretching across Syria and Iraq, a succession of militants who held the post of “wali,” or governor, in the province have died in airstrikes. As a result, those appointed to governor posts have asked not to be identified and they limit their movements, the Iraqi informant told The Associated Press. Iraqi intelligence officials allowed the AP to speak by phone with the informant, who spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing for his life.

The purge comes at a time when ISIS has lost ground in both Syria and Iraq. An Iraqi government offensive recaptured the western city of Ramadi from ISIS earlier this year, and another mission is underway to retake the nearby city of Fallujah.

Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said some ISIS fighters began feeding information to the coalition about targets and movements of the group’s officials because they needed money after the extremist group sharply reduced salaries in the wake of coalition and Russian airstrikes on ISIS-held oil facilities earlier this year.




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