Will New ISIS Leader Galvanise Supporters?


ISIS announced a new leader last week. While not much is known about him, he is thought to have been a close aide of former leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Last Thursday, ISIS announced the group’s new leader, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, who replaced former leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who died during a raid on his safe-house in Barisha, in Syria’s Idlib Province.

Al-Baghdadi’s death at the end of October came as a shock to many onlookers, who questioned how he managed to travel to northwestern Syria when the group’s last territorial holdings were in the east of the country.

Furthermore, al-Baghdadi’s final location in Barisha was controlled by rival jihadist faction, Hurras al-Deen, an Al Qaeda-linked group that has showed – on an organisational level at least – great hostility towards ISIS.

But following al-Baghdadi’s death, the appointment of Abu Ibrahim al-Qurayshi has raised several questions about his suitability for the role.

Little is known about Abu Ibrahim al-Qurayshi, except that it is believed that he was a close aide of al-Baghdadi. While some analysts have speculated that he is an Iraqi national, this remains unconfirmed, along with his age, appearance, and background – and even his voice. According to one US official, the new leader is a “nobody”.

It remains to be seen therefore what impact Abu Ibrahim al-Qurayshi’s leadership will have for ISIS. This is especially important given the loss of ISIS’ territory in recent years and its overall operational decline in light of a significantly lower pool of militants and organisational capacities. The recent publication of ISIS’ weekly al-Naba newsletter, for example, for a long time a staple of the group’s propaganda, only contained eight pages, which marks a historic low.

While a number of the group’s affiliates around the world have reaffirmed their allegiance to ISIS and the new leader, many of these franchises consist of small numbers of militants and have questionable capacities to further the group’s goals.

Will Abu Ibrahim, who is known only to a handful of top-ranking militants, be able to galvanise its franchises? Or, like his predecessors Abu Hamza al-Muhajir and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, will he preside over a period stagnation and irrelevance?

Image: Former leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi prepares to give his infamous sermon in 2014.