The Third Deputy of the Islamic State: Muhammad Khalaf Shakar

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 12 November 2017

Muhammad Shakar had, according to his martyr biography, “become influenced by Salafism in 1997-98 while serving as a part of [Saddam] Hussein’s Special Republican Guard”.[1] Quitting the military and returning to his home in Mosul, Shakar was harassed by the regime until he went to join Ansar al-Islam in the mountains of Kurdistan.[2]

Shakar, known as Abu Talha al-Ansari or Abu Talha al-Mawsuli, joined the predecessor to Islamic State either just before or just after Saddam fell, and he was arrested in Mosul on 14 June 2005.

At the time of his arrest, Shakar had been a leader of Ansar al-Islam in Mosul, the emir for al-Qaeda in Iraq (what is now the Islamic State) in an area covering Mosul and some northern districts of Anbar and Saladin, and the overall deputy to the Islamic State’s founder, Ahmad al-Khalayleh (Abu Musab al-Zarqawi).[3]

When Shakar became al-Zarqawi’s deputy is not exactly clear, but it cannot have been more than a few months before he was captured. The previous deputy, Mustafa Darwish (Abu Muhammad al-Lubnani), the IS movement’s first military leader, was killed at some point prior to 15 February 2005.[4] Darwish had succeeded al-Zarqawi’s first deputy, Umar al-Juma (Abu Anas al-Shami), who was the IS movement’s first religious leader. Al-Juma had been killed on 17 September 2004.[5]

Shakar was “one of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s most trusted operations agents in Iraq,” according to Air Force Brig. Gen. Donald Alston. “Numerous reports indicated he wore a suicide vest twenty-four hours-a-day and stated that he would never surrender. Instead, Talha gave up without a fight,” Alston added.[6]

Shakar was allegedly turned in by civilians in Mosul, but the record of arrests leading up to his capture offer an alternate explanation:

  • Shakar’s deputy in Mosul, Abdul Aziz Sa’dun Ahmed Hamduni (Abu Ahmed), was taken into U.S. custody on 22 December 2004. Hamduni had taken money and weapons from Shakar, and coordinated with Shakar in terrorist attacks in Mosul.[7]
  • Another of Shakar’s deputies, Abu Marwan, who was also responsible for terrorism in Mosul, was arrested on 23 December 2004, and around the same time Fadil Hussain Ahmed al-Kurdi (Abu Ubaydah al-Kurdi or Abu Ridah) was also captured by the Iraqi government. Al-Kurdi was responsible for “facilitating communications between al-Qaeda and the Zarqawi terror networks, as well as coordinating the movement of terrorists in and out of Iraq,” according to Baghdad. Al-Kurdi is the brother of Umar Baziyani, who was arrested by the Coalition in May 2004.[8]
  • The Iraqi security forces announced their arrest of Salim Youssef Khafif Hussein (Agha Abu Dawoud), a bomb-maker closely linked to Shakar, on 17 May 2005.[9]
  • On 3 June 2005, Iraqi police announced their seizure of Mahdi Moussa al-Jibouri (Mullah Mahdi), the purported head of the Mosul cell of Ansar al-Islam.[10]
  • Mutlaq Mahmoud Mutlaq Abdullah (Abu Raad), a facilitator and financier for Shakar, was arrested on 5 June 2005, just ten days before Shakar himself was apprehended. Abdullah supervised the collection of money through criminal activities—blackmail, abduction and theft—and thus oversaw “the funds available to the terrorist cell led by” Shakar, according to the Iraqi government.[11]

When arrested, Shakar was regarded as the probable successor to al-Zarqawi.[12] This mattered at the time because in May 2005, the U.S. believed it had nearly killed al-Zarqawi. Some reports had al-Zarqawi fleeing Iraq—presumably for Syria—after a bullet through his lung. But a speech by al-Zarqawi soon reassured one and all that his injuries had been light, and that he remained very much in Iraq.[13]

On 7 December 2005, four foreign jihadists, from Algeria, Jordan, and Syria, were given life sentences in Iraq for having entered Iraq illegally and committed crimes “ranging from murder and terrorism to possession of illegal weapons”. The four men—named as Mahmud Abdul Hadi, Mohammed Atala Mohammed, Mohammed bin Rabit Saadam, and Ismail Mohammed Abdullah—were said to belong to a bombing cell led by Shakar in Mosul.[14]

Shakar was sent to the gallows with thirteen others on 7 February 2012.[15]

*                  *                  *                  *                  *                  *


[1] Truls Hallberg Tønnessen, “Heirs of Zarqawi or Saddam? The relationship between al-Qaida in Iraq and the Islamic State,” Perspectives on Terrorism, August 2015,

[2] Mu’awiya al-Qahtani, “The Biography of the Brother and Hero Abu Talha al-Ansari,” al-Masada Media Production, 2012,

[3] Aymenn al-Tamimi, “An Account of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi & Islamic State Succession Lines,” 24 January 2016,

[4] “The Fall of Zarqawi’s Lieutenants,” Jamestown Foundation, 5 May 2005,

[5] “Al-Tawhid and Al-Jihad leader killed,” Al-Jazeera, 22 September 2004,

[6] “U.S. military: Al Qaeda leader in Mosul captured,” CNN, 18 June 2005,

[7] “Top Zarqawi Aide Captured,” The Jawa Report, 5 January 2005,

[8] “Key leader of al-Zarqawi network captured in Baghdad,” CNN, 31 December 2004,

[9] Joel Roberts, “Death Toll Mounts In Iraq,” CBS/AP, 17 May 2005,

[10] “Al-Qaida in Iraq suspect arrested,” The Associated Press, 5 June 2005,

[11] “Al-Qaida in Iraq suspect arrested,” The Associated Press, 5 June 2005,

[12] Bill Roggio, “US forces capture key Zarqawi commander,” The Long War Journal, 16 June 2005,

[13] Timothy Williams, “U.S. Says It Has Captured Al Qaeda Leader for Mosul Area,” The New York Times, 16 June 2005,

[14] “Iraq jails al-Qaida members,” AFP, 7 December 2005,

[15] “Iraq executes 14 despite UN rights chief protest,” Reuters, 8 February 2012,

2 thoughts on “The Third Deputy of the Islamic State: Muhammad Khalaf Shakar

  1. Pingback: The Islamic State: Between Al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein | The Syrian Intifada

  2. Pingback: The River that Runs through Mosul – The ISIS Reader

Leave a Reply