In the years since he declared a caliphate in 2014, al-Baghdadi had become intensely security conscious. He trusted only his family and a close circle of associates, according to women who were held by him as sex slaves, as well as several senior aides interviewed after their capture in prison in Iraq, The New York Times reported.
Abu Ali al-Basri, Iraq’s director general of intelligence, also suggested to the newspaper last year that al-Baghdadi was leaning heavily on direct family members, including his brothers and the husbands of his sisters.
The Islamic State group chief had five brothers and several sisters, but it remains unclear how many are still alive. One brother was known by his nom de guerre Abu Hamza.
The official said the sister was with her husband, daughter-in-law and five children. The adults are being interrogated, he said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with government protocol.
“This kind of thing is an intelligence gold mine. What she knows about [IS] can significantly expand our understanding of the group and help us catch more bad guys,” the official said.
Baghdadi, an Iraqi from Samarra, was killed in a US raid in the nearby province of Idlib last month. The raid was a major blow to the group, which has lost territories it held in Syria and Iraq in a series of military defeats by the US-led coalition and Syrian and Iraqi allies.
Baghdadi’s aide, a Saudi, was killed hours after the raid, also in north-western Syria, in a US strike. The group named a successor to Baghdadi days later, but little is known about him or how the group’s structure has been affected by the successive blows.
Colin PClarke, a senior fellow at the Soufan Centre, a research organisation in New York, cautioned against expecting to learn too much from Awad’s capture, but said it could prove valuable.
“‘Gold mine’ might be overstating the issue,” he told The New York Times, “but depending on how much time she spent around Baghdadi, it could be significant.”