Mawla the ‘Destroyer,’ Brutal New Head of IS Group

 In Intelligence, Middle East, Terrorism, Iraq

With monikers as diver­gent as the “Professor” and the “Destroyer,” the Islamic State group’s new head has a rep­u­ta­tion for bru­tal­i­ty but oth­er­wise remains large­ly an enigma.

Amir Mohammed Said Abd al-Rahman al-Mawla replaced Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi after his death in a raid by US spe­cial forces last October.

Mawla was ini­tial­ly pre­sent­ed to the world by the Islamic State (IS) as Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi — a man about whom America and Iraq had little intel­li­gence. US offi­cials later came to believe that al-Qurashi was Mawla’s nom de guerre, rec­og­niz­ing him in March as the new head of IS.

The State Department imme­di­ate­ly placed him on its “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” list, spark­ing a quest to learn more about a most-wanted man who now has a $10 million bounty on his head.

One thing every­one seems to agree on is Mawla’s brutal nature.

He is prob­a­bly best known for play­ing “a major role in the jihadist cam­paign of liq­ui­da­tion of the Yazidi minor­i­ty (of Iraq) through mas­sacres, expul­sion and sexual slavery,” accord­ing to Jean-Pierre Filiu, a jihadism ana­lyst at the Sciences Po uni­ver­si­ty in Paris.

The new IS leader was born, likely in 1976, in the town of Tal Afar, some 70 kilo­me­ters (40 miles) from Mosul.

He was born into a Turkmen family, making him a rare non-Arab to ascend the ranks of IS, which at its height ruled vast parts of Iraq and Syria and drew vol­un­teers from the West.

His ethnic ori­gins prompt­ed the United Nations to pre­dict in a January report that he might be a “tem­po­rary choice until the group finds a more legit­i­mate ’emir,’ a direct descen­dant from the Quraysh Hashemite tribe who could, there­fore, com­mand the full sup­port of the remote provinces.”

Sharia Jurist

Mawla grad­u­at­ed from the Islamic Sciences College in Mosul.

A former offi­cer in the army of Saddam Hussein, he joined the ranks of Al-Qaeda after the US inva­sion of Iraq and Hussein’s cap­ture in 2003, accord­ing to the Counter Extremism Project (CEP) think-tank.

He took on the role of reli­gious com­mis­sary and a gen­er­al Sharia jurist for al-Qaeda.

In 2004, Mawla was detained by US forces at the Camp Bucca prison in south­ern Iraq, where he met Baghdadi.

ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
Former Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a video released by ISIS on April 29, 2019.

Both men were later freed, and Mawla remained at Baghdadi’s side as he took the reins of the Iraqi branch of Al-Qaeda in 2010, then defect­ed to create the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), later the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

In 2014, accord­ing to the CEP, Mawla wel­comed Baghdadi to Mosul “before leav­ing al-Qaeda and pledged alle­giance and full sup­port to the radical’s mis­sion, pro­vid­ing ISIS the sup­port to quick­ly take con­trol of the city.”

A pro­file drawn up by the CEP said that Mawla “quick­ly estab­lished him­self among the insurgency’s senior ranks, and was nick­named the ‘Professor’ and the ‘Destroyer.”

He was well respect­ed among IS mem­bers as a “brutal pol­i­cy­mak­er” and was respon­si­ble for “elim­i­nat­ing those who opposed Baghdadi’s lead­er­ship,” it said.

Down But Not Out

Analysts believe Mawla will now seek to prove he is his own man by attempt­ing to reboot an orga­ni­za­tion weak­ened by years of US-led assaults and the loss of its self-pro­claimed “caliphate” in Syria last year.
And he may choose to act now that the US is with­draw­ing troops from Syria.

In a por­tent of things to come, IS fight­ers have car­ried out an attack every three days on aver­age in Syria in recent months, accord­ing to the Washington-based Centre for Global Policy (CGP).

Hisham Al-Hashimi, a Baghdad-based spe­cial­ist on the extrem­ist move­ment who was assas­si­nat­ed in Baghdad this month, recent­ly esti­mat­ed the group’s month­ly rev­enues in Iraq from invest­ments and taxes it col­lects at some $7 mil­lion.

“Despite its seri­ous losses in ter­ri­to­ry and man­pow­er, it remains finan­cial­ly sol­vent, cre­ative, lethal, and once again con­fi­dent enough to threat­en those who vio­late its prin­ci­ples,” CGP ana­lyst Abdullah Al-Ghadhawi wrote. This means Mawla has both the incen­tive and the means to assert him­self.

“There are com­plaints about him from the field, there are still ques­tions about what kind of orga­ni­za­tion he will be run­ning, how com­pe­tent of a leader he is going to be, how suc­cess­ful he’ll be in recon­sti­tut­ing a caliphate, how inspir­ing he’ll be,” Seth Jones of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington told AFP.

“There is going to be a lot of chal­lenges, in inspir­ing the field but also avoid­ing being killed like Baghdadi,” Jones said.

“If he is suc­cess­ful and recre­ates a caliphate if the US with­draws its forces if they’re able to cap­i­tal­ize in other coun­tries, that could go a long way to reduce con­cerns about his back­ground,” he warned.

While the group’s weak­ened posi­tion ren­ders unlike­ly a major strike such as the 2015 jihadist assault on Paris unlike­ly for now, offi­cials should not rule out small­er, less dev­as­tat­ing but sym­bol­ic attacks on the West, Jones added.

The Defense Post source|articles

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