What remains of ISIS — the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria — is yet to acknowledge the death of its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi who died in a raid by US forces in northern Syria on Saturday.
At this early stage it’s not clear who will succeed him, but a long-time Baghdadi companion and religious scholar would seem to be a leading candidate.
He is known within jihadi circles as Abdallah Qardash, but the US government identifies him as Amir Muhammad Sa’id Abdal-Rahman al-Mawla and is thought to have known Baghdadi for at least 15 years. They were both detained at a US-run prison known as Camp Bucca soon after the coalition’s invasion of Iraq in 2003, though it’s unclear if that’s where they first met.
Born in the 1970s, al-Mawla is thought to have been one of the many Baathist officers during Saddam Hussein’s rule to go underground after the US invasion in 2003 and join forces with insurgents.
Many of those who were released from Camp Bucca — including Baghdadi and al-Mawla — joined what was then al Qaeda in Iraq, before it rebranded itself the Islamic State. The State Department’s profile of al-Mawla described him as “a religious scholar in ISIS’s predecessor organization.”
According to the State Department, he “helped drive and justify the abduction, slaughter, and trafficking of the Yazidi religious minority in northwest Iraq.”
Much of the Yazidi community lived in an area close to al-Mawla’s home-town of Tal Afar. In 2014, after ISIS had taken Tal Afar and Mosul, the group enslaved thousands of Yazidi women and children and murdered thousands of Yazidi men, actions the United Nations has called a genocide.
As others in the ISIS hierarchy were taken out or died in battle, al-Mawla became a more significant player as one of the group’s leading ideologues.
In August, it was widely reported that the ISIS-affiliated Amaq news agency had announced al-Mawla as Baghdadi’s anointed successor. But the announcement came from a fabricated account and it would certainly not have been ISIS’ modus operandi to issue such a statement.
Later that month, the US added al-Mawla to its Rewards for Justice list, offering up to $5 million for information leading to his capture and saying that “as one of ISIS’s most senior ideologues … he is a potential successor to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.”
Cole Bunzel, editor of the blog Jihadica, says that former ISIS members who defected over disagreements about ideology and strategy have been talking up al-Mawla’s prospects of becoming the next ISIS leader.
They have often referred to him as “a leader of the so-called Delegated Committee, ISIS’s executive body, who appears to exercise more day-to-day control over the group than Baghdadi himself,” Bunzel told CNN.
Al-Mawla faces obstacles
Counting against al-Mawla’s prospects of succeeding Baghdadi, perhaps, is that by ethnic origin he is reportedly of Turkmen origin and ISIS leadership has always been dominated by Arabs, most of them Iraqi. There are other hurdles al-Mawla would face. It is widely believed among jihadis that a “caliph” must have certain attributes and credentials.
One is the requirement to be descended from the Prophet Mohammed’s Quraysh tribe. Another is the requirement to have significant knowledge of Islamic jurisprudence. His track record as a “religious scholar” within the terrorist group may allow him to persuade jihadis of his theological credentials but he has not publicly claimed Quraysh lineage.
There may well be other candidates, but ISIS’ complete secrecy and the fact that an unknown number of its senior figures have been killed complicate any assessment. It’s not even clear that the group’s Sharia Council, whose duties include selecting the “caliph” or leader, still functions.
Syrian Kurdish forces claimed hours after Baghdadi’s death that another leading figure in ISIS — Abu al-Hassan al-Muhajir — had also been killed. A senior State Department official confirmed this on Monday, saying he was “kind of a number two” to Baghdadi. Al-Muhajir had become an important figure in the group’s media network, whose output began to recover this year. Like al-Mawla, he was a veteran of the cause, going back to the days of al Qaeda in Iraq.
It was al-Muhajir who claimed responsibility on behalf of the group for an attack on the Iranian parliament in 2017.
Whoever leads ISIS next will — like Baghdadi — devote most of his time to hiding from the group’s many enemies, whether in the deserts of western Iraq or somewhere in northern Syria. Like Baghdadi and Osama bin Laden, he will find it difficult to communicate with other members of the group, aware that message couriers are often the weakest link. And ISIS is not without its own divisions, especially over ideology.
Signs of an ISIS revival
But he will also take charge of a group that is showing signs of revival in several Iraqi provinces north of Baghdad and reverting to the sort of guerrilla tactics and assassinations that ISIS utilized before winning territory in 2014. ISIS supporters in Iraq will be celebrating the country’s renewed instability amid popular protests there. And with US troops pulling out there is concern the group will be able to regenerate in Syria.
ISIS is also thought to have squirreled away tens of millions of dollars. And it has affiliates — from the Sahel to Egypt’s Sinai desert to South-east Asia — that are still active and have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.
While its supporters will no doubt be angered by Baghdadi’s death, ISIS has long prepared them for this moment. Rita Katz, who heads the global extremism monitoring group SITE Intelligence, says supporters are stressing that jihad does not end with the death of a single man and that Baghdadi’s martyrdom should be celebrated, not mourned.
He is certainly not mourned by al Qaeda, which cut its ties with the Islamic State in 2014 and watched it take huge swathes of Syria and Iraq before the Caliphate crumbled three years later.
According to a translation by SITE, one al Qaeda commentator said Baghdadi’s demise was worth noting “only for consideration of his arrogance and his thinking that the world will be his forever.” Another asked: “How much did he deviate and distort the pure Shariah? How much did he obstinately claim truth and guidance?”
The hard core of ISIS supporters will be dismayed by Baghdadi’s demise but not deterred. Back in 2014, the now deceased ISIS senior leader Abu Muhammad al Adnani said: “We will conquer your Rome, break your crosses, and enslave your women. If we do not reach that time, then our children and grandchildren will reach it.” And on that ISIS and al Qaeda do agree — that their struggle will last generations (https://edition.cnn.com/2019/10/28/politics/isis-leadership-contender-al-mawla/index.html)
Two men were captured during the US military’s raid on Islamic State (IS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s hideout in Syria and are in US custody, says the Pentagon.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman said they were now “in a secure facility”.
General Mark Milley also announced that Baghdadi’s remains had been disposed of and there were currently no plans to share footage of his death.
Baghdadi killed himself during the raid, the US says.
“Baghdadi’s remains were transported to a secure facility to confirm his identity with forensic DNA testing, and the disposal of his remains has been done and is complete and was handled appropriately,” Gen Milley told reporters.
Gen Milley – the highest ranking member of the US military – said photos and video were going through “a declassification process”.
The death of Islamic State (IS) group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a US military raid has been announced with great fanfare by President Donald Trump. Dr Lina Khatib, director of the Middle East programme at the international relations think-tank Chatham House, explains what is likely to happen next.
The killing of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi does not mean the automatic end of IS. But the immediate future of IS depends more on local dynamics in Syria than on whether it still has a leader or not.
Baghdadi was a powerful tool for IS, especially at a time when the organisation was planning to establish a so-called state. Considering that there could not be a caliphate without a caliph, IS put Baghdadi in the public eye to give its supporters around the world an identifiable figurehead.
Despite the military defeat of IS in Syria and Iraq, its supporters still saw in the presence of Baghdadi hope of restoring the caliphate one day. His statements mobilised sympathisers, even if only rhetorically, as noted by journalists and aid workers who interviewed the wives and widows of IS fighters in al-Hol camp inside Syria.
In the run-up to the Turkish invasion of northern Syria, the military capacity of IS had been greatly reduced but the organisation was still active. Sleeper cells would conduct opportunistic attacks in the north-east, mainly against civilians.
Some miles away westwards, in the huge Sokhna desert near Homs, east of Palmyra, IS fighters would sporadically attack Syrian army and Russian targets. In the north-west, many former IS fighters had joined one of the jihadist groups in the region rather than remaining under the IS banner. The group closest to IS in Idlib is al-Qaeda affiliate Hurras al-Din, which despite being militarily active is limited in numbers and popularity among local residents.
The nucleus of IS activity in Syria is the greater region of Deir al-Zour in the north-east, particularly the areas extending south of Bosaira towards Diban. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) control the area but have struggled to gain acceptance there because the SDF is Kurdish-dominated while the area is populated by Arab tribes that reject not only the SDF but also the Syrian army and Iran-backed militias who are present in surrounding towns. Those tribes have recently been staging demonstrations against the Syrian regime and Iran.
Before the Turkish invasion of northern Syria, tensions between the tribes in Deir al-Zour and the SDF were regularly followed by an increase in IS activity. A few months ago, an SDF checkpoint shot at an Arab passerby. For the following two weeks, there was an increase in sleeper cell attacks in the Deir al-Zour area, facilitated by some members of Arab tribes. This pattern of tension followed by an increase in IS attacks continues, though the attacks are mainly based on improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and are limited in scale.
Since the Turkish invasion, IS has tried to take advantage of the decrease in the SDF presence in Deir al-Zour as SDF leaders left to go to the front lines to confront Turkey. This has also resulted in an increase in IS activity. However, it has not attempted to retake geographical areas. This, coupled with the use of IEDS, signals that its military capacity is greatly reduced. The presence of the anti-IS international coalition in Deir al-Zour – to protect the oilfields there, according to the US administration – has also been a significant deterrent to IS.
IS is likely to use the death of Baghdadi to rally its supporters in the name of revenge. However, the days of its militants fighting till the last breath appear to be over. Its leader in Syria, Abu Ayman al-Iraqi, had to deploy to the front lines accompanied by only six fighters during his final battle. They abandoned him, leaving him to be killed by the SDF. In its heyday, IS would not have needed commanders of this seniority on the front lines.
IS is likely to choose a successor to Baghdadi, but what is more significant for its operations is the situation in the north-west and the north-east of Syria. President Trump said Baghdadi was in Idlib – where he was killed – because he was trying to rebuild IS there.
The Hurras al-Din jihadist group in Idlib, which splintered from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) to stay loyal to al-Qaeda, is likely to have hosted Baghdadi. Although HTS is trying to build its own administration in the area, and although HTS collaborated with Hurras al-Din against the Syrian army in the battlefield, there is widespread popular resistance to the IS brand in Idlib, which makes it unlikely that the province will become the new capital of an IS caliphate.
As for the north-east, the Syrian army is spreading its presence in the area but its capacity there is limited not just because of decreased soldier numbers and lack of equipment, but also because it is dealing with infighting in Daraa in southern Syria as well as preparing for a campaign on Idlib in the north-west.
It is Kurdish fighters who are still in control in the north-east, even if they have recently started flying the Syrian flag following the entry of the Syrian army into the area. Only if the international anti-IS coalition leaves Deir al-Zour is IS likely to target the area, helped by members of Arab tribes who reject the SDF. But President Trump clearly said the coalition was not budging from protecting the oilfields there.
The situation in the north-east underlines that even if the international anti-IS coalition regards the killing of Baghdadi as a symbolic victory, local tensions are the main fuel for IS resurgence, while the ground presence of coalition forces remains the greatest IS deterrent (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-50199437).
While Russia still has no independent confirmation that US forces have killed Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Donald Trump is due credit if they did, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman has said.
“The news itself can’t be taken negatively by the Russian authorities,” Dmitry Peskov said. “Indeed, our troops saw American planes and American drones in the area, which may have been on a mission there.”
Earlier, the Russian Defense Ministry cast doubt on Washington’s claim of al-Baghdadi’s death, saying there’s no credible data to prove his demise. If confirmed, however, Trump’s efforts should be recognized, Peskov believes.
If indeed the information about al-Baghdadi’s elimination is confirmed, then we can talk about the US president’s significant contribution to the fight against international terrorism.
Moscow’s skepticism is not unfounded, seeing as how rumors of al-Baghdadi’s grave injury or death have surfaced repeatedly for the past four years, only to be later dispelled. Trump, however, has teased that some footage of his ultimate takedown at the hands of US troops could be released at some point (https://www.rt.com/news/472040-kremlin-trump-baghdadi-credit/).
Meantime, the news of dead of Baghdadi does not the first time which was launched by US government, because related these issues, at least the global society has gotten eight times about the dead of Baghdadi. “If these information did not valid, the global society did not believe in US government, because whatever their say are yapping,” terrorist observer in Jakarta, Indonesia who did not write his name (Many sources : CNN, BBC and Russia Today).

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