An Iraqi court on Wednesday sentenced to death on terror charges a prominent jihadist described as a deputy of Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, after he was captured in Turkey.
Ismail Alwan Salman al-Ithawi was hunted down, caught and extradited after a joint operation involving Turkish, Iraqi and US intelligence agencies, according to the Iraqi authorities.
“The Karkh criminal court in Baghdad sentenced to death by hanging one of the most prominent leaders of IS, who served as a deputy of Baghdadi,” judicial spokesman Abdel Sattar Bayraqdar said.
The Iraqi authorities announced in February that Ithawi had been extradited from Turkey after fleeing first Iraq and then Syria as the group’s self-proclaimed “caliphate” crumbled.
A senior Iraqi official told AFP at the time that the arrest came after an elite Iraqi unit “infiltrated the highest levels” of IS, which has claimed a string of deadly attacks in the West in recent years.
It was the first time Iraqi authorities managed to have a top leader of IS extradited from Turkey.
A native of the Iraqi city of Ramadi, Ithawi was accused of holding several positions including IS “minister” in charge of religious edicts and head of a IS committee that decided on senior appointments.
Originally from Iraq, his boss Baghdadi has been dubbed the “most wanted man on the planet” and the United States is offering a $25 million reward for his capture.
Baghdadi has been pronounced dead on several occasions, but an Iraqi intelligence official said in May that he remained alive in Syrian territory by the Iraqi border.
In a purported new audio recording released last month, the IS chief called on Muslims to wage “jihad”.
He made his only known public appearance in Iraq’s second city of Mosul in July 2014.
– Hundreds on death row –
Iraq has condemned several hundred people, including around 100 foreign women, to death for IS links, and dozens of convicted jihadists have already been executed.
Most of the women were from Turkey and republics of the former Soviet Union.
Many more have been jailed for life, which in Iraq is equivalent to 20 years.
They include nine Tajik women who were sentenced by an Iraqi criminal court on Wednesday for belonging to IS, a judicial official said.
Iraq has repeatedly faced criticism from international human rights groups over the high number of death sentences handed down by its anti-terrorist courts.
Iraq’s anti-terrorism law empowers courts to convict people who are believed to have helped IS even if they are not accused of violence.
It also allows for the death penalty to be issued against anyone — including non-combatants — found guilty of belonging to IS.
Iraq declared “victory” over IS in December after a three-year war against the jihadists, who once controlled nearly one third of the country as well as swathes of neighbouring Syria.
The Iraqi military has kept up operations targeting mostly remote desert areas where jihadists have continued to carry out attacks.
Over the border in Syria, US-backed fighters last week launched a fierce assault against a dwindling pocket of territory held by IS in eastern Deir Ezzor province.