State Department Sanctions Abd al-Nasir, a Mysterious Senior ISIS Official

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 20 November 2018

Islamic State video from Wilayat al-Baraka, north of al-Jafra, October 2017

The United States State Department today sanctioned Haji Abd al-Nasir as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT), which covers “foreign persons who have committed, or pose a significant risk of committing, acts of terrorism”. Abd al-Nasir is a senior official in the Islamic State (IS).

The State Department says that Abd al-Nasir has held “several leadership positions” in IS, including the military emir of Syria and the chairmanship of the Delegated Committee, essentially the executive administrative body of IS. The State Department notes that the “Delegated Committee is responsible for planning and issuing orders related to ISIS’s military operations, tax collections, religious police, and commercial and security operations”.

The U.S. designation is conspicuously brief, and is missing even a list of Abd al-Nasir’s alternative kunyas, let alone his real name. This suggests that U.S. intelligence does not have such information about Abd al-Nasir, nor indeed much information at all. Abd al-Nasir has remained largely hidden from what is known of IS’s leadership structure.

A United Nations sanctions notification issued for Abd al-Nasir yesterday has a little more information. It is possible that Abd al-Nasir’s name is Taha al-Khuwayt, according to the U.N.—though it has “low” confidence in this—and he was born between 1965 and 1969, making him between 49- and 53-years-old, in Tal Afar, Iraq.

The Tal Afar connection is interesting. It is the birthplace of one of the caliph’s deputies, Fadel al-Hiyali, known as Haji Mutaz, Abu Muslim al-Turkmani, and Abu Mutaz al-Qurayshi, and the site of much work done by another, Abdurrahman al-Qaduli (Abu Ali al-Anbari), one of the most important figures in the history of IS, who was growing and shaping the jihadi movement in Iraq while the Ba’th regime was still in place. The Turkomen tribes around Tal Afar were drawn into the smuggling networks used by Saddam Husayn to defy the international sanctions against him, and many of those networks passed into the hands of IS once the regime came down in 2003. These Turkomen would go on to be particularly prominent in IS’s financial councils.

One of the few times Abd al-Nasir’s name has emerged in public was in July 2017. Two months earlier, IS had issued a highly controversial fatwa that vastly expanded the legitimate use of takfir (excommunication). The document, signed by Ismail al-Ithawi (Abu Zayd al-Iraqi) and stamped by Abd al-Nasir in his role at the head of the Delegated Committee, triggered open dispute between the so-called Hazimis within IS and a faction that took a more restrictive view of the use of takfir gathered around senior cleric Turki al-Binali. Al-Binali (and several of his prominent allies) were soon killed, quieting the first wave of protests.

As Cole Bunzel documents, the first protest in the second wave came from Abu Muhammad al-Husayni al-Hashimi, a Saudi jihadi based in Mayadeen, who wrote an open letter to IS’s leader, Ibrahim al-Badri (Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi), dated 5 July 2017, calling on him to restore some order since the Islamic State was now “an entity in which innovations and extremism have spread”. Senior posts had been seized by “Kharijites”, said al-Hashimi, naming Abd al-Nasir as one of them (al-Hashimi also named a Saudi security official, Abu Hafs al-Jazrawi).

Al-Badri re-appeared in September 2017 and Abd al-Nasir was dismissed, putting the Delegated Committee back in the hands of the “moderates”—at least for a time, since that now appears to have been reversed again.

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