The January 16 bombing, which claimed the lives of four Americans in Syria’s Manbij, was planned and prepared in the militant-held governorate of Idlib, one of the alleged attack perpetrators confessed in a video released by the Hawar News Agency (ANHA) on April 5.
ANHA, which is known for its close ties with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), identified the filmed suspect as 27-year old Abdul Aziz Mohammed al-Shajyi. The man, who is originally from the town of Tell Abyad, joined ISIS in 2014 and fled to the SDF-held city of Manbij three years later.
Al-Shajyi said in the video that he met the planner of Manbij bombing, who is known only his nom de guerre “Abu Ali,” few months after arriving in the city. A mediator by the name Abu Nada al-Kurdi introduced the two terrorists to each other inside a mosque in Manbij.
According to the available information, Abu Ali is originally from Idlib. The terrorist commander was heading ISIS’ al-Hijrah Office in the city of Raqqa in the early years of the self-proclaimed caliphate. The office was responsible for coordinates the movements of foreign terrorists between Syria and Turkey.
“Abu Ali asked me about the living conditions in Manbij and the situation in general, especially the whereabouts of international coalition forces and where they are stationed,” Al-Shajyi said describing his first meeting with Abu Ali.
Abu Ali went back to Idlib after his first meeting with al-Shajyi. Later the terrorist commander returned to Manbij and monitored several convoys of the US-led coalition. Al-Shajyi said that Abu Ali became furious when he found out that coalition vehicles are equipped with mobile phone jammers and immediately returned to Idlib.
After returning to Idlib for the second time, Abu Ali phoned al-Shajyi and told him that he want him to shelter a man named Abu Yasin that will arrive in Manbij soon. The man will be later known as the suicide bomber of Manbij attack. In a press release by its news agency, Amaq, ISIS mentioned his full nom de guerre “Abu Yasin al-Shami.” According to al-Shajyi, the man is originally from the countryside of Homs.
In the day of the attack, January 16, Abu Ali returned from Idlib to Manbij and met with al-Shajyi and Abu Yasin inside a car. Al-Shajiy said that the terrorist had brought with him a bag full of explosives and handed it over to Abu Yasin, who embarked on his mission right away.
“Abu Ali immediately moved the car and entered the streets in the neighborhood, we heard huge explosion from the area where international coalition vehicles were parked,” al-Shajyi said in the confession video.
U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jonathan R. Farmer, Navy Chief Cryptologic Technician Shannon M. Kent, Department of Defense civilian employee Scott A. Wirtz and civilian interpreter Ghadir Taher were killed in Manbij attack, that also claimed the lives of ten Syrian civilians.
Abu Ali ordered al-Shajyi to destroy the phone that he used to communicate with him following the attack. However, this didn’t save al-Shajyi, as the SDF’s security forces were able to track him for several weeks before finally arresting him in a special operation on March 20.
The Al-Shajyi story complements with the information provided by ISIS itself. If it’s confirmed, it will be another evidence of how Idlib has become the new safe haven for terrorists in Syria.