Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi killed himself after US special forces found him in north-west Syria



The Islamic State (IS) group has confirmed the death of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and named his successor.

An IS outlet on messaging service Telegram announced that Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Qurashi was the group’s new leader and “caliph”.

US special forces tracked down Baghdadi in north-west Syria at the weekend and attacked his compound.

The IS leader fled into a tunnel and killed himself with a suicide vest.

Baghdadi was declared leader of the extremist group in 2014 when IS took control of large parts of Iraq and Syria and imposed its rule over the civilian population.

In an audio message, IS also confirmed the death of spokesman Abu al-Hasan al-Muhajir – who was killed in a separate joint US-Kurdish operation on 27 October. The Saudi national had been considered a potential successor to Baghdadi.

New IS spokesman Abu Hamza al-Qurashi also called on Muslims to swear allegiance to Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi.

Who is Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Qurashi?

Hashemi’s name is not known to global security forces, and is believed to be a nom de guerre.

IS did not release many details about the new leader or release a photo, but they did claim he was a veteran jihadist fighter who had fought against the West.

The group also made clear that he claims to be descended from the Prophet Muhammad’s Quraysh tribe – something generally held by pre-modern Sunni scholars as being a key qualification for becoming a caliph, the religious-political ruler of a caliphate.

What is the context?

IS declared the creation of a “caliphate” – a state governed in accordance with Sharia – after seizing control of huge swathes of Iraq in 2014. It proclaimed Baghdadi as “Caliph Ibrahim” and demanded allegiance from Muslims worldwide.

Despite the demise of its physical caliphate in March, IS remains a battle-hardened and well-disciplined force.

The group still has between 14,000 and 18,000 “members” in Iraq and Syria, including up to 3,000 foreigners, according to a recent US report.

Before the announcement, the BBC’s Mina al-Lami said: “If IS chooses to appoint someone who is not a Qurashi, then perhaps it is an implicit acknowledgement that the ‘caliphate’ is no more.”

With the group’s declaration, it is trying to show that this is not the case.

What happened to Baghdadi?

Shortly before IS released the name of its new leader, the US military released more information about the killing of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi during a raid in northern Syria on the weekend.

In grainy footage, troops were seen firing at militants on the ground as they flew towards a compound.

This was where Baghdadi was hiding. Then, the former IS leader fled into a tunnel and killed himself by detonating a suicide vest.

After the raid, the compound was destroyed with munitions.

The grainy footage shows troops closing in on the compound – and later an explosion destroying it

The head of US Central Command, Gen Kenneth McKenzie, said the destroyed buildings were left looking like “a parking lot with large potholes”.

He added that he could not confirm President Donald Trump’s graphic description of Baghdadi whimpering and crying as he died.

But Gen McKenzie did tell reporters at the Pentagon that Baghdadi “crawled into a hole with two small children and blew himself up while his people stayed on the ground”.

“You can deduce what kind of person it is based on that activity,” he added.

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