A wife and daughter of former ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi were among a group of ISIS suspects detained by Turkish police in June 2018, after weeks of round-the-clock surveillance, a senior Turkish official has said.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan first announced Wednesday that Baghdadi’s wife had been captured. Baghdadi, who died during a US raid on his compound in northern Syria late last month, was believed to have had several wives.
The senior Turkish official said the woman was Asma Fawzi Muhammad Al-Qubaysi, Baghdadi’s first wife. She was found in Hatay, southern Turkey, among a group of 11 ISIS suspects: four women, one man and six children. She had falsely identified herself as Rania Mahmoud.
“We discovered her real identity pretty quickly. At that point, she volunteered a lot of information about Baghdadi and the inner workings of ISIS,” the senior official said. “We were able to confirm a lot of things that we already knew. We also obtained new information that led to a series of arrests elsewhere.”
The detainees are currently being held at a deportation center in Turkey, according to the official.
A DNA test confirmed that another suspect, who identified herself as Leila Jabeer, was Baghdadi’s daughter. The senior official said Baghdadi’s DNA sample was provided to Turkish authorities by the Iraqi government.
Earlier this week, Turkey said it had captured Baghdadi’s sister, Rasmiya Awad, in the northern Syrian town of Azaz. A senior Turkish official shared an image of Awad’s falsified identity card exclusively with CNN.
Not much is known about Awad, 65, but Ankara hopes her capture will lead to a wealth of intelligence about the militant group. She is currently being questioned by authorities.
“This kind of thing is an intelligence gold mine. What she knows about ISIS can significantly expand our understanding of the group and help us catch more bad guys,” the Turkish official said.
Awad was detained in a raid on a metal container housing unit in Azaz, Aleppo province, part of a region that has been administered by Turkey since it carried out an operation to clear the border of ISIS militants in 2016.
She was taken into custody alongside her husband and daughter-in-law, who were also being questioned by Turkish authorities. Five children were found with them during the raid, the official said.
Photos shared by Turkish officials showed Awad dressed in a black abaya headscarf and loose, blue patterned clothing.
Turkey has described the discovery of Baghdadi’s relatives as a boon for its intelligence about ISIS, saying that it will help the country better protect itself and Europe from terrorists.
Baghdadi, the elusive and highly secretive leader of ISIS, died during a raid conducted by the US military in close coordination with American intelligence and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in northwest Syria.
Erdogan suggested on Wednesday that Turkey’s fight against ISIS was “more powerful than ever,” and that, unlike the US, its security officials “did not make a fuss” about it.
“The US said that Baghdadi killed himself in a tunnel and started a serious PR campaign. We captured his wife but we didn’t make a fuss, I’m declaring this for the first time,” Erdogan said, referring to US President Donald Trump’s televised address in which he revealed details of the mission. Trump said two of Baghdadi’s wives were killed during the operation.
Trump said that Baghdadi “blew himself up” after he was cornered by US forces in a tunnel within his compound. His identity was later confirmed by DNA tests.
The world’s most wanted man oversaw the militant group’s transformation from a ragtag insurgency to a global terror network that attracted tens of thousands of fighters to its so-called “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria.
At the group’s height, Baghdadi reigned over a territory the size of Britain, from which ISIS orchestrated attacks carried out in countries around the world.
This story has been corrected to reflect that the ID card belonging to Baghdadi’s sister was falsified.
Yusuf Gezer contributed to this report from Istanbul.