Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Thursday that members of slain Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s “inner circle” are trying to enter Turkey from Syria, The Associated Press reported.
Erdoğan also said the number of people with family ties to al-Baghdadi who have been caught by Turkey “is close to reaching double digits.”
The Turkish leader’s comments were his second effort in as many days to publicize his country’s push to catch ISIL members who were close to al-Baghdadi. Turkey is facing criticism that its recent military offensive to drive Syrian Kurdish fighters from northeast Syria would allow for an ISIL resurgence.
“Al-Baghdadi’s inner circle is targeting our country, and these people are looking for ways to enter Turkey or to settle here,” Erdoğan told reporters.
Erdoğan and Turkish officials revealed Wednesday that Turkish police detained one of al-Baghdadi’s wives and a daughter last year.
A Turkish official told The Associated Press that they were among a group of 11 ISIL suspects detained in a raid in southern Turkey on June 2, 2018. Police identified the wife as Asma Fawzi Muhammad al-Qubaysi. The official said she was the first wife of al-Baghdadi, who is known to have had four wives. A subsequent DNA test confirmed that a suspect who identified herself as Leila Jabeer was al-Baghdadi’s daughter, the official said.
This week, Turkish authorities said they captured al-Baghdadi’s elder sister, Rasmiya Awad, her husband, daughter-in-law and five children in the town of Azaz, in Aleppo province in northwestern Syria. The region is administered by Turkey following a previous military incursion that was launched in 2016.
Erdoğan said the suspects were being kept in detention centers in Turkey while the Turkish Justice Ministry decides how to handle their cases.
Al-Baghdadi blew himself up during an Oct. 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.