Two years later, the leader of the Islamic State still doesn’t show a face

Abu Ibrahim al Hashimi al Quraishi has been the leader of the Islamic State for two years. His appointment came just days after Abu Bakr al Baghdadi blew himself up after being cornered during a US operation in northwest Syria. However, in all this time there has been no public message, so his face remains a mystery.

Al Quraishi – whose nickname theoretically identifies him as a descendant of the Prophet Mohammed and therefore advocates him as a caliph – is actually Amir Muhamad Said Abdelrahman al Mawla, also known as Hajji Abdullah. This is what experts believe, and so does the United States, which in March 2020 decided to increase the reward from $ 5 million already offered to Al Mawla to $ 10 million, albeit far from the 25 million that Al Baghdadi received Was worth time.

Two years later, the leader of the Islamic State still doesn’t show a face
Two years later, the leader of the Islamic State still doesn’t show a face

Two years have passed since then-new Islamic State spokesman Abu Hamza al Quaraishi announced on October 31, 2019 to militiamen and the world at large the name of the group that was taking the reins of it at the time had already lost virtually all of the vast territory it controlled in Iraq and Syria.

During all this time, Al Mawla has not made any public message, not even when the Taliban on the 15th.

However, this public absence of the leader has not resulted in a worldwide weight loss of the Islamic State, but perhaps quite the opposite. As with Al Qaeda and the death of Usama bin Laden in 2011, the beheading of Islamic State with the death of Al Baghdadi did not end the group.

The disappearance of the physical “caliphate” made its “provinces” gain weight, leading to a process of decentralization similar to that experienced by al-Qaeda after the fall of the Taliban. So while the actions in Syria and Iraq were initially reduced, although they are already recovering significantly, the focus shifted to other scenarios with Africa as the main battlefield.

Here the Islamic State has branches in various places, from Egypt, where Sinai Province is active, to Somalia, where the Islamic State tries unsuccessfully to overshadow Al Shabaab, the branch of Al-Qaeda.

But undoubtedly the two most successful branches are the Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA), which operates in the Lake Chad Basin, with northeast Nigeria as its focus, and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), which is theoretically controlled by the, but initially with great autonomy and the operates in the area of ​​the so-called triple border between Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.

In the case of ISWA, the 2016 split at Boko Haram, whose leader Abubakar Shekau had sworn allegiance to Al Baghdadi a year earlier, helped make it the pre-eminent group in the region and multiply its attacks.

Shekau’s death last spring after an ISWA offensive against him under the command of Abu Musab al Barnaui, who had returned as leader after his dismissal, gave the group new strength, led to the transfer of fighters from Boko Haram and strengthened their position of primacy.

However, Al Barnaui died in August without it currently being clear whether it was from the Nigerian security forces or a Shekau-loyal faction from Boko Haram, which ushered in a new phase of uncertainty in the leadership of ISWA after the Nigerian government announced that his successor, identified as Malam Bako, was also killed.

2021 is not a good year for ISGS either. The offshoot in the Sahel has seen in the last two years how the exception that seemed to exist in this region with Al-Qaeda was broken, since then there have been fierce clashes with its rivals from the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (JNIM) .

Likewise, the group with its Barkhane operation became the main target of France and also of the G5 Sahel forces, which caused significant losses in their ranks. The most important is that of its leader Adnan Abú Walid al Saharaui, who was killed in a French bombing last August.

For now, ISGS would already have a new leader identified as Abdul Bara al Ansari al Saharaui, with no further details for the time being or how this replacement could affect the group that has dealt significant blows to the armed forces. Security of the three countries.

After Al Baghdadi’s death, a new subsidiary was also established, the Islamic State in Central Africa (ISCA). Present in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where it would have absorbed the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) group, it was particularly active in Cabo Delgado in northern Mozambique.

Here the jihadists took control of Mocimboa de Praía in August 2020 and attacked Palma in March, very close to Total, where Total is developing a large liquefied natural gas project, and paralyzed it. Rwanda’s first intervention in support of the Mozambican government and also the dispatch of a SADC mission seem to have reversed the trend and regained control of part of the terrorist-controlled areas that are far from defeated.

In the past week, however, a new front, Uganda, has opened. After the ISCA announced a first attack on October 8, the terrorist group carried out two more on October 23 and 25. In the first he left a dead man in a restaurant, in the second the suspected terrorist died in a bus.

Outside the continent, in Afghanistan, the Islamic State of Khorasan (ISKP) has drawn attention again after the victory of its archenemy, the Taliban. The group carried out an attack on August 27 in the midst of an evacuation operation at Kabul airport and has since carried out several others, including a suicide attack on a Shiite mosque in Kunduz, the perpetrator of which was the first time a fighter from the Uyghur ethnic group, without it being clear whether she comes from China.

Experts agree that in the current circumstances in Afghanistan, despite the Taliban’s willingness to face them, the ISKP could gain strength as it could benefit from deserting fighters disappointed in the group founded by Mullah Omar , and this week even warned by a senior US official that it could have the ability to attack the United States in “between six and twelve months”.

And also in Iraq and Syria, where the Islamic State once had its “caliphate”, the group seems to rise again from the ashes, with more and more frequent attacks in both countries, albeit far from the power that it had its Hour of glory. That same week he carried out an attack on the Shiite community in Diyala, eastern Iraq, in which 15 civilians were killed.

Although a leader is at least publicly absent and has not carried out any sensationalist attacks like in Paris or other European cities in November 2015, the Islamic State is far from ceasing to be a threat.

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