Report says top terrorist who oversaw operations around world is new IS chief

UK paper identifies previously secret successor to slain Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi as Amir Mohammed Abdul Rahman al-Mawli al-Salbi

The second leader of Islamic State, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi, born Amir Mohammed Abdul Rahman al-Mawli al-Salbi (Courtesy)
The second leader of Islamic State, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi, born Amir Mohammed Abdul Rahman al-Mawli al-Salbi (Courtesy)

The new leader of the Islamic State terror group is Amir Mohammed Abdul Rahman al-Mawli al-Salbi, The Guardian reported Monday, citing officials from two intelligence services.

Salbi is one of the group’s founders and oversaw the enslavement of members of the Yazidi community in Iraq, as well as jihadist operations around the world, according to the report.

He replaces the group’s first leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, who was killed in a US operation last year. The Guardian report said Salbi and Baghdadi met when both were being held by US forces at Camp Bucca prison in Iraq in 2004.

The report said Salbi was named Baghdadi’s successor hours after the latter’s death, but the appointment was kept secret. At the time, IS said its new leader was Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Quraishi — an apparent alias as such a figure is not known to intelligence services.

Salbi is seen as one of the group’s top ideologues, possessing a degree in sharia law. He is a leader with a similar worldview to Baghdadi. He is not an Arab — a rarity among the group’s leaders — but an Iraqi Turkmen.

An image made from video posted on a militant website April 29, 2019, purports to show the leader of the Islamic State group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, being interviewed by his group’s Al-Furqan media outlet. (Al-Furqan media via AP, File)

Since Salbi’s appointment. he is believed to have been working to unite the organization’s new leadership under his authority.

Salbi’s location is currently unknown, but the intelligence officials said he was likely to be headquartered in a region of small villages and towns west of Mosul.

The Islamic State evolved in Syria after US troops withdrew from Iraq in 2011; its fighters swept back across the border in 2014, captured wide swaths of western and northern Iraq and imposed brutal rule over a self-declared “caliphate.”

A US-led coalition finally ousted the group from the last of its territory in Syria in March 2019, but thousands of fighters scattered throughout the region and continue to pose a threat.

In October, US Army special operations forces chased al-Baghdadi into a dead-end tunnel on a compound where he had been hiding, and he set off a suicide vest he was wearing.

In November, US President Donald Trump said America had its eye on a new Islamic State leader, telling the Economic Club of New York that “we know where he is.”

An Islamic State militant flag lies in a tent encampment after US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters took control of Baghouz, Syria on, March 23, 2019. (AP/Maya Alleruzzo)

Trump did not mention the name of the new target.

After Baghdadi’s death, a spokesman for the group urged followers to pledge allegiance to the new “caliph” and advised Americans: “Don’t rejoice.”

The new IS leader was identified as a scholar, a well-known warrior and “emir of war” who had battled American forces and knew “its wars.”

“So don’t rejoice America for the death of Sheik al-Baghdadi,” the speaker said. “Don’t you know, America, that [IS] today is at the doorstep of Europe and is in Central Africa? It is also expanding and remaining from east to west.”

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