The group of potential successors to Abu Ibrahim al-Quraishi, who blew himself up during a U.S. operation to capture him in Syria last week, includes one commander whom Washington and Baghdad declared killed last year, the Iraqi officials said.
The death of Quraishi, 45, was another crushing blow to IS two years after the violent Sunni Muslim group lost longtime leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a similar raid in 2019.
Quraishi, an Iraqi, never publicly addressed his fighters or followers, avoided electronic communications and oversaw a move to fighting in small devolved units in response to intense pressure from Iraqi and U.S.-led forces.
But those following Islamic State closely expect it to name a successor in coming weeks, as the group which imposed brutal rule over vast swathes of Iraq and Syria from 2014 to 2017 continues a stubborn and deadly insurgency INSIGHT-Islamic State hits back, aided by power vacuum in Iraq and Syria in the Middle East.
Fadhil Abu Rgheef, an Iraqi expert who advises its security services, said there were at least four possible successors.
“These include … Abu Khadija, whose last known role was Iraq leader for Islamic State, Abu Muslim, its leader for Anbar province, and another called Abu Salih, of whom there’s very little information but who was close to Baghdadi and Quraishi,” he said.
“There’s also Abu Yassir al-Issawi, who is suspected to be still alive. He’s valuable to the group as he has long military experience.”
Issawi’s death in an air strike in January 2021 was reported at the time by both Iraqi forces as well as the U.S.-led military coalition fighting Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
But an Iraqi security official confirmed there were strong suspicions Issawi is still alive. “If he’s not dead he’d be a candidate, he’s tried and tested in planning military attacks and has thousands of supporters,” the official said.
The official added that Islamic State was likely carrying out a security sweep for potential leaks that led to the death of Quraishi before convening to choose or announce a successor.
Hassan Hassan, editor of New Lines magazine which has published research on Quraishi, said the new leader would be a veteran Iraqi jihadist.
“If they choose one in the coming weeks they’ll have to choose someone from among the same circle … the group that was part of the Anbari group which operated under (the name) ISIS since the early days,” he said.
Islamic State emerged from the militants that waged an increasingly Sunni Islamist, sectarian-driven insurgency against U.S. troops and Iraqi forces after 2003.
The Islamic State of Iraq, also known as al Qaeda in Iraq, was an offshoot of the global al Qaeda organisation of Osama Bin Laden and the precursor to ISIS, which took shape in the chaos of Syria’s civil war across the border.
Baghdadi and Quraishi, both members of al Qaeda in Iraq from the start, did time in U.S. detention in the mid-2000s. In…
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