In recent days, al-Baghdadi sought security in reducing domain
BEIRUT: In his last months in the race, the leader of the Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi group was agitated, fearful of traitors, sometimes disguised as a shepherd, sometimes hidden underground, always dependent on an increasingly smaller circle of confidants .
The associates paint an image of a man obsessed with his security and well-being and trying to find security in cities and deserts in eastern Syria near the Iraqi border as the dominions of the extremists crumbled. In the end, the brutal leader once hailed as a caliph completely abandoned the old areas of the Islamic State, falling into hostile territory in the province of Idlib, in northwestern Syria, led by al Qaeda-linked rivals of the radical group. There, it was immolated during a October 26 raid by US special forces in his heavily fortified safe house.
For months, he kept a Yazidi teenager as a slave, and she told The Associated Press how he brought her while she moved, traveling with a central group of up to seven close associates. Months ago, he delegated most of his powers to a high-ranking deputy who is probably the man announced by the group as his successor.
The Yazidi girl, who was released in a US-led raid in May, said al-Baghdadi first tried to flee to Idlib at the end of 2017. He said one night he was loaded into a three-vehicle convoy that included the EI leader , his wife and his entourage of security, in the direction of the province. The convoy reached a main road but then turned around, apparently fearing it was attacked, said the girl, who was 17 at the time.
For about a week they remained in the city of Hajin, in southeastern Syria, near the Iraqi border. They then moved north to Dashisha, another border city in Syria within the territory controlled by the Islamic State.
There, the Yazidi teenager remained for four months in the house of the father-in-law of al-Baghdadi, a close assistant named Abu Abdullah al-Zubaie. Al-Baghdadi would visit her there frequently and rape her, the teenager said. He only moved at night, wearing sneakers and covering his face, always with about five security men, he said. The PA does not identify victims of sexual assault.
In the spring of 2018, she was handed over to another man, who took her out of Dashisha. That was the last time he saw al-Baghdadi, although he sent her a piece of jewelry as a gift, the teenager said.
It seems that al-Baghdadi then moved from one place to another in eastern Syria over the next year, as an IS fort after another fell before the US-backed Kurdish-led forces, before heading to Idlib in Sometime in the spring
During that time, al-Baghdadi was a nervous disaster, he walked from top to bottom and complained of treason and infiltrations between his walis or governors of the group's self-proclaimed provinces, his brother-in-law, Mohamad Ali Sajit. , he said in an interview with Al-Arabiya TV broadcast last week.
All this is treason, Sajit recalled to the shout of al-Baghdadi.
Sajit, an Iraqi married to another of al-Zubaie's daughters, was arrested by Iraqi authorities in June. He said he saw al-Baghdadi several times over 18 months, starting in Hajin at the end of 2017. The last time was in the desert regions along the Syrian-Iraqi border shortly before the capture of Sajit. He said al-Baghdadi entrusted the delivery of messages in flash drives to the lieutenants within Iraq.
Iraqi and Syrian Kurdish officials have said they separately cultivated sources that led the IS leader, and Sajit is believed to be one of them. An American official said it seemed that the Syrian Kurds managed to get a guest into the inner circle of al-Baghdadi, whose information was key in the hunt.
Sajit said al-Baghdadi's movements were very restricted, especially when greater IS territory was lost. He walked with a suicide belt, even slept with one near him, and made his helpers also wear belts. He never used a cell phone; only his assistant Abu Hassan al-Muhajer did it, using a Galaxy 7, Sajit said.
The stress worsened the diabetes of the leader of the Islamic State and had to constantly monitor his blood sugar level and take insulin. He did not fast during the holy month of Ramadan and forced his helpers not to fast too, Sajit said.
Sometimes al-Baghdadi was disguised as a pastor, he said. When al-Baghdadi's chief of security, Abu Sabah, learned of a possible incursion into the Syrian-Iraqi border area of the desert where they were hiding, they dismantled their tents and hid al-Baghdadi and al-Muhajer inside a well covered with earth, Sajit said. They let the sheep wander around the top of the well to hide it further. Once the threat of the raid ended, they returned and replaced the tents, he said.
Al-Baghdadi moved with a circle of five to seven people, including al-Muhajer, al-Zubaie and Abu Sabah; and the former governor of the group for Iraq, known as Tayseer or Abu al-Hakim. Al-Muhajer was killed the same day as al-Baghdadi, in a military operation led by the United States, following a Syrian Kurdish complaint, in Jarablus, also in northwestern Syria; al-Zubaie was killed in a raid in March. On Monday, Turkish officials said they arrested al-Baghdadi's older sister in the Azaz region of northwestern Syria. All are areas beyond government control.
The EI leader was also in contact with his main deputy, Hajji Abdullah, Sajit said. Iraqi authorities say al-Baghdadi put him in charge of most of the group's administrative and financial affairs. Sajit said he believes that Hajji Abdullah is actually the man who IS named as the successor of al-Baghdadi before his murder, identified by the war name Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi Al-Qurayshi.
US officials said they did not know when al-Baghdadi arrived in Idlib, but said he chose the location because it was the last territory outside the control of the Syrian government. Allied Syrian Kurdish officials in the United States said they had blocked their movements in May, but suspected they left there after the fall of the last territory of the Islamic State in late March.
There, he hid in a complex in the town of Barisha, about 5 kilometers (3 miles) from the border with Turkey . Like many of the border cities of Idlib, it is full of displaced people from all over Syria and is managed by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, an al-Qaida-affiliated militant group and IS rival.
The complex belonged to a man named Abu Mohammed al-Halabi, who was a sheep merchant but had little contact with his neighbors, several AP residents said. They spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being in danger when talking about the site. Iraqi officials said al-Baghdadi's technician, a man who was responsible for logistics, was killed with him in the raid.
A resident said that almost a dozen helicopters hovered over his village before 11 p.m. on October 26.
We went out to the balcony to see and they started shooting, with automatic rifles. So we entered and hid, said the resident. Then there was an airborne operation west of the village, in the direction of al-Halabi's house. Later, the Americans warned the residents to leave the house because they were going to blow it up.
No one really expected al-Baghdadi to be here, said another resident.