President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Thursday that Turkish security forces had arrested a “senior executive” of the radical group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Agence France-Presse reported.
Erdoğan said the commander was known as Abu Zeyd.
His real name was Bashar Khattab Ghazal al-Sumaidai, Erdoğan told reporters on board his flight home from a three-nation tour of the Balkans.
Erdoğan said a UN Security Council report published in July identified Sumaidai as “one of the senior executives of the (ISIL) terrorist organization.”
Turkish media said there were some indications Sumaidai may in fact be the man known as Abu Hasan al-Hashimi al-Qurashi — an Iraqi who is the new self-proclaimed caliph, or leader, of the entire ISIL group.
Erdoğan only referred to Sumaidai as a top IS official in Syria.
“In his interrogation, he also stated that he was a so-called ‘qadi’ of the so-called ministry of education and ministry of justice,” Turkish media quoted Erdoğan as saying.
A qadi is a judge in a sharia court.
Erdoğan did not say when the ISIL commander was captured.
“This terrorist’s connections in Syria and İstanbul had been followed for a long time, and intelligence information was obtained that he would enter Turkey illegally,” Erdoğan said.
“This terrorist was caught in a successful operation of the MIT intelligent service and the İstanbul police.”
After a meteoric rise in 2014 in Iraq and Syria that saw it conquer vast swathes of territory, ISIL saw its self-proclaimed “caliphate” collapse under a wave of offensives.
It was defeated in Iraq in 2017 and in Syria two years later, but sleeper cells of the extremist Sunni Muslim group still carry out attacks in both countries.
Syria’s war began in 2011 and has killed nearly half a million people and forced around half of the country’s pre-war population from their homes.