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Who Was Abu al-Qurayshi, the ISIS Leader Killed During a US Special Forces Raid?

Before joining ISIS in 2014, he served in Saddam Hussein's army and was a religious scholar for Al-Qaida in Iraq.

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Who Was Abu al-Qurayshi, the ISIS Leader Killed During a US Special Forces Raid?
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"He chose to blow himself up not just with a vest but to blow up that third floor, rather than face justice for the crimes he has committed."

That's what President Joe Biden said when he announced on Thursday, 3 February, that US Special Forces had raided the hide-out of ISIS chief Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi in Atmeh, northwest Syria.

Nicknamed the 'professor' and the 'destroyer', al-Qurayshi had succeeded Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the leader of the Islamic State two years ago, when the latter had died in similar circumstances.

A $10 million dollar bounty had been placed on al-Qurayshi's head.

On 24 March 2020, the US State Department put him on the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGT) under Executive Order 13224.

What else do we know about the killed terrorist leader? Who is he, and how did he rise up the ranks?


Saddam's Army and Prison 

According to the information listed on reports published by the UN Security Council and the Interpol, al-Qurayshi was born in October 1976.

His birth name was Amir Muhammad Sa'id Abdal-Rahman al-Mawla, and he was most likely born in Mosul, while his family probably hailed from a Sunni district in Tal Afar, Iraq.

Despite his Turkmen origin, he managed to climb up the ranks in ISIS (discussed later on), whose leadership was dominated by Iraqi Arabs.

Al-Qurayshi studied at the University of Mosul.

After doing a legal studies program there, he enlisted himself as an officer in the army led by the notorious dictator, Saddam Hussein.

When the US invaded Iraq in 2003 and ousted Saddam Hussein from power, al-Qurayshi joined Al-Qaeda, the terrorist organisation led by Osama bin Laden responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

He worked as a general Sharia jurist, before being caught by US forces in 2004, according to Counter Extremism Project, a non-profit group researching and combatting extremism.

While imprisoned in Basra, he met Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi at Camp Bucca, a US-run prison facility in Iraq now considered to be the place that gave birth to the Islamic State.

Other prominent ISIS terrorists who were imprisoned at Camp Bucca include Abu Mohammad al-Adnani (official spokesperson, now deceased), Abu Muslim al-Turkmani (Baghdadi's deputy, now deceased), and Haji Bakr (who led the military council of ISIS, now deceased) among others.

Al-Qurayshi cultivated a close relationship with Baghdadi at Camp Bucca, which led to his further radicalisation.

On the other hand, however, he allegedly served as an informant for the US military, according to a Washington Post report.

It says that al-Qurayshi helped US forces chase the propaganda unit of the Islamic State, as well as foreigners working in the terrorist organisation.

"He did a number of things to save his own neck, and he had a long record of being hostile — including during interrogation — toward foreigners in ISIS."
Christopher Maier, Assistant Secretary of Defence for Special Operations

Rise in ISIS and the Yazidi Genocide

It is not known for sure when he wad released from Camp Bucca, but Al-Qurayshi reportedly left al-Qaeda in 2014 when Baghdadi came to Mosul.

He then dedicated his cause to ISIS, as the terrorist organisation led by Baghdadi started taking control of key Iraqi cities, like Mosul and Hīt.

A listing by the US State Department described him as "a religious scholar in ISIS's predecessor organisation, al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI)", who "steadily rose through the ranks to assume a senior leadership role for ISIS."

According to research conducted by the Counter Extremism Project, al-Qurayshi eliminated Baghdadi's rivals within ISIS, and worked as Baghdadi's trusted lieutenant.

During this time, he allegedly orchestrated what the UN has labelled as the 'Yazidi genocide', that is, the enslavement of thousands of Yazidi women and children, and the murder of thousands of Yazidi men.

A former ISIS terrorist testified about the role played by al-Qurayshi (also known as al-Hajj Abdullah) in the Yazidi genocide.

"... the Yazidis were brought together and it was said to them: 'All the men who convert to Islam will be spared from killing, and the women will spared from being taken captive' ... And the one who gave them the pact is al-Hajj Abdullah."
Anonymous former ISIS terrorist, as quoted by CNN

Leadership and Death 

By 2019, ISIS had lost of most of the territories it had gained in Iraq and Syria between 2014 and 2017.

Operation Kayla Mueller, conducted by the US Joint Special Operations Command, took out Baghdadi on 26-27 October, 2019.

A few days after the caliph's death, al-Qurayshi was chosen by a shura council, which is like a consultative panel, as the new leader of the Islamic State.

His appointment as the 'New Emir of the Faithful' was done in accordance with Baghdadi's wishes, the Long War Journal reported.

As the new caliph, al-Qurayshi maintained a low profile. Under his leadership, however, it was feared by the UN and by the Iraqi military that ISIS was rejuvenating.

ISIS under al-Qurayshi received pledges of alliance from numerous splinter groups present in countries like Yemen, Tunisia, and Afghanistan.

A January 2020 UN report, however, claimed that ISIS kept al-Qurayshi out of the spotlight because he lacked some of the necessary credentials to become the caliph.

His Turkmen ethnicity posed a problem here, but his knowledge of Islamic jurisprudence and his past experience as a religious scholar allowed him to lead ISIS until his death.

Before an operation consisting of two dozen US commandos could take him prisoner, al-Qurayshi blasted a bomb that killed him and his whole family.

The suicide blast, in all likelihood carried out to avoid capture, killed at least 13 people.

A new leader has not yet been announced by the Islamic state.

(With inputs from CNN, Washington Post, and Counter Extremism Project)

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Edited By :Saundarya Talwar
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