The new leader of the Islamic State has reportedly been identified by multiple intelligence services as Amir Mohammed Abdul Rahman al-Mawli al-Salbi, a founding member of the terror state who played a major role in the oppression and genocide of the Yazidis.
The UK Guardian reported on Monday that Salbi took the job only a few hours after the death of the Islamic State’s previous leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, at the hands of U.S. special forces operators. It took a few months after that for him to consolidate power and become confirmed as the new leader.
ISIS named a different person as leader in public statements, but the name was clearly a pseudonym that did not match up with any real person known to intelligence agencies. Most influential terrorists use false names, including Baghdadi, and sometimes they have more than one, but it appears the name “Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Quraishi” given out by ISIS was a red herring. The terror state was reluctant to publicize the true identity of its new leader, given Baghdadi’s ignominious demise and the fact that Salbi already had a $5 million U.S. bounty on his head.
If assessments are correct that Salbi is the new boss of ISIS, he is not much different from the old boss in terms of his ideology. Intelligence sources who spoke to the Guardian described Salbi as one of the last surviving members of the “old guard” of ISIS, a hardcore fanatical ideologue with a background in Islamic scholarship who placed his stamp of religious authority on atrocities such as the Yazidi oppression. He met Baghdadi while both were detained in a U.S. prison camp in Iraq in 2004.
Salbi appears to have been somewhat successful at rallying the remnants of the Islamic State, producing an uptick in terrorist attacks noted by Kurdish forces in Iraq.
“Their rural networks remain very much intact; after all, ISIS members in Iraq still receive monthly salaries and training in remote mountainous areas. That network allows the organisation to endure, even when militarily defeated,” a Kurdish official explained.
While most high-ranking ISIS leaders are Arabs, Salbi hails from an Iraqi Turkmen family and has a brother who is active in Turkmen politics. The Guardian’s sources thought Salbi could be hiding in either Turkey or Iraq, with most bets placed on him operating somewhere near the Iraqi city of Mosul.