Daily Briefing: The”State” of ISIS After Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi (November 19, 2019)

Flag of the Islamic State (IS), also known as “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” (ISIS) or “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” (ISIL). This flag is also used by al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and Boko Haram. The design shows the shahada in an arrangement that includes the image of the historical “seal of Muhammad” (Source: Wikipedia)

Table of Contents:

The Islamic State Will Outlive Baghdadi. Afghanistan Shows How.:  Michael Kugelman, FP, Nov. 5, 2019

Why Isil’s New Leader Abu Ibrahim Al-Hashemi Al-Qurayshi Has Inherited an Empire in Ruins: Raf Sanchez, The Telegraph, Nov. 1, 2019

After Baghdadi: What Hurts the Islamic State May Help Al-Qaeda: Bruce Hoffman, Council on Foreign Relations, Oct. 29, 2019

Turkey’s Deportations Force Europe to Face Its ISIS Militants: Norimitsu Onishi and Elian Peltier, NYT, Nov. 17, 2019


The Islamic State Will Outlive Baghdadi. Afghanistan Shows How.
Michael Kugelman
FP, Nov. 5, 2019

A couple of years ago, a conspiracy theory emerged alleging that the United States was backing the Islamic State in Afghanistan. It had a curious mix of propagators: former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the Russian government, and large numbers of Pakistani Twitter handles, among others.

In 2017, Karzai described the Islamic State as a “tool” of the United States and later claimed Washington was propping up the group in order to justify a long-term military presence in Afghanistan. The next year, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov suggested that unmarked U.S. helicopters were ferrying in weapons for the group. And in recent months, tweets from Pakistani accounts have asserted that at some point not long ago, U.S. forces airlifted Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi into Afghanistan.

The idea wasn’t new. Observers from Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to a group of university students listening to me give a guest lecture in the Indian state of Bihar have claimed that America was behind the very creation of the militant group. These assertions aren’t just attributable to psy-ops or hostility toward the United States; they’re also rooted in some relevant facts—such as past U.S. support for Islamist fighters in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation and the Islamic State’s emergence after U.S. forces invaded Iraq.

In Afghanistan, these theories are particularly powerful, thanks to an implied question: How has the Islamic State-Khorasan (ISK), the group’s affiliate in Afghanistan, managed to stay active and potent despite getting hit so hard and facing so many other obstacles for so long?

ISK is indeed remarkably resilient. It offers a powerful case study of the Islamic State’s ability to create autonomous affiliates that flourish and endure—entities that will help enable the parent organization to live on after the U.S. raid that led to Baghdadi’s death in Syria on Oct. 26 and the losses of territory it has endured in Syria and Iraq.

The roots of the Islamic State in Afghanistan can be traced back to 2010, when Pakistani militants fleeing counterterrorism offensives in the country’s tribal belt began settling across the border in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar. These fighters, most of them Pakistani Taliban members, would form the early vanguard of ISK when the central Islamic State leadership formally announced the group’s expansion into Afghanistan in 2015. In subsequent years, ISK has gained additional recruits from the ranks of disaffected Afghan Taliban members and Central Asian jihadis.

Today’s, ISK’s bastions are in eastern Afghanistan, especially Nangarhar and Kunar provinces, though the September arrest of an ISK leader in the western province of Herat hints at the potential for a larger geographical footprint. (It also has a more modest presence in Pakistan.) The group has been implicated in dozens of attacks (though it may well claim some assaults it doesn’t carry out) in Afghanistan since 2015, including 316 claimed attacks in 2018.

Between January 2018 and January 2019, according to a BBC tally, there were more Islamic State attacks in Afghanistan than anywhere in the world other than Iraq and Syria. Many ISK attacks, including a horrific assault on a Kabul wedding hall this past August that killed more than 60 people, have targeted the country’s Shiite minority, though others—including an assault on Afghanistan’s largest military hospital in 2017 and a voter registration center in 2018, both in Kabul—home in on government sites. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

Why Isil’s New Leader Abu Ibrahim Al-Hashemi Al-Qurayshi Has Inherited an Empire in Ruins
Raf Sanchez
The Telegraph, Nov. 1, 2019

When Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared himself the caliph of the Islamic State in 2014 he did so in front of the world from the al-Nuri mosque in the city of Mosul, the crown jewel of a jihadist empire which at the time stretched across Iraq and Syria. His successor’s coronation had none of that grandeur.

The man known by the nom de guerre Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi takes over a caliphate of ashes. Isil has been driven from Mosul and every other city it once controlled. A territory once the size of Britain has been reduced to a few pockets in the deserts of eastern Syria.

Abu Ibrahim himself is in hiding along with the rest of Isil’s leadership. His elevation to the position of caliph was announced in a seven-and-a-half-minute audio tape, rather than in a speech at one of Islam’s most storied mosques.   

Western intelligence officers are scrambling to piece together the identity of the new Isil leader but for now almost nothing is known about him. “Nobody – and I mean nobody outside a likely very small circle within Isil – has any idea who their new leader is,” said Paul Cruickshank, editor of the Counter Terrorism Centre Sentinel.

Donald Trump tweeted on Friday that the US knows “exactly” who the Isil leader really is but gave no further details. 

In the audio statement, Isil’s new spokesman described Abu Ibrahim as “an emir of war” who had experience of fighting against the United States. That has led some to suspect that, like Baghdadi, he is an Iraqi who fought US forces during the post-2003 insurgency.

While Isil’s de facto capital was the Syrian city of Raqqa, many of its senior leaders were Iraqis who emerged from al-Qaeda in Iraq.  “The new leader is almost certainly Iraqi,” said Hassan Hassan, an analyst at the Center for Global Policy. “He very likely has credentials as a longstanding field commander within Isil, who fought in Iraq after 2003 against the Americans.”

Speculation has mounted that Abu Ibrahim may be Abdullah Qardash, a former officer in Saddam Hussein’s army who turned to jihad after the US invasion of Iraq. Qardash was imprisoned alongside by the US alongside Baghdadi in 2003 but both men were released and became leading al-Qaeda insurgents.
Qardash is believed to have stayed at Baghdadi’s side through the split with al-Qaeda in 2013, the formation of the caliphate a year later, and its ultimate defeat at the hands of a US-led coalition. Sometimes known as “the Professor”, Qardash has a reputation for brutality.  However, Mr Hassan said he thought it was unlikely Qardash is the new caliph.

One issue is that Qardash is from a Turkmen background, which would complicate his claim to be from the same tribe as the Prophet. The two surnames Abu Ibrahim has adopted – al-Hashimi and al-Qurayshi – each hold significance. He is claiming to be a member of the Quraysh tribe, the clan of the Prophet Mohammed, which is a requirement for any caliph. The name al-Hashimi suggests he is also claiming to be a Hashemite, a clan with direct lineage from the Prophet.

Qardash is also well known to Western intelligence, potentially making him a vulnerable target. Isil might prefer to choose a lower-profile leader to keep its enemies guessing.

The new caliph was announced five days after Baghdadi detonated a suicide vest in a tunnel rather than allow himself to be captured by advancing US commandos. That is a relatively quick succession for the scattered jihadists and suggests that Abu Ibrahim was been pre-anointed as the successor while Baghdadi was still alive.  His elevation was endorsed by Isil’s shura council, a consultative body of senior figures, and the statement mentioned that Baghdadi had left “a will” with instructions for after his death. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

After Baghdadi: What Hurts the Islamic State May Help Al-Qaeda
Bruce Hoffman
Council on Foreign Relations
, Oct. 29, 2019

The death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, founder and leader of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, is a crushing blow to the already enfeebled organization. The big question now is whether his demise will prove a boon to al-Qaeda, reinvigorating what was once the world’s most feared terrorist group.

The rump of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria might ally itself again with al-Qaeda, despite their public, hostile divorce in 2014. Should the Islamic State’s branches in Africa and South Asia follow suit, the West would face a renewed and perhaps even greater global terrorist threat. Several factors support this possibility: the two organizations share similar ideologies, their estrangement was more a product of a clash of their leaders’ egos than of differences in core beliefs, and the Islamic State’s once compelling attraction to foreign fighters and homegrown recruits is now likely to atrophy, if not reverse.
Terrorism and Counterterrorism.

Both the Islamic State and al-Qaeda adhere to the principles first articulated by Palestinian Islamic scholar Abdullah Azzam three decades ago—that it is an obligation for Muslims to come to the defense of their brethren wherever they are threatened. To Azzam, as well as to Osama bin Laden, current al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Baghdadi, an aggressive, predatory war is being waged against Islam by its infidel enemies. These include Western democratic liberal states; corrupt, repressive Western-backed local apostates in countries such as Jordan; and Shias and other Muslim minorities. In this clash of civilizations, a global jihad is needed to defeat the enemy.
Fading Rivalry

The biggest obstacle to a reconciliation between the groups was the vicious rivalry between Baghdadi and Zawahiri, but that has evaporated with Baghdadi’s death. Additionally, because Baghdadi claimed to have been a direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammed, any Islamic State commander will have difficulty attempting to succeed him. This void will likely throw the Islamic State’s leadership into disarray and provide al-Qaeda with an ideal opportunity to reunite with its beleaguered offspring, possibly using diplomacy or resorting to violence to do so.
A merger would result in a terrorist force of chilling dimensions and influence. The groups’ combined power could prove compelling enough to persuade competing Islamist insurgent groups in the region, such as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), al-Qaeda’s former Syrian franchise, to join an umbrella movement led by Zawahiri. Indeed, relations between HTS, al-Qaeda, and other militant factions, including Hurras al-Din (HAD)—a newer al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria—have warmed in recent months. HAD commander Abu Abd al-Karim al-Masri has publicly urged a resumption of international terrorist attacks against the West, including the use of chemical weapons.

Seeking a Next Generation of Jihadis
The decapitation of any terrorist group inevitably hurts its ability to recruit. Baghdadi tried to protect his legacy by martyring himself with a suicide vest, but his death is still a serious blow to the Islamic State’s brand and harms its ability to project strength and resilience. This may benefit al-Qaeda, which has long styled itself as a more strategic and mature alternative to the Islamic State’s blitzkrieg caliphate. With Baghdadi gone, al-Qaeda’s image could become more attractive to aspiring jihadis.
Perhaps more than anything else, al-Qaeda is keen to acquire the Islamic State’s excellent social media skills and its ability to strike in places as far as Western Europe and South Asia. With Baghdadi’s death, it may be poised to do so.

Turkey’s Deportations Force Europe to Face Its ISIS Militants
Norimitsu Onishi and Elian Peltier
NYT, Nov. 17, 2019

As Turkey followed through on its threat to release more Islamic State detainees last week, Western European nations were confronted with a problem they had long sought to avoid: what to do about the potential return of radicalized, often battle-hardened Europeans to countries that absolutely do not want them back.
Faced with fierce popular opposition to the repatriation of such detainees and fears over the long-term threat they could pose back home, European leaders have sought alternative ways to prosecute them — in an international tribunal, on Iraqi soil, anywhere but on the Continent.

But President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, made more powerful by a sudden shift in American policy, is determined to foist the problem of the captured European Islamic State fighters back on the countries they came from.
Last week, Turkey sent a dozen former Islamic State members and relatives to Britain, Denmark, Germany and the United States, and Mr. Erdogan says hundreds more are right behind them. “All of the European countries, especially those with most of the foreign fighters, have desperately been looking for the past year for a way to deal with them without bringing them back,” said Rik Coolsaet, an expert on radicalization at the Egmont Institute, a Brussels-based research group. “But now, European nations are being forced to consider repatriation since Turkey is going to put people on the plane.”

The sudden problem for Europe is a long-tail consequence of President Trump’s precipitous decision last month to withdraw American forces from northern Syria, which cleared the way for Turkey to take control of territory as well as many of the Islamic State members who had been held there in Kurdish-run prisons or detention camps. The issue is further complicated by the fact that nearly two-thirds of the Western European detainees, or about 700, are children, many of whom have lost one parent, if not both.

Now that more of the former fighters are in Turkish hands, Mr. Erdogan has not hesitated to use the threat of returning them as leverage over European countries who have been deeply critical of his incursion, and who have threatened sanctions against Turkey for unauthorized oil drilling in the eastern Mediterranean off Cyprus.

The fate of the former fighters and their families has become yet another point of contention between Turkey and Europe, which is already paying Mr. Erdogan’s government billions of dollars to stem the flow of asylum seekers from conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.
Turkey is already home to some three million refugees from the Syria conflict, and Mr. Erdogan is determined to lighten his country’s load. But his real intent remains unclear: Does he really plan to send back all foreign fighters to Europe? Or is he opening the spigot, with the threat of a flood to come, to wring concessions from Europe?

What is clear is that with limited military reach in Syria, European nations are ever more vulnerable to Mr. Erdogan’s whims. Turkish officials say that Turkey now holds 2,280 Islamic State members from 30 countries, and that all of them will be deported. …. [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

For Further Reference:

ISIS Fast Facts CNN, Nov. 6, 2019 — Started as an al Qaeda splinter group. Also known as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Islamic State (IS).

How Baghdadi Used Religion to Sell the Islamic State’s Twisted Tribe Ken Chitwood, The National Interest, Nov. 14, 2019 — Just days after the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on Oct. 27, the Islamic State named Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi as the new “caliph.”

Isis: How the Terror Network Began:  The Week, Oct. 28, 2019 — Donald Trump’s administration has announced that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has died in northern Syria during a raid by US security forces.

Islamic State: New ‘Mini Caliphate’ Forms at Syrian Holding Camp:  Mark Stone, Sky News, Nov. 11, 2019 — The boy can’t have been more than 10 years old. Shaved head, piercing brown eyes and goofy teeth.