The wife of a senior associate of ISIS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi gave Americans information that could have killed Baghdadi, but the military brass at the time declined to act on it, The Guardian reported.
Later, U.S. officials reportedly said the information was correct.
Nisrine Assad Ibrahim (a.k.a. Umm Sayyuf), 29, was married to Fathi Ben Awn Ben Jildi Murad al-Tunis (Abu Sayyaf), a close friend of al-Baghdadi’s who served as both as ISIS’ media chief and oil minister.
Her own family was highly connected to al-Baghdadi as well. When al-Baghdadi would stay in Mosul, it was Umm Sayyuf’s aunt that found him shelter and ran a network of safe houses for him.
Umm Sayyuf was captured in a Delta Force raid in May 2015 in the Omar oil field – a raid that killed her husband. She was sentenced to death for horrific crimes, including the enslavement and of American aid worker Kayla Mueller and facilitating her rape by al-Baghdadi as well as the enslavement of a number of Yazidi women and girls, all of whom were raped by senior ISIS leaders.
Her captors at a prison in Erbil, Iraq where she is being held allowed The Guardian to interview her, the first media interview since her capture.
For more than a half a year, Umm Sayyuf refused to cooperate with her captors, but by early 2016, she began revealing crucial intelligence information about the terror group. In particular, she revealed how al-Baghdadi operated and how he was able to travel around from location to location, information she was particularly privy to.
Because her husband was ISIS’ media chief and a close confidante, al-Baghdadi was often in Umm Sayyuf’s home. In fact, Baghdadi’s trademark audio tapes were recorded in her home a number of times.
“He used to do that in our sitting room in Taji [a town in central Iraq],” she said. “My husband was the [ISIS] media chief then, and Baghdadi would visit often.”
In February 2016, Umm Sayyuf identified an area on the western side of Mosul where she suspected al-Baghdadi was hiding. A Kurdish intelligence officer explained how this information was used:
“They used to put their guards on the street, these were the internal security people, who only hang around when someone important is there. Soon, we zeroed in on the house, and we were very confident that Baghdadi was there. We told the Americans and asked them to act, and they said they had other things on. Baghdadi moved houses quite quickly and we missed him. Later, the Americans came back and said we were right.”
U.S. officials had nixed an airstrike on the house that night for a combination of factors: there was a lot of activity in the skies that night, making the mission dangerous for the airmen, and there was a fear of civilian casualties in the highly congested neighborhood.
Last month, al-Baghdadi released a video message for the first time in five years. As to where the self-styled ISIS caliph is now, Umm Sayyuf believes he is somewhere in Iraq.
“He never felt good in Syria, he always wanted to be in Iraq. He would only come to do something and leave,” she said.
Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney has advocated for the extradition of Umm Sayyaf from Iraq to the U.S., where she wants to she her put on trial for her crimes.
Testifying before the UN Security Council last April, Clooney said of Umm Sayyuf that she locked captives “in a room, instigated their beatings and put makeup on them to ‘prepare them for rape.’”
Umm Sayyuf’s comments published in The Guardian did not include any questions to why she decided to cooperate with the American and Kurdish militaries.
Even taking into consideration her cooperation, officials say she will never be released. “We will not let her go,” said a senior intelligence official. “She comes from a very radical environment, and if she returned to them, she would become like them.”