In September 2014, Kuwait undertook a series of raids against terrorists loyal to the Islamic State (IS). It was found by authorities that one of the “great influence[s]” over the jihadi-Salafists in Kuwait was Abdulmuhsin al-Taresh (Abu Jandal al-Kuwaiti). Al-Taresh was an important propagandist-recruiter for IS at this time, and would later become a senior military official. He was killed near IS’s Syrian capital, Raqqa, by the U.S.-led Coalition at the end of December.
Al-Taresh was a Kuwaiti citizen in his 30s, best-known as Abu Jandal al-Kuwaiti. By late 2014, al-Taresh had been shown fighting in Iraq, and had married an Iraqi woman, with whom he had a child. His location at this time is not clear: he was said to have led an IS subunit, the Knights Battalion in the Hasaka area, to be based in Deir Ezzor, and to have left Syria for Iraq. Given that IS had abolished the Syria-Iraq border, this might not actually be a contradiction: al-Taresh might have been given a command theatre that spanned parts of eastern Syria and western Iraq that are becoming IS’s bastion as it loses its urban holdings.
Al-Taresh featured prominently in IS’s media and was said to serve in a senior role on the Media Council, as a deputy to Amr al-Absi (Abu al-Atheer). Being called “The Lion” by his followers, al-Taresh had appeared in IS videos, showing humility by cooking for the group in one and the depth of his belief by wielding a knife at the necks of captives in another. Al-Taresh was also used to attack two clerics who supported anti-IS insurgents: Shafi al-Ajmi, a haraki (activist) Salafi based in Kuwait who supported al-Qaeda and associated extremists, and Adnan al-Arur, a Syrian from Hama based in Saudi Arabia who more or less toed the government line that supported the mainstream armed opposition, led initially by secular defected officers under the Free Syrian Army banner.
Al-Ajmi was implicated in two of the earliest sectarian atrocities by insurgents, in the Shi’a village of Hatla in Deir Ezzor in June 2013 and on the Alawi coast in August 2013, and al-Ajmi was added to the U.S. Treasury’s list of global terrorists for funding al-Qaeda in Syria. Al-Arur had been seen as “evil incarnate” by many of the Bashar al-Assad regime’s supporters early in the uprising and his sectarian statements were helpful to the regime in portraying the opposition as a sectarian movement directed from abroad. In reality, such approval as al-Arur did have in opposition circles came from his populist manner, which spoke directly to the societal elements of the population that were the backbone of the movement that rose against Assad regime, and his television theatrics.
Al-Taresh was in time moved to the Military Council, and was involved in IS retaking Palmyra on 11 December 2016. Thereafter, al-Taresh was relocated to the Tabqa area in Raqqa Province, where the Syrian Democratic Forces—the U.S.-supported group dominated by the Kurdish PKK—were advancing against IS. Al-Taresh was charged with protecting the caliphate’s capital from the west, particularly its supply route that goes into the north of Raqqa Province and out toward the last major IS-held city apart from its twin capitals, al-Bab. When IS surrounded an SDF/PKK detachment in Jabar village on 21 December, leading a British foreign fighter with the PKK, 20-year-old Ryan Lock, to kill himself rather than fall into jihadi hands, al-Taresh was almost certainly among those directing the offensive.
It was in Jabar, on 26 December, that a Coalition airstrike killed al-Taresh. Al-Taresh “was involved in the use of suicide vehicles, IEDs and chemical weapons against the SDF,” according to the Pentagon, and his “death will degrade ISIL’s ability to defend Raqqa”. The Pentagon added that al-Taresh had “associations with ISIL terror attack planners,” so his death will diminish IS’s capacity to “launch external operations against the West”.
Al-Taresh’s death was confirmed by IS on 27 January 2017 via a series of eulogies in a video from Raqqa, “Smashing the Enemies: Regarding the Results of the Army of the Islamic State Against the Apostate PKK on the Outskirts of the Wilayat [al-Raqqa]”.
Originally published at The Henry Jackson Society