Announcement of Islamic State's New Leader and Possible Implications
On 10 March 2022, al-Furqan Foundation, the official media of the Islamic State (IS), released 12-minute audio featuring a speech by the organization’s new spokesperson Abu Umar al-Muhajir, entitled: “And among them are those who fulfilled and died”.
Official Audio Statement
The new spokesperson confirmed the death of former IS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Quraysh and spokesperson Abu Hamza al-Quraysh and announced that the Shura Council, seemingly respecting the will of the previous "caliph", has appointed Abu al-Hassan al-Hashimi al-Quraysh as his successor.
Abu al-Hasan al-Hashimi al-Quraysh was appointed as the successor within a week of his predecessor's death, and an internal IS document was circulated in the days after Abu Ibrahim was killed. The new spokesman Abu Umar states that “the two who died in the past few days [...] died standing up fighting”, thus confirming that the audio was recorded about a month ago, but only now has it been released. So, his “internal” appointment was almost immediate. The name of the new leader had already circulated in several channels, particularly from the Islamic State in Pakistan Province (ISPP) between 18 and 22 February, when Pakistani militants were swearing allegiance to Abu Hassan, thus confirming that internally the new “caliph” was already known. The late official announcement may be because the official spokesman was also killed.
Spokesman Abu Umar stated that IS could not reveal the identity of the new leader just yet. Though the new leader of the organization is likely to be “Bashar Khattab al-Sumaida’i” and the new spokesman is likely to be “Saeed Ali”.
Abu Umar, in the audio that was released, called on all IS fighters to swear an oath to the new leader and continue their fight around the world. The spokesperson finally conveyed two points made in the previous leader Abu Ibrahim’s will, regarding IS’s goals with the future leadership: to help weak Muslims and to continue efforts to free IS and other prisoners of war.
Issue 329 of al-Naba was published a few hours after the leadership decision was made public, and several pages were dedicated to the speech made by Abu Umar. The newsletter also included a call for oaths of allegiance from the various IS branches around the world.
In the period between the death of the previous leader and the official announcement of the new “caliph,” the military and propaganda operations have suffered a slight setback but never ceased. In the coming week, there will likely be a strong propaganda surge, with the dissemination of numerous photo packages by all the provinces and the fighters who will swear allegiance to the new leader (the first was the Wilayah Iraq - Kirkuk section), allowing the different Wilayat to have considerable media visibility. Moreover, there will probably be an expansion of military activities.
As has happened before, IS has taken the hit, but, if history is any indication, they are likely to reorganize quickly and conduct increased operations in Iraq, Syria, and throughout Africa. It will be interesting to see if the new leader will seek to expand the existing strategies of the “war of attrition” and particularly the “economic war” or if he will instead introduce new strategies. Furthermore, it will be interesting to see if he will give new impetus to those Wilayahs that are not operative, such as Yemen, or not very active such as Somalia and in East Asia, or if he will support provinces in areas containing groups that have already sworn allegiance to IS for two years, such as Myanmar, the Maldives, and Bangladesh. From the new leader’s initial moves, we may begin to better understand the extent of the international security threat that Abu Hassan al-Hashimi al-Quraysh’s new Islamic State may pose.