The new leader of ISIS has been captured in a police operation in Turkey after just 2 months in the job, according to local media.
Abu al-Hassan al-Qurayshi was confirmed as the new "caliph" in a voice note put out by ISIS in early March, after his predecessor was killed in a US-led military operation in Idlib, a Turkey-dominated rebel stronghold in north-west Syria.
On Thursday, a Turkish news website OdaTV reported that Turkish security forces had arrested Abu Hassan in a "top secret" operation in the capital led by the Istanbul police and counter-terrorism units.
The Islamist militants have used pseudonyms, and all ISIS top leaders adapted “al-Qurayshi” in an attempt to depict themselves in linage with the Quraysh tribe of Mohammed, the prophet of Islam.
ISIS is now a greatly reduced force in the Middle East, 3 years after its final stronghold in Baghuz was liberated by US-backed Kurdish forces. The decline in its power has been reflected in the status of its leaders – Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was a feared and respected leader before his death in 2019. But Abu Hassan’s predecessor, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, was living on a truck-driver’s roof at the time of his death in February and was known as the “missing caliph”.
Abu Hassan, the third caliph of ISIS, was believed to be Juma al-Badri, the older brother of Baghdadi. Baghdadi blew himself up after his hideout in Idlib was raided in a US-led special operation in October 2019.
Abu Hassan was known for heading ISIS’s five-membered Shura council in the shadow of his younger brother. The body oversees the group’s affairs in case of death or arrest of a caliph, and it also decides on a successor.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president, is set to reveal the details of the operation that led to the capture of Abu Hassan, the report said.
ISIS, a Sunni insurgency with roots in al-Qaeda, established its de facto rule in 2014 and implemented its uniquely harsh methods of killing civilians and an efficient propaganda campaign. It was known for regular beheadings, mass murders, and the enslavement of Yazidi women. After a protracted war, the group's complete territorial defeat was announced by the US- and Kurdish-led anti-ISIS coalition in Iraq in 2017 and Syria in 2019.
The group has gone back to its roots as an underground Islamist organisation, with sleeper cells and leaders on most-wanted lists in hiding and hunted by security and intelligence forces across the Middle East.