The Islamic State on Thursday confirmed the death of its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and his heir apparent who were killed in back-to-back attacks by United States forces in northern Syria days ago.
The fearsome terrorist group announced a new leader and warned America: “Do not be happy.”
In an audio recording uploaded on the Telegram app, the Islamic State mourned the loss of al-Baghdadi, who led the organization for nearly a decade, and its spokesman, Abu Hassan al-Muhajir, who was killed a day after al-Baghdadi and who had widely been considered a potential successor.
The audio recording was the first word from the Islamic State confirming the death of its leader, which President Trump triumphantly announced on Sunday as a huge blow to the world’s most fearsome terrorist group.
Trump and Pentagon officials said al-Baghdadi had blown himself up with a suicide vest, also killing two children, after he had been cornered on Saturday in a dead-end tunnel during an American military raid in a northern Syrian village. al-Muhajir was killed on Sunday in an airstrike elsewhere in northern Syria.
al-Baghdadi’s death came eight months after American-led forces in Syria seized the last remnants of the territory once held by the Islamic State, which at its height spanned an area the size of Britain across parts of Syria and Iraq.
The Islamic State announcement said that al-Baghdadi had been succeeded as leader by Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Qurayshi, whom it identified as the “emir of the believers” and “caliph.”
Almost nothing is publicly known about al-Qurayshi, including his real name, and counterterrorism analysts were scrambling Thursday to try to figure out who he is.
“Nobody — and I mean nobody outside a likely very small circle within ISIS — have any idea who their new leader ‘Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi’ is,” Paul Cruickshank, editor of the CTC Sentinel at the Combating Terrorism Center, said in a tweet on Thursday. “The group has not yet released any meaningful biographical details which might allow analysts to pinpoint his identity.”
Daniele Raineri, a journalist and analyst who has been studying the Islamic State’s leadership structure for more than a decade, said that ISIS leaders often acquire a new nom de guerre with the appointment to a new position, meaning Mr. al-Qurayshi may have had a completely different name last week.