ER­DO­GAN DE­FENDS ISIS AC­TION AF­TER BAGH­DADI REV­E­LA­TION

▶ Com­ments fol­low re­port in ‘The Na­tional’ about trips to Is­tan­bul by ter­ror­ist leader’s brother

The National - News - - FRONT PAGE - JAMES HAINES-YOUNG

Dozens of ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al Bagh­dadi’s in­ner cir­cle were ar­rested as they tried to en­ter Tur­key, the coun­try’s pres­i­dent said on Thurs­day, a day af­ter

The Na­tional re­vealed that the brother of the world’s most wanted man made sev­eral trips to Is­tan­bul.

Al­though Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan did not ad­dress the lat­est rev­e­la­tions specif­i­cally, it was his sec­ond at­tempt in as many days to push back against the nu­mer­ous claims that Tur­key had failed to act on ISIS sleeper cells and couri­ers op­er­at­ing in the ter­ri­tory.

Tur­key is also fac­ing crit­i­cism for a cross-bor­der of­fen­sive to drive Syria’s Kur­dish fight­ers from the north-east in an op­er­a­tion that has raised con­cerns that ISIS could use the chaos to stage a re­turn.

“All of Al Bagh­dadi’s in­ner cir­cle is mostly tar­get­ing our coun­try and th­ese peo­ple are look­ing for ways to set­tle in our coun­try or to come to our coun­try,” Mr Er­do­gan said on Thurs­day. The Turk­ish pres­i­dent said the num­ber of peo­ple with fam­ily ties to Bagh­dadi who had been caught by Tur­key was “close to reach­ing dou­ble dig­its”.

On Wed­nes­day, The Na­tional re­vealed that one of Al Bagh­dadi’s broth­ers, iden­ti­fied by se­cu­rity of­fi­cials as Juma, acted as one of the ter­ror­ist chief’s most trusted couri­ers. He trans­ported plans and com­mu­niques from field com­man­ders via Is­tan­bul to the hide­out in Idlib used by the ISIS head un­til he was killed last month.

Al Bagh­dadi blew him­self up dur­ing an Oc­to­ber 26 raid by US Spe­cial Forces on his heav­ily for­ti­fied safe house in the Syr­ian prov­ince of Idlib.

The raid was a ma­jor blow to his ex­trem­ist group, which has lost ter­ri­to­ries it held in Syria and Iraq in a series of mil­i­tary de­feats by the US-led coali­tion and Syr­ian and Iraqi al­lies.

Juma made the 2,300-kilo­me­tre round trip across the Nato mem­ber state nu­mer­ous times to meet con­tacts in Is­tan­bul but was watched by Iraqi in­tel­li­gence, who hoped he would lead them back to Al Bagh­dadi.

How­ever, when Juma crossed the Turk­ish bor­der into Syria, the trail went cold.

We now know that as spies were look­ing for him to make his way to eastern Syria where ISIS made its last stand around Baghouz in Deir Ez­zor, Juma in­stead trav­elled the five to seven kilo­me­tres to Al Bagh­dadi’s

hide­out near the Turk­ish bor­der in Idlib prov­ince.

“We were watch­ing some­body who was act­ing as a mes­sen­ger to Al Bagh­dadi and he was trav­el­ling fre­quently to Tur­key and back,” a se­nior Iraqi in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cial said. “He was Al Bagh­dadi’s brother.”

Mr Er­do­gan made no com­ment on the rev­e­la­tions made by The Na­tional, nor did he of­fer an in­di­ca­tion why Juma was able to make sev­eral trips be­tween Idlib and Is­tan­bul while lower risk mem­bers of Al Bagh­dadi’s fam­ily were de­tained.

Mr Er­do­gan’s speech came days af­ter Turk­ish forces ar­rested Al Bagh­dadi’s older sis­ter, Ras­miya Awad, her hus­band, daugh­ter-in-law and five chil­dren in the town of Azaz, in Aleppo prov­ince. Turk­ish of­fi­cials have also said they de­tained Asma Fawzi Muham­mad Al Qubaysi, one of Al Bagh­dadi’s wives, and a daugh­ter last year.

A for­mer high-rank­ing Turk­ish mil­i­tary of­fi­cer told The Na­tional this week that she prob­a­bly had lit­tle to share on the ter­ror­ist group’s or­gan­i­sa­tion and her de­ten­tion was an ef­fort to show that the coun­try was tak­ing ac­tion on ISIS.

“For the Turk­ish Na­tional In­tel­li­gence, or Turk­ish po­lice, ISIS are not the real en­emy,” said Ah­met Yayla, a for­mer Turk­ish counter-ter­ror­ism po­lice chief and now a fel­low at the Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity’s pro­gramme on ex­trem­ism. “Er­do­gan is in a po­si­tion where he is try­ing to prove that he is fight­ing against ISIS.”

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