Turkish Security Officials/Handout via Reuters
- US Special Forces killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in Barisha, northwestern Syria, ten days ago.
- Turkey announced on Monday night that it captured al-Baghdadi’s older sister, Rasmiya Awad, during a raid on her trailer near Azaz, 50 miles northeast of Barisha.
- Turkish officials now hope to gain information about the inner workings of ISIS from her, but it’s not yet clear how close she was to al-Baghdadi, or how much intelligence she will be able to give them.
- A spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hailed Awad’s capture as “yet another example of the success of our counter-terrorism operations.”
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Turkish forces have captured the older sister of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a raid in northwestern Syria, officials announced, about 50 miles from where he died by suicide vest in a US raid ten days ago.
She was captured alongside her husband and daughter-in-law in a raid in a trailer they had been living in near Azaz, the AP reported. Five children were with them during the raid, Reuters reported.
Azaz is a Turkish-controlled Syrian town near the two countries’ border. Al-Baghdadi, 48, died after detonating a suicide vest when he was chased into a tunnel complex by a US military dog in Barisha village, which is located around 50 miles southwest.
Turkish forces officially gained control over Azaz after it struck a deal with Russia to consolidate power in northwestern Syria last month. The agreement came after Turkey invaded Syria after President Donald Trump pulled troops out of the country in early October.
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Awad, her husband, and her daughter-in-law are now being questioned by Turkish officials.
“We hope to gather a trove intelligence from Baghdadi’s sister on the inner workings of ISIS,” the Turkish source told Reuters.
The AP also cited its source, also a Turkish official, as calling the capture “a gold mine.”
“What she knows about [ISIS] can significantly expand our understanding of the group and help us catch more bad guys,” they said.
Colin P. Clarke, a senior fellow at the Soufan Center think tank, told The New York Times that the phrase “‘gold mine’ might be overstating the issue,” but said that depending on what she knows about her brother’s activities, her capture could provide insight into how ISIS makes decisions.
Al-Baghdadi was known for being highly suspicious of everyone around him, and only trusted his immediate family and a close circle of associates, The Times reported, citing separate interviews with former ISIS prisoners, aides, and Iraq’s director-general of intelligence.
The ISIS leader used to conduct strategy meetings in moving buses filled with vegetables to avoid detection, Reuters reported, citing a former top aide.
He had five brothers and several sisters, but it’s not clear how many of them are still alive, The Times said.
ISIS announced its new leader, Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Qurayshi, last week.
Turkey, meanwhile, has already hailed Awad’s capture as a counter-terrorism victory.
“Turkey’s fight against terror regardless of its ideology or origin continues unabated,” tweeted Fahrettin Altun, the communications director of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, early Tuesday morning.
“The arrest of al-Baghdadi’s sister is yet another example of the success of our counter-terrorism operations.”
He also claimed “much dark propaganda against Turkey [that had] been circulating to raise doubts about our resolve against Daesh,” referring to a pejorative name for ISIS.
It’s not entirely clear what he meant, but there had been multiple reports noting that the Turkish incursion into Syria allowed hundreds of ISIS prisoners to escape.
Turkey could use Monday’s capture to justify further violence against the People’s Protection Units, a Kurdish-led militia force based in Syria that previously allied with the US to fight ISIS in Syria. Turkey sees its militants as terrorists, and have vowed not to leave Syria until they’re eliminated.