Islamic State confirms Baghdadi’s death, names new ‘Emir of the Faithful’

The Islamic State’s latest spokesman, a jihadist known as Abu Hamza al-Qurayshi, released a statement yesterday confirming Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s death in an American raid and naming a new emir for the group. Baghdadi’s successor is a figure known as Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, whom the spokesman describes as the “worshipping working scholar,” an indication that he is an ideologue. The audio message, titled “And He who Fulfills that which He has Promised Allah – He will Give Him a Great Reward,” was quickly transcribed in Arabic and English.

The spokesman says that Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi was named the “Amir al-Muminin” (“Emir of the Faithful”) after a meeting of the group’s top shura (or advisory) council, with the “brothers” agreeing. The appointment is also supposedly in accordance with the “advice” of Baghdadi, meaning the new emir was named as a successor by Baghdadi himself.

That both the group’s emir and spokesman have adopted al-Qurayshi in their jihadist names is significant, because it means they are claiming descent from the tribe of the Prophet Muhammad. This is intended to confer legitimacy on their claim to rule over all Muslims. Little is currently known about either figure, beyond the sparse details included in Abu Hamza’s message.

In his first public message in his new position, Abu Hamza al-Qurayshi also confirms that the Islamic State’s previous spokesman, Abul-Hasan al-Muhajir, was killed in a separate U.S.-led operation in October. Abu Hamza says Muhajir was from the Arabian Peninsula and “among the veterans of mujahidin who made hijrah to Iraq.” Muhajir served as a “great minister and helper” to Baghdadi, Abu Hamza says.

Muhajir had been the chief mouthpiece for the organization’s central leadership since 2016, after Abu Muhammad al-Adnani was killed in an airstrike in August of that year. Adnani was both a firebrand who justified the jihadists’ authoritarian claims to power, as well as a chief planner of terrorist attacks overseas. Muhajir released several messages since taking over for his fallen comrade, reiterating Adnani’s calls for attacks in the West and anti-Shiite agenda.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi led the Islamic State and its predecessor organizations since 2010, when two of the group’s top leaders were killed in Iraq. One of them was Abu Umar al-Baghdadi, who was named “Amir al-Muminin” (“Emir of the Faithful”) as the head of the Islamic State of Iraq, which was founded in 2006. Abu Umar was an obscure, largely unknown man at the time. As can be seen in both their public statements and private correspondence, al-Qaeda’s top leaders, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, repeatedly defended Abu Umar’s legitimacy as the emir of a proto-state. Although Abu Umar was named “Emir of the Faithful,” however, the Islamic State of Iraq didn’t market him as a worldwide caliph or demand that all Muslims swear allegiance to him. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his loyalists did just that, while al-Qaeda continued to treat the Taliban’s top leader as the true “Emir of the Faithful.”

Abu Hamza al-Qurayshi repeats this demand for fealty in declaring Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi the new supposed caliph.

“Hence, O Muslims everywhere, come forward to pledge bay’ah (allegiance) to Amir al-Muminin and gather around him,” Abu Hamza says. The Islamic State spokesman describes Baghdadi’s successor as “one of the prominent figures of jihad, one of its ulama [scholars] and one of the emirs of the righteous.”

In addition to boasting of Abu Ibrahim’s ideological credentials, Abu Hamza also trumpets his alleged war-time exploits. “The battlefields and homelands of brave men bear witness for him,” Abu Hamza says of Abu Ibrahim. “He fought against the protector of the Cross America and had it tested hardships. So, he is knowledgeable in how to combat it and he is aware of its plots.”

Abu Hamza al-Qurayshi tells America that it shouldn’t “rejoice” in Baghdadi’s death, as the group “remains and expands” from “east to west” while being only a “footstep away from the gates of Europe and the entrance of Central Africa.” The Islamic State does retain an international network, with terror tentacles in a number of countries, but Abu Hamza’s claim that it is remaining and expanding (a repeat of the self-declared caliphate’s original motto) is an empty boast. The Islamic State controls very little territory today, after once dominating a geographic region roughly the size of Great Britain.

Abu Hamza also takes a rhetorical shot at President Trump, telling Americans that their “faith has been controlled by a useless old man,” who “starts his day with one opinion and ends it with a different one.” The spokesman then threatens America claiming that the worst terror is yet to come.

Abu Hamza ends his message by addressing the Islamic State’s wilayat or “provinces” around the globe.

He says: “We call upon our brothers in all the wilayat to have patience, be hopeful of your rewards, steadfast on your religion and jihad, adhere to the group of Muslims and its imam, be keen to avenge your imams and brothers against the kuffar [infidels] and murtaddin [apostates], and make the effort to fulfill the will of Amir al-Muminin (may Allah accept him) in his last voice message, when he advised to set free the captive Muslims from their prisons, remove unjust from the oppressed, insist on calling people for this religion, get closer to our Lord by shedding the blood of mushrikin [polytheists], and have patience until you meet Allah while conducting jihad.”

Therefore, Abu Hamza calls on the Islamic State’s followers and members to free their imprisoned comrades, while carrying on with their campaign against all who have not adopted their radical beliefs.

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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