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Terror group chief Baghdadi’s aide was key to locating him

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Information from captured aide to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi revealed his hiding places

BAGHDAD: In their long hunt for Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, Iraqi intelligence teams secured a break in February 2018 after one of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) leader's top aides gave them information on how he escaped capture for so many years, said two Iraqi security officials.

Baghdadi would sometimes hold strategy talks with his commanders in moving minibuses packed with vegetables in order to avoid detection, Ismael Al-Ethawi told officials after he was arrested by Turkish authorities and handed to the Iraqis.

"Ethawi gave valuable information which helped the Iraqi multi-security agencies team complete the missing pieces of the puzzle of Baghdadi's movements and places he used to hide," one of the Iraqi security officials said.

"Ethawi gave us details on five men, including him, who were meeting Baghdadi inside Syria and the different locations they used," he told Reuters.

US President Donald Trump said on Sunday that Baghdadi died "whimpering and crying" in a raid by US special forces in the Idlib region of north-west Syria.

In a televised address from the White House, Mr Trump said the ISIS leader died alongside three of his children when he detonated an explosives-laden vest after fleeing into a dead-end tunnel during the attack.

The path to Baghdadi's demise was full of frustrations for Western and Arab intelligence agencies, who have pored over clues to the whereabouts of a man who imposed a reign of terror across a large swathe of Syria and Iraq, ordering his men to carry out mass executions and beheadings.

He is also responsible for gruesome attacks across five continents in the name of his ultra-fanatic version of Islam.


Turning militants such as Ethawi was critical to the agents trying to track Baghdadi.

Ethawi, who holds a PhD in Islamic Sciences, was considered by Iraqi intelligence officials to be one of the leader's top five aides. He joined Al-Qaeda in 2006 and was arrested by US forces in 2008 and jailed for four years, according to the Iraqi security officials.

Baghdadi later gave Ethawi key roles such as delivering religious instructions and the selection of ISIS commanders. After the group collapsed in 2017, Ethawi fled to Syria with his Syrian wife.

Another turning point came earlier this year during a joint operation in which US, Turkish and Iraqi intelligence agents captured senior ISIS leaders, including four Iraqis and one Syrian, the Iraqi security officials said.

"They gave us all the locations where they were meeting with Baghdadi inside Syria and we decided to coordinate with the CIA to deploy more sources inside these areas," said one of the Iraqi officials, who has close ties to multiple security agencies.

"In mid-2019 we managed to locate Idlib as the place where Baghdadi was moving from village to village with his family and three close aides," the official said.

Informants in Syria then spotted an Iraqi man wearing a checkered headdress in an Idlib marketplace and recognised him from a photograph, the official said. It was Ethawi, and they followed him to the home where Baghdadi was staying.

"We passed the details to the CIA and they used a satellite and drones to watch the location for the past five months," the official said.

Two days ago, Baghdadi left the location with his family for the first time, travelling by minibus to a nearby village.

"There it was his last moment to live," the official said. - REUTERS