What we know.
In a press release dated 30NOV22 CENTCOM announced the death of ISIS Caliph Abu al-Hassan al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi. In the info-space the operation was described as a ground assault executed by troops belonging to the Free Syrian Army (FSA) conducted in mid-October in the south-west Governorate of Dar’a. Always on 30NOV22, ISIS’s media affiliate al-Furqan published an audio message by the spokesperson, Abu Omar al-Muhajer, stating the death of its leader. In connection with the event, the following is the picture of the previous operations progressively directed against former leaders:
– 26OCT19, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi died as a consequence of a Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)-supported, US Tier-1 SOF-led counterterrorism operation executed in the vicinity of the city of Barisha (Harem district), located in the north-west Governorate of Idilb, Syria;
– 31OCT19, on its medial outlet Amaq News Agency, ISIS acknowledged al-Baghdadi’s death and announced Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi as the new leader;
– 03FEB22, Abu Ibrahim died as a consequence of another US Tier-1 SOF-led counterterrorism operation executed in the of city of Atme (Harem district), located in the north-west Governorate of Idilb, Syria;
– 10MAR22, ISIS acknowledged Abu Ibrahim’s death in an audio message by the spokesperson Abu Omar al-Muhajir who announced Abu Al-Hassan Al-Hashimi Al-Qurayshi as the new leader;
– mid-OCT22, Abu al-Hassan died as a consequence of a FSA-led raid carried out in the city of Jasim (Izra district), located in the south-west Governorate of Dar’a;
– end-NOV22, ISIS acknowledged Abu Ibrahim’s death in an audio message by Abu Omar al-Muhajer who announced Abu al-Husain al-Husaini al-Qurayshi as the new Caliph.
What we don’t know.
There are a few unknowns about the incident that might be yielding undesired effects in the near-term future:
– within the action-reaction cycle, what are the consequences to be expected in “kinetic” ISIS-affiliated hot-spots, like Levant, Central Asia and especially Africa, as counterbalance measures;
– what will the impacts on the cyber domain look like, with specific regards to possible violent activities carried out by “jihadized” lone actors in western countries;
– what is the new strategic focus going to be like, if a new vision is adopted by the incumbent leader;
– what kind of organizational changes will be adopted.
What we think.
While it is still early to provide credibility to the disseminated narrative, the significant event brings a few considerations with it:
- after having lost territory in Iraq, Syria is still to be considered the historical epicentre for the organization wherein it can exploit a favourable human terrain;
- nomenclature matters: the one just appointed is the 3rd ISIS leader that has adopted al-Qurayshi in his nome-de-guerre, which is meant to publicly underline that they are all descendant of the Prophet Muhammad (who belonged to the Mecca-based Qurayshi tribe);
- as mentioned, the Levant, in addition to being ISIS founding land, has also a symbolic value which justifies the nomination of a leader coming from that territorial origin. However, in terms of operational efficacy, throughput of activities and territorial dominance, ISIS affiliates in Africa seem to be playing the critical role nowadays. Nevertheless, a trajectory towards a nomination of an African jihadist as the Caliph of ISIS would imply a paradigm shift of the organizational center of gravity which doesn’t appear to be likely in the near-to-mid future;
- lastly, both al-Baghdadi and Abu Ibrahim were hit in areas close to the Turkish border, a condition that did cast a number of doubts over the sincere posture of the Country vis-à-vis ISIS; on the other hand, though, Abu al-Hassan’s hideout was located in the proximity of the Israeli-Jordanian borders, a situation that might imply their possible involvement – along with a likely US contribution in terms of “enablers” – in the elimination of the jackpot.
 PRESS RELEASE | Nov. 30, 2022.
 The United States Central Command is one of the 11 Unified Combatant Commands belonging to the US Department of Defense in charge of planning, organizing and conducting joint (and combined) military campaigns in the geographical Area of Responsibility encompassing 21 countries located in the Middle East, including Egypt in Africa, Central Asia and parts of South Asia.
 Like the IS West Africa Province (former Boko Haram), the IS in the Greater Sahara, IS in Egypt, and lastly IS in Mozambique.