The Islamic State (IS) online community has been reacting to the loss of the IS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and the appointment of Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Qurayshi.
On 27 October, the U.S. President Donald Trump and the Pentagon officially confirmed the death of Al-Baghdadi, who killed himself during a counter-terrorism operation launched by U.S. special forces in a compound nearby Barisha, a village in the insurgent-held region of Idlib in northern Syria.
The IS online community did not accept U.S. confirmation and urged that their comrades wait for confirmation to be issued by the official media branches of the group, as happened with former spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani al-Shami, confirmed by IS to have been killed within a few hours of the U.S. airstrike in 2016.
In the period between Trump’s press conference and the official statement by IS, the group’s supporters shared famous speeches from the past, considered by IS sympathizers to be ideological touchstones of the self-styled Caliphate’s recent history.
Among these, the prominent IS supporters’ group, Ahlut Tawhid Publications shared a speech released by Abu Umar al-Baghdadi, Abu Bakr’s predecessor, entitled “The Promise of Allah”. With this message, released in late 2008, Abu Umar emphasized the outcomes that has to be awaited by the mujahideen—martyrdom or victory. The outlet added:
And about a year later Shaykh Abu Umar al-Baghdadi received one of the two best outcomes for the Muslim: martyrdom.
In this way, it seems that Ahlut Tawhid Publications, despite the unconfirmed news of the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, wanted to prepare and to close the ranks of IS supporters. Abu Umar’s speech itself warned the jihadists against U.S. lies about the imminent defeat of the group. Indeed, the editors of Ahlut Tawhid Publications commented this speech writing:
In this defiant speech, Shaykh Abu Umar al-Baghdadi (rahimahullah) tells of the U.S. and how its lies of defeating the mujahideen were increasing, similar to today, claiming that the war was laying down its burdens.
A similar message from Al-Adnani’s 2015 speech, “Say, ‘Die in Your Rage’,” was re-released, where he states:
So how impossible it is for you (Crusaders) to gain victory! Indeed, every mujahid muwahid has complete certainty that you altogether will not be able to harm him except with the permission of his Lord who has taken him as an ally.
As noted by several analysts in these days, a pro-IS channel named “Freedom” affirmed:
Let’s say Al-Baghdadi was killed … Will that change the situation in the ground? Probably not.
Al-Baghdadi, although influential, is but one person. The term Caliphate that ISIS promotes is not a temporary idea whereby if one person dies, the whole project or ideology ends. Al-Baghdadi is not the first jihadi leader to be killed, if the news is verified; before him influential figures such as [Osama] Bin Laden, [Abu Musab] Al-Zarqawi, Abu Umar al-Baghdadi, [Abu Hamza] Al-Muhajir, Al-Adnani, [Abu Umar] Al-Shishani were all killed. It didn’t stop anything, neither did it change the situation on the ground.
Reacting to the New Caliph
On 31 October, Al-Furqan Foundation, the official IS channel, released an audio-message with the voice of the new spokesman of the group, Abu Hamza al-Qurayshi, entitled, “And he who fulfills that which he has promised Allah, He will give him a great reward”. In this speech, Abu Hamza al-Qurayshi confirmed the deaths of his predecessor, Abu Hassan al-Muhajir, and the martyrdom the Caliph, Abu Bakr. Moreover, he affirmed that, as stated by the Shura Council of the group in accordance with Al-Baghdadi’s will, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi had been appointed as the new Caliph, inviting the mujahideen worldwide and the entire ummah (Islamic nation) to give bay’ah (an oath of allegiance).
Despite the heavy loss suffered by the group’s leadership, IS’s online community has promptly reacted to the appointment of the new leader, sharing official communications in order to swear allegiance, transcribe, and translate the audio-message released by Al-Furqan.
Halummu and Al-Muntasir Media shared the audio-messages translations in English and Spanish; Infos an-Nur in French; Meydan Haber in Turkish; Ar-Raje Foundation in Dhivehi (Maldivian language); and Al-Tamkin Media in Bengali. On it went.
Al-Muntasir Media, famous for its threats against Spanish judge Jose Maya, released a poster promising to take revenge. In a chat entitled “Honor is in Jihad”, an account shared the Al-Muntasir Media poster, commenting:
Oh dirty Trump, you mock our leaders. Don’t you know that we have hundreds of Baghdadis? Hundreds of Adnanis. Hundreds of Zarqawis. And we are raising thousands of Bin Ladens.
The same Al-Muntasir Media has also shared a videos on the last Al-Furqan audio-message subtitled in Italian, Spanish, and English.
Meanwhile, prominent IS-aligned media groups, such as Al-Abd al-Faqir Foundation and Al-Battar Media, shared several posters and photomontages of Abu Bakr and his spokesman Abu Hassan. Among the most shared posters, one made by Al-Abd al-Faqir Foundation depicts al-Baghdadi in his first public appearance in the Nur Mosque in Mosul, as if he was leaving a last message to his mujahideen:
I left a Caliphate for you… Safeguard it
Another interesting poster shared by IS followers showed footage taken during Abu Bakr’s last appearance, revealing that the figure to his left, handing to him the dossiers on the wilayats (provinces) was, indeed, Abu Hassan al-Muhajir.
An IS online supporter expected big things from the new Caliph, Abu Ibrahim:
In the era of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (may Allah accept him), the seed for the establishment of the Islamic State was laid. During the rule of Shaykh Abu Umar al-Baghdadi and Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, the Islamic State of Iraq was established.
In the time of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (may Allah accept him), big conquests took place in Syria, Yemen, Sinai, Libya, West Africa, Central Africa, East Asia, Somalia and Khorasan. Also, cells of Islamic State soldiers were placed in the midst of crusaders, in their homelands.
And the Caliphate was established.
Inshallah [God willing], at the hands of our Shaykh and our new Emir, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Qurayshi (the Caliph of the Muslims), will come a new phase of victory, expansion and the fight against nations of kufr [disbelief] and apostasy! Every time a new leader came, he was harsher than the previous one to the people of disbelief and apostasy.
A statement was issued by the IS-aligned Jaysh al-Islam in Gaza, mourning the passing of Abu Bakr and Abu Hassan.
A campaign then began gathering bay’ah from the foreign provinces of IS. Despite the heavy losses suffered by IS’s leadership, the media capabilities of the group seem to be intact and able to coordinate the provinces’ media activities and its supporters worldwide. For this reason, we should expect, in the upcoming period, a new military campaign in order to avenge Abu Bakr’s death or to praise the appointment of the new Caliph, along the lines of the previous offensive launched worldwide after the defeat of the organization in Bagouz, entitled “Vengeance for the Blessed Sham Wilaya”.
Reaction from Rival Jihadists
Al-Qaeda “central” (AQC) and its affiliates, and the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (Taliban) to which Al-Qaeda has bay’ah, have largely abstained from commenting on the Caliph’s downfall.
Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the Al-Qaeda derivative jihadi group in Idlib, and some Al-Qaeda-linked scholars have commented on the news.
HTS, through its media mouthpiece Ibaa News Channel and echoed by the Syria-based Saudi cleric Abdullah al-Muhaysini, emphasized the crimes perpetrated by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his gang against Sunnis in Syria and Iraq. According to Ibaa News Channel editors, Abu Bakr and his group have restored, through their actions and crimes, the Assad regime’s legitimacy, playing a pivotal role against the revolution in Syria and betraying the mujahideen factions. Al-Muhaysini has defined 27 October as a “glorious night in Muslim history”.
Sirajuddin Zurayqat, a former scholar in Qaeda-aligned Abdullah Azzam Brigades in Lebanon praised Abu Bakr’s death, assuring his audience that “Allah has destroyed a symbol of falsehood”.
It is to be expected that AQC will try to capitalize this moment, to annex what manpower and resources it can from the disaffected among IS’s loyalists, whether through videos and statements by Al-Qaeda emir Ayman al-Zawahiri, or by deputies within Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) or Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). How much success this will have, time will tell.