The destroyed compound where Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was found in Syria // Drone footage taken by Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency
The so-called caliph of the Islamic State (ISIS), Ibrahim al-Badri (Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi), was killed in an American raid in Syria on 27 October, and the spokesman, Abu Hassan al-Muhajir, was killed the next day in an airstrike. ISIS acknowledged the losses and appointed new leaders on Halloween.
Abu Hamza al-Qurayshiintroduced himself in a nearly-eight-minute audio statement as the new spokesman and named Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Qurayshi as Al-Baghdadi’s replacement. Little information was given about either man.
The U.S. government has said it knows “almost nothing” about the new caliph, Abu Ibrahim, leaving us no closer, for now, to knowing his identity. But some options present themselves. Continue reading →
Taha Falaha (Abu Muhammad al-Adnani) [right] appearing in an Islamic State video alongside Tarkhan Batirashvili (Abu Umar al-Shishani, 3 June 2017, displaying a scene from 2014 when IS demolished the borders between Iraq and Syria. Falaha was killed in August 2016. It is common for IS to hold back pictures and footage of its leaders for time-spans that can reach over a decade.
Taha Falaha was the effective deputy of the Islamic State (IS) when he was killed on 30 August 2016, by which time he was also overseeing the foreign attacks campaign by IS and serving as governor of the IS-held areas in Syria. Likely, however, Falaha, is best-known internationally by his kunya, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, and for his role as IS’s official spokesman, particularly his speech in September 2014 inciting Muslims in the West to commit terrorist attacks against their native countries. Falaha had been recruited in Aleppo in 2002 by IS’s founder, Ahmad al-Khalayleh (Abu Musab al-Zarqawi) and steadily advanced through IS’s media department, eventually being announced as the official spokesman with his first speech, released on 1 August 2011. An English-language transcript of that first speech, an hour-long audio message entitled, al-Dawlat al-Islam Baqiya (“The Islamic State Remains” or “The Islamic State Endures”), was released by “Ansar al-Mujahideen English Forum Language and Translation Department” and was posted to their forum on 4 March 2012. The transcript is reproduced below with some editions from the Arabic transcript and some important parts highlighted in bold. Continue reading →
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has threatened a third military operation into Syria, this time in the east. The mobilisation of his proxies and other measures make clear that Erdoğan wants it to be believed he means it. The complication is that the intended target, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), are the chosen partners of the United States-led coalition against Islamic State (ISIS), and U.S. soldiers are present in the area. Continue reading →
The United States has launched at least five raids into Syria to date, all of them against the Islamic State (IS). The second such raid, on 15 May 2015, killed Fathi al-Tunisi (Abu Sayyaf al-Iraqi, Abu Muhammad al-Iraqi, or Abd al-Ghani), who oversaw critical revenue-generating criminal schemes for the group. Al-Tunisi was primarily responsible for the oil industry in eastern Syria, in which capacity he collaborated with Bashar al-Asad’s regime, and he worked as head of the Antiquities Division of IS Diwan al-Rikaz, which translates literally as the “Department of Precious Things That Come Out of the Ground”, usually given as the “Department of Natural Resources”. Al-Tunisi was what is sometimes termed a “middle manager”: the connective tissue between the most senior levels of the leadership and local administrators, ensuring smooth coordination between the two by inter alia keeping the books. In short, the kind of terrorist operative that keeps an organisation going. Continue reading →
Turkey killed a senior operative of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the internationally-recognised terrorist organisation and narcoticstraffickingentity that has been at war with the Turkish state since 1984, in Iraq last week. Turkey launched a wave of airstrikes against PKK targets in Syria and Iraq in April 2017 and for the last several months Ankara has been widening its campaign against the PKK outside Turkey’s borders, particularly in Iraq, where the PKK is not protected by the United States, as it is in eastern Syria. Having feinted in June toward an attack on the historic PKK headquarters in the Qandil Mountains—a somewhat symbolic target at this stage, with the bulk of the PKK’s leadership and resources in Syria—it appears the Turks have opted for a more targeted approach.
This operation underscores the continuance of U.S.-Turkey relations, and the mutual benefits of the relationship, even in its current damaged state, where both sides have a laundry list of legitimate grievances with the other. If a formula for normalisation can be found, the potential to contain and weaken some of the worst, most destabilising elements in the region, saliently the PKK and the Iranian regime, is within reach. Continue reading →
The Islamic State (IS) formally turned from statehood to insurgency last October. The 125th edition of Al-Naba, IS’s weekly newsletter, released on 29 March 2018, contained a number of indicators that the jihadists’ guerrilla warfare is gaining considerable steam—and that IS thinks it should gain more. Continue reading →
The 122nd edition of Al-Naba, the Islamic State’s weekly newsletter, was released on 9 March 2018 and contained an article, on page 3, suggesting that the use of takfir (excommunication) should be circumscribed. A rough translation is reproduced below. Continue reading →
The United States Department of Defence announced on 14 November that four more important operatives of the Islamic State (IS) had been killed in targeted airstrikes by the U.S.-led anti-IS Coalition. “The removal of these key terrorists disrupts ISIS’ weapons engineering activities and their ability to recruit and train terrorists,” the Pentagon said in a statement. “It also reduces their ability to plan and conduct terrorist attacks, both within Syria and Iraq and abroad.” Continue reading →
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) held a referendum on 25 September, and voted overwhelmingly—with nearly 93% in favour—for independence. The comparison with Brexit might have been overworked by all sides, but there was a familiarity: while the result itself was not a shock, the fact of the referendum itself came as a surprise to many in what one might call the global elite, which lectured in that endearing way that had such success in deterring Brits a year ago. Then as now, the effect was, if anything, to stoke the bloody-mindedness of a population that had considerable qualms but had enough pride to repudiate being harangued in those accents. Still, as with Brexit, it wasn’t as if the naysayers didn’t have a case, and now comes the really difficult work. Continue reading →
By recent reports, one could easily come away with the impression that war and instability across the Fertile Crescent are winding down. Predictions about what comes next, always a risky enterprise in the Middle East, are at a point of unique vulnerability. Chaos and violence for some considerable time to come look like a safe bet, though the timing and scale look more uncertain. Nonetheless, certain trendlines are visible, most clearly the emergence of a regional order, abetted by the international coalition’s campaign against the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS), dominated by the Islamic Republic of Iran. Continue reading →