The Pentagon announced today that a senior Islamic State leader named Abd al Rahman Mustafa al Qaduli (also known as Hajji Iman, Abu Ali al Anbari and Abu Ala al Afri, among other aliases) has been killed.
During a press conference, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter would not say how or when Qaduli (seen on the right) met his demise, but he emphasized the veteran jihadist’s importance within the Islamic State pecking order.
Qaduli served the organization in a variety of capacities and was involved in its external operations wing, according to Carter. The external operations unit is responsible for plotting against the West. Carter did not know if Qaduli was involved in planning the assault on Paris last November or the attack in Brussels earlier this week, but twice during the press briefing he said that Qaduli was generally involved in the Islamic State’s international plotting.
The US is “systematically eliminating” the Islamic State’s “cabinet,” the Defense Secretary said. But Carter also explained that while it is “necessary” to kill senior figures such as Qaduli, it is not “sufficient” to defeat the overall organization.
Qaduli has been hunted by American authorities for years. He was designated as a terrorist in May 2014 by the US Treasury Department, which published a short biography on him. Qaduli joined al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) in 2004, according to Treasury. He became a “deputy” and “assistant” to AQI’s founder, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, and also served as the group’s emir for Mosul, Iraq.
Qaduli reported to al Qaeda’s senior leadership (AQSL) in South Asia. He was “AQI’s representative” to AQSL in Pakistan, according to Treasury. He “traveled in February 2006 to Pakistan on behalf of [Zarqawi] to conduct an interview, which was then to be provided to al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan.” [See LWJ report, Treasury Department designates 2 ‘al Qaeda leaders’ in Syria.]
In May 2015, the State Department offered a reward of up to $7 million for information on Qaduli’s whereabouts. State explained that Qaduli had been imprisoned inside Iraq, but joined the Islamic State upon his release in 2012. The Islamic State is the successor organization to AQI, which Qaduli originally joined.
Press reports provide some additional details concerning Qaduli’s murky career.
According to Hisham al Hashimi, an adviser to the Iraqi government, Qaduli traveled to Afghanistan in 1998 and joined al Qaeda at that time. Citing Hashimi in April 2015, Newsweek reported that Qaduli had temporarily replaced Abu Bakr al Baghdadi as the head of the Islamic State after Baghdadi was purportedly injured. However, this detail has not been publicly confirmed.
Qaduli was also supposedly in favor of reconciling the Islamic State with al Qaeda and its official branch in Syria, Al Nusrah Front. If true, then he undoubtedly faced stiff opposition from other senior Islamic State commanders because Baghdadi’s men still seek to undermine al Qaeda’s standing among jihadists more than two years after the organizations split.
According to the Observer, Osama bin Laden recommended that Qaduli, a former Physics teacher who became an influential ideologue, become AQI’s chief emir in 2010. AQI’s two top leaders were killed in April of that year and Abu Bakr al Baghdadi replaced them. So, if bin Laden did nominate Qaduli for the top spot in AQI, the group did not follow his advice.
Like many details about Qaduli’s past, bin Laden’s endorsement of Qaduli has not been publicly verified. It is possible that Qaduli’s role within AQI, as well as bin Laden’s desire to see him lead the group, is discussed in one of the many al Qaeda files recovered during the May 2011 raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan that have yet to be released.