Islamic State Leader Killed in U.S. Raid – Where Does This Leave the Terrorist 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.

Recent Islamic State attacks on Hasakah prison in northeast Syria and elsewhere across Iraq have hinted that the group is more advanced in rebuilding its capabilities across traditional heartlands than perhaps expected. But the death of al-Qurayshi just two years after that of his predecessor raises uncertainty over who will succeed him.

The fact that the Islamic State group couldn’t protect its top leader shows the continued pressure the group faces from U.S. and allied forces.

Al-Qurayshi’s rapid demise – his predecessor led for almost a decade – may also indicate internal rifts. After he took over as leader, al-Qurayshi was mockingly described by dissenters within the terrorist group as “an unknown nobody” while others questioned his suitability as leader, especially after the release of his interrogation reports in September 2020.

It may be that al-Qurayshi was himself betrayed, ultimately contributing to the circumstances that led to the U.S. raid. If so, it could indicate a split within the group between al-Qurayshi and those who wanted him gone.

Now, the Islamic State is likely to appoint al-Qurayshi’s successor based on the deliberation of its shura council, its senior leadership panel, as it has done previously.

If it happens as it has in the past, al-Qurayshi’s successor could be appointed in the next few days or weeks. He’ll be given an alias to conceal his identity. Group members and leaders of Islamic State global affiliates will be asked to pledge allegiance to him, but he may not make a public appearance for months or years – if ever.

3. What Effect Has Killing the Heads of Terrorist Groups Had in the Past?
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. Some have argued that taking out a terrorist leader constrains the operational capacity of groups and disrupts their organizational routines, making it harder for them to carry out attacks.

It may, it has been argued, also contribute to organizational collapse. Research shows that under the right circumstances, the targeting of top leaders can result in fewer violent attacks by a militant group and increase the chances of defeating an insurgency.

Yet other counterterrorism experts highlight problems with targeted