Already shattered by territorial losses and the collapse of its so-called "caliphate", the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) has a new vulnerability at its core: its leader is a rat.
Amir Muhammad Said Abdal-Rahman al-Mawla (also called Amir Mohammed Abdul Rahman al-Mawli al-Salbi) took over the ranks of ISIS after Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi killed himself and three of his children during a raid by US commandos in Syria in October 2019.
ISIS initially announced Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Quraishi as its new leader, but that name turned out to be a nom de guerre for al-Mawla.
The US government on June 24 doubled to $10 million its reward for the capture of al-Mawla under its Rewards for Justice programme.
Al-Mawla is a Turkmen-Iraqi, born in Mosul in 1976, and is a founding member of ISIS. He holds a degree in Sharia law from the University of Mosul and rose through the ranks of ISIS in part thanks to his background as an Islamic scholar.
London-based The Guardian called him "one of the most influential ideologues among the now depleted ranks of [ISIS]".
Breaking the news of his ascension after al-Baghdadi's death, the newspaper described al-Mawla as "a hardened veteran in the same vein as Baghdadi, unflinching in his loyalty to the extremist group".
But recently declassified US military interrogation reports call into question that loyalty.
Al-Mawla informed on dozens of ISIS and al-Qaeda members during his detention at the US-run Camp Bucca prison in Iraq in 2008, suggest three Tactical Interrogation Reports that the US Military Academy's Combating Terrorism Centre (CTC) released in September.
In total, al-Mawla identified approximately 88 individuals in the three declassified reports. Another 63 reports remain classified, so a full analysis of the ISIS leader's treachery is incomplete.
"What is beyond question is that he was an informant while detained by US military forces in Iraq," Foreign Policy reported November 19.
"That means the Islamic State is now led by a man who betrayed dozens of Islamic State members, including many senior leaders holding Sharia Council, administrative and military positions in Mosul, going so far as to give their physical descriptions and phone numbers," it said.
Al-Mawla also outlined the organisational hierarchy of ISIS, identifying current and former leaders.
Eleven of 20 individuals identified by al-Mawla are authentic and many of them subsequently faced imprisonment or death, according to the CTC Sentinel, which first analysed the interrogation reports.
The irony is that during al-Mawla's ascent to the top of ISIS's leadership, he ordered countless executions for supposed disloyalty, while at the same time his own treachery devastated the group's ranks.
"From 2008 to 2009, counter-terrorism operations in Mosul, largely led by US forces, devastated the Islamic State's leadership, and it seems al-Mawla identified many of them in January 2008," Foreign Policy reported.
During the same period, a number of al-Qaeda's top leaders met similar fates. Al-Mawla was an active member of al-Qaeda from 2003-2014 prior to the birth of ISIS.
Hypocrisy, elitism at ISIS core
In his first year as "caliph", al-Mawla has achieved little success, and the revelation that he is an informant and a hypocrite will make it all the more difficult for him to turn the group around, analysts say.
An analysis of the language al-Mawla used in the interrogation reports suggests that he holds grudges easily, said Gina Ligon, director of the US National Counterterrorism Innovation, Technology and Education Centre at the University of Nebraska in Omaha.
He likely views people as "expendable resources that he could discard [and no more than] cogs in a greater machine", she told Middle East Eye.
"They were key to his release so he gave them up," Ligon said. "This is a distant leader who will callously give people up when they are no longer of use to him."
Al-Mawla's transgressions against ISIS and al-Qaeda leadership would have led to subordinates being tortured and killed, underscoring the elitist culture and double standard between leaders and rank-and-file members within ISIS.
"When the Islamic State was losing territory across Syria and Iraq, there were reports of leaders being ferried away from cities under siege while others were expected to remain and fight to the death," Foreign Policy reported.
"The Islamic State has a rat problem. And it's at the top," Haroro Ingram, a senior research fellow at George Washington University's programme on extremism and co-author of the Foreign Policy report, said during a webinar hosted by the CTC.
"You've essentially got the canary caliph sitting there," he said.
Ousted from the areas it once controlled and faced with mass defections, ISIS is now reeling financially from the loss of its main sources of revenue -- smuggling oil, looting banks, and trading in plundered artefacts and irreplaceable national treasures.
Following al-Baghdadi's death, US Treasury Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing Marshall Billingslea said the group's financing would likely shift from a "centralised" system to a more fragmented one.
"Returning to violence, kidnapping, blackmail, and forced taxation and donations, which are primitive methods to make money, could be the last resort for the group, which has lost most of its vast resources," said Iraqi political analyst Iyad al-Anbar.
ISIS's "pitch to potential supporters was much easier to make five years ago when it could use its propaganda to project an image of strength and success", Foreign Policy reported.
Now the group is on the run everywhere it claims to operate, and its once-sophisticated propaganda arm is a shadow of its former glory.
ISIS has been scrambling to regroup after major territorial losses in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
In November 2019, the group's Khorasan branch (ISIS-K) admitted defeat in Afghanistan, where it had attempted for several years to establish its "caliphate", saying its members had nothing to eat for weeks and no bullets left in their guns.
ISIS was created by Jews and Israel, and its aim was to defame Islam. ISIS ideology has no place in Islam. Their ideology is in contradiction to the principles of Islam. That’s why ISIS could not find its foothold among Muslims and in Islamic countries. If God is willing, ISIS will be destroyed very soon.Reply