Unknown ISIS leader said to be al-Baghdadi's brother

By Waleed Abu al-Khair and AFP

A group of ISIS members in Iraq swear allegiance to their new leader in a picture posted to Telegram on March 11. [File]

A group of ISIS members in Iraq swear allegiance to their new leader in a picture posted to Telegram on March 11. [File]

A terrorist movement trying to stay relevant has had to pick its third leader in less than three years. The new leader, remarkably, is the older brother of the self-proclaimed "caliph" who was killed in 2019, according to intelligence sources.

The "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) in March named Abu Hasan al-Hashemi al-Qurashi as its global leader, just over a month after his immediate predecessor blew himself up, along with his family members, during a US raid in Syria.

Little is known about Abu Hasan al-Qurashi. He takes the reins of a group that is a shadow of its former self in terms of members and power, after Abu Ibrahim al-Qurashi's undignified demise.

However, two Iraqi security officials who spoke to Reuters in March say he is the older brother of the late Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, ISIS's "caliph" from 2014 to 2019. They gave the new leader's real name as Juma Awad al-Badri.

The two men were brothers, confirmed a Western security official.

Before becoming ISIS leader, Badri was the long-time chairman of its Shura Council, a leadership body, one of the Iraqi sources told Reuters.

High leadership turnover has been a hallmark of ISIS since its inception, driven by successful operations to crush the violent extremist organisation.

Al-Baghdadi killed himself during a US raid in October 2019 in Syria, blowing himself up in a tunnel, along with two children who were with him.

The United States has vowed to keep working with its allies to "keep pressure on ISIS", with President Joe Biden saying that the February raid "sends a strong message to terrorists around the world: we will come after you, and find you".

An audio message posted on ISIS social media accounts on March 10 confirmed the deaths of the previous ISIS chief and of the group's former spokesman, Abu Hamza al-Qurashi.

The message was delivered by the new spokesman, Abu-Omar al-Muhajir.

Little-known leader

Abu Hasan al-Qurashi takes the helm at a time when ISIS has been weakened by US-backed operations in Iraq and Syria aiming to thwart a resurgence.

In Afghanistan, ISIS's Khorasan branch (ISIS-K) has committed atrocities for years, especially targeting the Shia minority. It struck twice in Kabul last November: the fatal bombing of a minibus and a massacre at a military hospital.

According to the ISIS audio statement, Abu Hasan was endorsed by Abu Ibrahim before his death and the appointment was confirmed by the group's senior leaders.

The recording did not offer further details.

ISIS went "with a relative unknown because the bench has been thinned out considerably", Soufan Group research director Colin Clarke said.

The group's choice of successor likely had been made before Abu Ibrahim's death to avert internal divisions, Jihad Analytics consultancy director Damien Ferre said.

"The decision was made early to avoid a strong destabilisation of the group," he said, explaining that similar logic applied to the 2019 succession.

Keeping ISIS in check

Terror group specialist Wael Abdul Muttalib said the appointment of a new leader shows "ISIS is determined to survive for as long as possible, if only in the media", as part of its ideological war to boost the morale of its followers.

ISIS took advantage of the international community's preoccupation with Russia's assault on Ukraine to make its announcement, Syrian journalist Mohammed al-Abdullah said.

He warned that the group will seek to reactivate its sleeper cells in some areas, which underscores the need for the international coalition to continue its support of its allies on the ground, led by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

"The allies have proven in the past period their strength and effectiveness in fighting the group," al-Abdullah said.

"At the present time, the group's capabilities are in tatters and its operations are limited to lone wolf and limited-scale attacks, and can be eliminated once and for all before their scope expands again," he said.

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