Turkey says it has captured slain IS leader al-Baghdadi's sister in Syria

06.11.2019

Turkey says it has captured a sister of slain Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi during a raid in the Syrian town of Azaz, calling her detention an "intelligence gold mine."

A senior Turkish official told journalists on Tuesday that the 65-year-old sister, Rasmiya Awad, was caught in a raid on a container in Azaz, a town controlled by Turkish-backed rebels. She "was accompanied by her husband, her daughter-in-law and five children.

"The three adults are being interrogated at this time," the official said, adding that the questioning was being done in Azaz. "What she knows about IS can significantly expand our understanding of the group and help us catch more bad guys," the official said.

Awad and her family had been living in the camp of container housing units for a year, said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor.

"They were arrested in a camp on the outskirts of Azaz. They were caught by Turkish-backed rebels and then transferred by plane to Turkey," Abdel Rahman told journalists.

But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would only say that they will be held at repatriation centres in the future.

"I am not a legal expert. The legal process against them will be in accordance with our laws," Erdogan told reporters in parliament, state news agency Anadolu reported. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi - proclaimed the caliph, or leader, of Islamic State in 2014 - was killed during a U.S. raid last month in Barisha, in the north-western Syrian province of Idlib.

U.S. President Donald Trump announced al-Baghdadi's death on 27 October, saying he blew himself up after he was trapped by U.S. special forces in a tunnel within a compound in Barisha.

Very little is known about his sister Awad or what she knows about the extremist group. Photographs shared by Turkish officials showed her wearing a black headscarf and a blue-patterned abaya, a long, loose garment.

The Turkish military and its allied Syrian rebel groups took control of Azaz following Operation Euphrates Shield in 2016, Turkey's first incursion into northern Syria. Azaz, in the Syrian province of Aleppo, lies 14 kilometres from the Turkish border. It is 80 kilometres away from Barisha, where al-Baghdadi was hiding out and eventually died.

"What we learn will help Turkey to better protect itself and the rest of Europe from terrorists," the Turkish official said, describing her capture as "an intelligence gold mine." "The arrest of al-Baghdadi's sister is yet another example of the success of our counterterrorism operations," Erdogan's communications director Fahrettin Altun tweeted.

The 48-year-old Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was reclusive and secretive. His only known public appearance was a sermon in July 2014 at a mosque in Mosul just after Islamic State captured the northern Iraqi city and declared its caliphate.

There are more rumours than concrete information about his family.

The New York Times reported that al-Baghdadi had five brothers and several sisters, but couldn't confirm how many of them were alive.

One of al-Baghdadi's sons, Hudhayfah, was killed in 2018 in a suicide bombing in the Syrian city of Homs, the group announced at the time. He was believed to be 13.

Islamic State confirmed al-Baghdadi's death last week and asked followers to pledge allegiance to his successor, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Qurashi.    (dpa)

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