TERRORISMIslamic State Leader Killed in U.S. Raid – Where Does This Leave the Terrorist Group?

By Haroro J. Ingram, Amira Jadoon, and Andrew Mines

Published 3 February 2022

The operation against Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi arrives at a precarious time for the Islamic State group. The organization’s transition from an Iraq-centric movement to a global insurgency with affiliates dotted across the Middle East, Africa, and Asia is still relatively fresh. Leadership decapitation – or the targeted killing of militant groups’ top leaders – is a key component of counterterrorism and counterinsurgency. It is widely used by many nations, including the United States.

But terrorism experts don’t agree on how effective killing top leaders is.

An overnight raid conducted by U.S. special forces in Syria has resulted in the death of the leader of the terrorist Islamic State group.

Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi was killed as he exploded a bomb at his compound in the country’s northwestern Idlib province. The blast also caused the death of members of his family, including children, U.S. officials said.

This isn’t the first time that American forces have targeted the head of terrorist organizations, nor the first time they have been successful. The Conversation asked Amira Jadoon, a terrorism expert at the U.S. Military Academy, and Haroro J. Ingram and Andrew Mines, research fellows at the George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, to explain how this raid fits the U.S.‘s counterterrorism strategy, and where it leaves the Islamic State.

1. Who Was Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi?
Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi is the alias adopted by Amir Muhammad Sa’id Abdal-Rahman al-Mawla, who became leader of the Islamic State in 2019 following the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a U.S. raid.

He was born in 1976 in Mosul, northern Iraq. But very little was known about al-Qurayshi until September 2020, when it emerged that he had been detained and interrogated by U.S. forces in Iraq in early 2008.

Declassified tactical interrogation reports from that period depict al-Qurayshi as a recently graduated scholar who experienced a meteoric rise through the Islamic State group’s ranks.

Al-Qurayshi claimed that he joined the group in 2007, having finished a master’s degree in Quranic studies from Mosul University.

Soon after joining, al-Qurayshi became the group’s Shariah adviser, a major religious figure, in Mosul and later the deputy “wali,” or shadow governor, of the city before his capture in early 2008.

The interrogation reports show that al-Qurayshi revealed the names of at least 20 alleged members of the Islamic State of Iraq, as the group was known at the time. His betrayal came at a time when group members were being killed or captured in large numbers by U.S. and coalition forces.

Relatively little is known about al-Qurayshi’s activities for the next decade after he was released. But he reportedly oversaw the Islamic State group’s attempted genocide of Iraq’s minority Yazidis and had served as deputy to al-Baghdadi since at least 2018.

His rise to “caliph” was controversial in jihadist circles, not helped by the release of his interrogation records after becoming leader.

2. Where Does His Death Leave Islamic State Operationally?
The operation against al-Qurayshi arrives at a precarious time for the Islamic State group.