Senior ISIS leader Bashar al-Sumaidai detained in Turkey

Al-Sumaidai immediately upon his arrest (Anatolia News Agency, September 9, 2022)

Al-Sumaidai immediately upon his arrest (Anatolia News Agency, September 9, 2022)

Al-Sumaidai immediately upon his arrest (Anatolia News Agency, September 9, 2022)

Al-Sumaidai immediately upon his arrest (Anatolia News Agency, September 9, 2022)

Al-Sumaidai at the time of his arrest, wearing a wig to hide his identity (Anatolia News Agency, September 9, 2022).

Al-Sumaidai at the time of his arrest, wearing a wig to hide his identity (Anatolia News Agency, September 9, 2022).

Overview
  • On September 8, 2022, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced that the Turkish security forces in Istanbul had captured a senior ISIS leader by the name of Bashar Khattab Ghazal al-Sumaidai, AKA Abu Zayd and Ustadh Zayd. At the time of his arrest, Al-Sumaidai was carrying a forged identity card and his appearance was different from his actual appearance. The Turkish security officials initially believed that they had arrested ISIS’s leader, whose nom de guerre is Abu al-Hassan al-Hashemi al-Qurashi. His interrogation revealed that he is not ISIS’s leader but he held a senior position in the organization. According to Turkish security sources, Al-Sumaidai’s contacts in Syria and Istanbul were under surveillance (Anatolia News Agency, September 8-9, 2022).
  •  In light of Al-Sumaidai’s arrest, the question of the identity of ISIS’s current leader has arisen once again. It is widely believed that the current leader is Juma Awad al-Badri, the brother of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, ISIS’s founder and first leader.
Al-Sumaidai immediately upon his arrest (Anatolia News Agency, September 9, 2022)    Al-Sumaidai immediately upon his arrest (Anatolia News Agency, September 9, 2022)
Al-Sumaidai immediately upon his arrest (Anatolia News Agency, September 9, 2022)
Significance and implications
  • Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced on September 8, 2022, that Turkey’s General Intelligence Directorate, the Istanbul Intelligence Directorate, and the Turkish intelligence service had captured a senior member of ISIS’s leadership in Turkey. The detainee was Bashar Khattab Ghazal al-Sumaidai, AKA Abu Zayd and Ustadh Zayd. His interrogation revealed that he had held a senior position in ISIS in the field of law[1] and in “ISIS’s Ministry of Education and Justice” (Wizarat al-Tarbiya wal-‘Adl). Reportedly, Al-Sumaidai’s movements in Syria and Istanbul were under surveillance by the Turkish authorities, who received information on his intention to enter Turkey illegally. After his capture, it turned out that he was carrying a forged ID card and had changed his appearance and wore a wig and glasses (Anatolia News Agency, September 8-9, 2022).
  • It turns out that Al-Sumaidai was detained in May 2022 (or shortly before that). Based on the estimates of the security forces, the Turkish media initially reported that ISIS’s leader codenamed Abu al-Hassan al-Hashemi al-Qurashi (whose exact identity is unknown) was detained in Istanbul, and his picture was published in the media. Only later, during his interrogation, did the true identity of the detainee become clear (OdaTV, May 26, 2022).
  •  According to the official Turkish TV channel TRT, Al-Sumaidai stayed alone in Turkey for 6-7 months in an apartment in the Ayazağa neighborhood in west Istanbul, directing all of ISIS’s religious activity. According to the report, he also taught ISIS’s first leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (TRT, September 9, 2022). The website of the Turkish government-affiliated newspaper Daily Sabah, relying on intelligence sources in Turkey, reported that he had served as the “ideological brain” of the organization (Daily Sabah, September 9, 2022).
The Ayazağa neighborhood in west Istanbul, where Al-Sumaidai lived (Google Maps)  Al-Sumaidai at the time of his arrest, wearing a wig to hide his identity (Anatolia News Agency, September 9, 2022).
Right: Al-Sumaidai at the time of his arrest, wearing a wig to hide his identity (Anatolia News Agency, September 9, 2022). Left: The Ayazağa neighborhood in west Istanbul, where Al-Sumaidai lived (Google Maps)
  • Following Al-Sumaidai’s arrest, the question of the identity of ISIS’s current leader has arisen once again. The identity of the current leader is unknown but it is highly likely that he is Juma Awad al-Badri, the brother of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, ISIS’s founder and first leader. He is apparently Al-Baghdadi’s older brother. From the little that is known about him, he has been close to the founders of ISIS and fought in Salafist-jihadi frameworks against the US forces during the US invasion of Iraq (2003). He was also among those closest to Al-Baghdadi, served as an advisor on sharia and was a member of ISIS’s Shura Council, the organization’s leadership group that determines its strategy and also appoints its leader (Reuters, March 11, 2022).

[1] According to reports in the past, he had held the position of “Head of the Office of Justice and the Handling of Cases of Exploitation” (Mas’ul Diwan al-Qada’ wal-Mazalim), i.e., the head of ISIS’s legal system: https://www.alaraby.co.uk/politics