Pentagon announces death of senior Islamic State leader

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.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal. Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Truthful James says:

    Bill, this biography is important — at least to me. It validates the distributive organization of al Qaeda (horizontal integration, with ObL being the Chief Operating Officer but not the Chief Executive — that position being somewhere closer to Riyadh. I have called aQ the McDonald’s of the terrorist biz.

    It had to be, because Saudi Arabia assumed the role of Caliphate. This was its strength and its weakness. The aQ franchisees had nowhere else to look for support and allegiance.

    The rise of IS took place after the escape of parts of the Saddam’s (Sunni) army, which for a time disappeared. Its leaders had no interest in a Saudi political caliphate. The ever clever Turks generously marked out territory south of its border in Syria and Iraq, Here is the Caliphate “Go forth and multiply.”

    Turkey had multiple reasons for their action: Strategically, it had an interest in reestablishing dominance in the Near East. Secondly, IS would take care of the never ending Kurdish problem, inside or outside of Turkey’s political bords. In addition, the Turks needed to defeat the move by Iran too eastablish a link from Tehran through Shi’a majority Iraq, past the Syab akky Assad, ending up with with access to the Med.

  • ulises says:


  • craig hovey says:

    It seems that we have gotten out of granny gear now. The pace at which we are eliminating jihadist leadership is something that should truly impact the way they operate. We also have conventional boots on the ground in the Mosul operation. If we could make substantial territorial gains against Isis, then their internal differences will probably cause their disintegration.

  • Devendra Sood says:

    Well, One more MAGGOTT is having his meeting with Allah.

  • Devendra Sood says:

    I sure hope Kaduli was turned in for the reward -$7 Million. If so I would want the US Army to advertise the heck out of it. It does a couple of things. One it encourages and entices others to turn in other maggotts. And, two, it scares the pants of these maggotts. Now, they can NOT sleep knowing that they can be betrayed any time.
    I would have loved to see the expression on Kaduli’s face when he was surrounded and knew there is no escape. A Wet Rat Cornered. Allah O Akabar, MFer.

  • Arjuna says:

    As Mike Morell said, we’re killing a senior leader every three months approximately, and we need to be taking out two leaders every week to defeat this enemy. That’s how much the ops tempo needs upgrading. The Islamic State will be defeated when America and Russia jointly fight it, not before. Hammer and anvil, we move North, the Russkis move South, that’s the only way. Depending on Arab armies to do your fighting for you is like trying to get a hooker to fix your truck.


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