Turkish security forces on Sunday arrested a foreigner in Istanbul believed to be ISIS’s military leader and have ties to dead ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
The Afghan national, who goes by the nickname “Asim,” has been dubbed the right-hand man of al Baghdadi. Turkish security authorities arrested him in the Atasehir district on the city’s Asian side. He had been traveling on a fake passport, according to a statement released by the police.
Asim had disappeared months after the terrorist group was overrun in Syria and Iraq in December 2017. Before that he had helped hide al-Baghdadi, Turkish intelligence and security officials told the news media.
Al-Baghdadi was killed when he detonated a suicide vest during a raid by U.S. Special Operations troops in 2019 on his sanctuary in Syria’s Idlib province.
Following Arim’s arrest, Turkish national television NTV posted a photo on Twitter of Arim. In the photograph, he appears as a balding, bearded man in a white jacket. The photo contrasts sharply with an earlier photo of him showing a long-haired, heavily bearded man in military fatigues waving a curved sword.
NTV added that after the joint operation by the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) and the Istanbul police, Asim is being interrogated by intelligence officials.
According to reports from the state-run Anadolu and Demiroren news agencies, Asim was suspected of organizing training for Islamic State fighters while in Syria and Iraq and of serving on ISIS’s decision-making council.
The Islamic State has conducted several attacks across Turkey, including on a nightclub in Istanbul on January 1, 2017, where 39 people were killed, and a bombing in the city’s historic district that killed 12 people in 2016.
Turkish authorities have conducted several raids on Islamic State sleeper cells inside the country. Just recently they arrested six ISIS members in a raid. And in late January, in a sweep across 58 provinces, 126 people were arrested by security officials after intelligence learned that they were linked to ISIS and provided financial support to the terrorist group.
After Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces captured ISIS’s last remaining territory in March of 2019, many of ISIS’s fighters and their families were allowed to leave the country.
Nevertheless, the group has since been regrouping, rearming, and returning to Iraq and Syria. They are also spreading south across Africa. And the arrest of ISIS’s military leader will likely have no impact on the group.
ISIS has about 10,000 active fighters in Iraq and Syria. It has raised over an estimated $100,000,000 in cash reserves. ISIS conducted over 600 attacks in just the first six months of 2020 in Iraq, according to a report by the Organization for World Peace (OWP).