Turkish officials have claimed that government authorities have successfully captured the Islamic State’s new leader, Abu al-Hassan al-Hashimi al-Qurashi, in a raid in Istanbul.

According to the Turkish news station OdaTV, Turkish anti-terrorism police and agent detained a man suspected to be the leader of a jihadist group. Al-Qurayshi is the successor to Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, who perished in a United States Special Forces raid earlier this year.

Turkish authorities said that Al-Qurayshi was captured after intensive police surveillance and intel gathering, particularly around the ISIS leader’s residence in Istanbul. Officials say that the arrest was completed without firing a single bullet and had no casualties.

OdaTV reported that Turkish President Recept Tayyip Erdogan has already been informed of al-Qurayshi’s capture and is expected to give a formal announcement within the coming days.

Two senior Turkish officials who spoke under the condition of anonymity confirmed that the arrest happened. However, independent sources could not verify if the man captured was indeed the new ISIS ringleader.

If true, the capture would become the first instance a leader of the Islamic State had been captured alive, moreover without casualties or at least resistance. This is in stark contrast to how the former ISIS leader al-Qurayshi’s predecessor went out, notably blowing himself up along with his family when US forces were closing in on his house.

US officials remain cautious about taking Turkey’s claims at face value. Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said that,

“[We] can’t confirm the reports about al-Qurashi,” after being asked in a press briefing.

“What we’ve seen in the press obviously, we’ve been looking at this all day, but we’re just not in a position where we can actually confirm that press reporting,” Kirby added.

A Shell of its Former Self

The Islamic State, or ISIS, is a Sunni jihadist group notorious for its violent dealings and extremist beliefs. Heavily inspired by al-Qaeda, the group was established in 2014 upon its self-proclaimed religious authority over the Muslim world.

ISIS revolutionized the terror landscape with its cunning use of social media recruitment and fundraising, something the US, along with other countries, had been trying to stop throughout the years. Their methods attracted hordes of sympathizers to take up arms and join their cause or conduct heinous acts of terror in their home countries in the name of ISIS.

During its height, the jihadist group controlled vast territories in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq and Syria. This came with millions of civilians who were forced to live under ISIS rule. It took a long and grueling war to push ISIS out of the lands they occupied in 2019.

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ISIS fighters in Iraq May 2020 (Wilson Center). Source: https://www.wilsoncenter.org/article/us-report-isis-and-al-qaeda-threats
ISIS fighters in Iraq May 2020 (Wilson Center).

After their defeat, the group was forced to hide in scattered outposts within the region. Another devastating blow was dealt to the jihadists after the Delta Force killed then leader and founder Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in October that same year.

Today, the Islamic State’s operation appears to be limited to guerilla-style missions in Syria and Iraq, far from what the group was capable of in previous years. Many experts believe ISIS could not recover from 2019 and has lost the ability to conduct attacks at the scale it once did.

News of the capture of al-Quarayshi comes a month after ISIS called for a revived “global offensive” against the West and Israel, as the world is currently fixated on the developments in Ukraine.

“We announce, relying on God, a blessed campaign to take revenge,” the group’s new spokesperson Abu-Omar al-Muhajir said in an audio clip. “Fight them all and Allah will answer and punish them at your hands.”

Al-Muhajir told sympathizers to arm themselves and launch terror attacks while “the crusaders are fighting each other.”

The arrest also came shortly after an ISIS plot to assassinate former US President George W. Bush was foiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The suspect, an Iraqi, stalked Bush in his Dallas home and planned to smuggle his colleagues into the US through the Mexican border.

Turkey and ISIS

Turkey has been the victim of several ISIS terror attacks in recent years. One was a suicide bombing in Istanbul’s tourist center which killed ten people in 2016. The country clashed with the terrorist group in its occupied territories, forcing ISIS out of several settlements near the Turkish border.

ISIS attacks in Turkey have been largely aimed at the Kurdish YPG forces, who received western support to fight the extremist group. However, the Kurdish nationalists are seen as terrorists by the Turkish government because of their links to an independence-seeking militant group.

Then Vice President and now President Biden with Turkish President Erdogan in Ankara, 2016 (US Department of State, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons). Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:VP_Joe_Biden_in_Ankara_with_President_Erdogan_24_July_2016.jpg
Then-Vice President and now President Biden with Turkish President Erdogan in Ankara, 2016 (US Department of State, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

This scenario is being exploited by ISIS to imply that it can stage attacks in Turkey without the need to confront the Turkish government’s forces. This has also drawn criticism against Turkey for turning a blind eye to ISIS atrocities, with some claims that the Turkish government is working with the jihadists to fight the Kurds.

However, pressure from the West has pushed the Turkish government to finally crack down on ISIS. There have been reports of cell raids and apprehension of ISIS members by Turkish authorities in recent months.