ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Thursday that members of slain Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s “inner circle” are trying to enter Turkey from Syria.
Erdogan 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 IS 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 IS resurgence.
“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,” Erdogan told reporters.
Erdogan 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 IS 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 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.
Erdogan said that the suspects were being kept in detention centers in Turkey while the Turkish Justice Ministry would decide how to handle their cases.
Al-Baghdadi blew himself up during an Oct. 26 raid by U.S. 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 U.S-led coalition and Syrian and Iraqi allies.
Also Thursday, Erdogan said attacks continued in northeast Syria by Kurdish forces targeting either Turkish troops or their Syrian opposition allies. That’s despite two separate truces that were brokered by Russian and the U.S. last month, which halted Turkey’s military offensive.
At least 11 Syrian opposition fighters were killed in an attack on Thursday, Erdogan said, without specifying where or how the attack had occurred.
The Turkish leader said Wednesday that a total of 144 Syrian opposition fighters and 10 Turkish soldiers had been killed during Turkey’s incursion into northeast Syria, which began on Oct. 9 and has since displaced around 200,000 people.