UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY NEWS) — The killing of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a US operation on Sunday opens the door to questions over who will succeed him as head of the radical group, but the list of candidates appears limited, experts say.
The process of choosing a successor to al-Baghdadi may open the way for splits in the ranks of the organization, according to experts, but at the same time other experts believe that the absence of the leader would strengthen the position of the organization with a strong administrative structure.
The Syrian Democratic Forces also announced Sunday the death of ISIS spokesman in northern Syria, Abu Hassan al-Muhajir. This would further limit the group’s options for choosing a new “successor” after the killing of its leader.
The group’s accounts on social media did not mention the death of al-Baghdadi or the names of potential successors.
The names of two candidates to replace al-Baghdadi, namely “Abu Othman al-Tunisi and Abu Saleh al-Jazrawi,” known as Haj Abdullah, the Islamic State expert, Hisham al-Hashemi, told Firas Press.
Abu Othman, a Tunisian, heads the Islamic State’s Shura (Consultative) Council, an advisory council in the organization responsible for enacting legislation, according to Hashemi. Abu Saleh al-Jazrawi is a Saudi national and heads the organization’s executive body.
However, the expert stresses that the two options are controversial because the two men are not Iraqi or Syrian affiliates, whose descendants constitute the majority of the members of the organization, pointing out that this may lead to “splits.”
He also considered the academic and expert in the affairs of jihadists Ayman Jawad al-Tamimi that Haj Abdullah is a potential candidate to succeed Baghdadi.
Tamimi explains that Haj Abdullah’s name “appears in leaked documents of the Islamic State as a deputy to Baghdadi, and he is still alive as we know.”
Al-Tamimi adds that “besides his name in some of the organization’s documents, we do not know much about Haj Abdullah except that he was the emir of the executive body of the organization, the organ of public administration in the Islamic State.”
– Rumors –
Speculation has also centered on the name of senior ISIS leader Abdullah Qardash, a former Iraqi army officer who was jailed alongside Baghdadi at the US-run Camp Bucca in Iraq.
A statement attributed to the “Amaq” affiliate of the jihadist organization a few months ago, but has not been formally adopted, has indicated that Qardash was chosen to replace Baghdadi, even before the latter’s death.
However, the experts Tamimi and Hashemi confirmed that the statement is false.
Al-Hashemi, citing Iraqi intelligence sources, said that Qardash had died since 2017, adding that Qardash’s daughter “is currently being held by Iraqi intelligence.”
“He and her relatives confirmed that he died in 2017,” he said, without giving further details.
Hashemi explained that Qardash, a Turkman from the Tal Afar region in Iraq, does not have the ingredients to allow him to lead the organization, he does not belong to the tribe of Quraish, which is required to be the leader of the organization, according to the expert, in the sense that he does not belong to the lineage of the Prophet Muhammad.
The new leader will inherit the difficult task of leading an organization that is facing difficulties, especially after losing vast territory, turning it into an armed organization composed of sleeper cells capable only of sporadic attacks between Syria and Iraq.
The defeat of the group last March has created widening divisions within it, with a team within it blaming al-Baghdadi for that defeat.
Knight Rosenblatt, an expert on jihadist organizations, said that with Baghdadi’s departure, “organizations affiliated with the Islamic State will find an opportunity to change their allegiance or at least not be sworn in behind Baghdadi.”
The expert suggested that this potential weakness could in turn give impetus to other jihadist organizations such as HTS, formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra, the former branch of al-Qaida in Syria, as well as al-Qaeda-linked Guards of Religion.
Both groups are trying to root out the Islamic State from Syria.
-“Did not matter”-
The leadership vacuum in the organization is unlikely to affect his day-to-day business, according to Northeastern University professor of political science Max Abrams.
“It doesn’t matter who will succeed al-Baghdadi,” said the academy, who has rarely appeared in public since ISIS seized large territory in Syria and Iraq in 2014.
“Decision-making, organization of operations and recruitment among ISIS are decentralized and even more decentralized than al-Qaeda,” whose founder Osama bin Laden was killed in 2011 in a US attack, he said.
“The question about bin Laden’s succession when he was killed was more important because bin Laden played a bigger role in al Qaeda than Baghdadi’s role in the Islamic State,” he said.
The Islamic State is based on a strict administrative structure that compensates for the loss of the group’s leader, according to Charlie Winter, a researcher at King’s College in London.
“Jihadist groups that are able to withstand or even strengthen their strength after the loss of their leader are those that have the organization and the administrative structure,” the researcher told AFP.
“Very few jihadi organizations have an administrative organization like the Islamic State, so I expect it to become stronger, not to disintegrate,” he said.
This article is written and prepared by our foreign editors writing for OBSERVATORY NEWS from different countries around the world – material edited and published by OBSERVATORY staff in our newsroom.
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