JERUSALEM, Israel - The brother of slain ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi traveled in and out of Turkey for several months on Baghdadi's behalf, The National reports.
Two officials told the paper that Juma, one of al-Baghdadi's three brothers, traveled in and out of Istanbul to send and retrieve critical information about the terror group's operations in Syria, Iraq, and Turkey.
Although al-Baghdadi led one of the bloodiest terror organizations in recent memory, he was an elusive leader who directed his group from the shadows.
"We were watching somebody who was acting as a messenger to al-Baghdadi and he was traveling frequently to Turkey and back," a senior Iraqi intelligence official told The National. "He was Al Baghdadi's brother."
Iraqi security officials first detected Juma's activities in late 2018 before he showed up in Istanbul. According to the report, Iraqi security forces worked with US intelligence to track Juma's movements inside Turkey until his last recorded visit to Istanbul in April.
There he is believed to have helped transfer packages and messages back and forth to ISIS terrorists in Syria, Iraq, and Turkey.
Officials believe he returned to northwestern Syria months before al-Baghdadi killed himself during a US raid. Juma's movements inside Syria were hard to track, the official said, but he is believed to be alive today.
An Iraqi intelligence agent who tracked Juma's activities told The National that it is unlikely he was smuggled across the border. Instead, he appeared to move freely. However, Juma's method of travel and route from Syria to Istanbul is unknown.
The National reached out to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's office and the Turkish Interior Ministry, but neither responded to a request for comment.
Turkey faced criticism after US forces found Baghdadi so close to the Turkish border before raiding his hideout.
"It is impossible for the Turkish intelligence that Turkey does not know of his presence 5 to 7 kilometers away from the Turkish border," a former high-ranking Turkish military officer told The National.
Critics also accuse Turkey of emboldening ISIS fighters by invading northeast Syria and attacking Kurdish forces, the main group responsible for defeating ISIS and keeping a resurgence of the terror group in Syria at bay.
Meanwhile, Turkey appears to be an important location for those who were close to Baghdadi.
Erdogan told reporters Thursday that members of al-Baghdadi's "inner circle" have been trying to get into Turkey from Syria, and that the number of al-Baghdadi relatives who've been caught by Turkey "is close to reaching double digits."
Erdogan's comments come at a time when he is trying to publicize Turkey's attempts to catch ISIS members who were close to al-Baghdadi. Critics believe Erdogan is publicizing these efforts to ward off criticism regarding al-Baghdadi's close ties to Istanbul.
Turkish officials revealed Wednesday that Turkish police arrested one of al-Baghdadi's wives and a daughter last year.
This week, they said they said they detained al-Baghdadi's elder sister, her husband, daughter-in-law and five children in Syria.