Islamic State (ISIS) confirmed its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and spokesman Abu al-Hassan al-Muhajir were killed in a military raid by United States (US) forces in northwestern Syria at the weekend and vowed revenge against the U.S.
The ISIS confirmation came on Thursday five days after US President Donald Trump announced that the fugitive leader and the founder of the ISIS had killed himself during a US special forces operation.
In an online audio recording posted on its media arm, the al-Furqan Foundation, the group has also named a new “caliph”, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, to replace al-Baghdadi.
“The Shura Council met immediately after confirming the martyrdom of Sheik Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The leaders of the Mujahedeen agreed after consultation with their brethren and acting according to the will of [Baghdadi] they pledged allegiance to Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi as the new leader of the Believers,” said a new spokesman, named Abu Hamza al-Qurayshi.
The ISIS, or Daesh (Arabic acronym), often uses the nickname “Qurayshi” to suggest descent from the Prophet Mohammad’s tribe, Quraysh. Al-Baghdadi’s “caliph” name also ended with Qurayshi.
The new leader’s name was unknown but could be referring to Hajj Abdullah, also known as Mohamed Said Abdelrahman al-Mawla, a former senior figure in the rival Islamist group al Qaeda in Iraq, according to Aymenn al-Tamimi, a researcher at Swansea University focusing on ISIS.
Analysts say the group’s underlying ideology and sectarian hatred, which are still attractive to many, will remain even after al-Baghdadi’s death.
The new spokesman confirmed this analysis as he threatened the US in the tape to “beware vengeance (against) their nation and their brethren of infidels and apostates”.
“So don’t rejoice America for the death of Sheik al-Baghdadi. Don’t you know America that the state [ISIS] today is at the doorstep of Europe and is in Central Africa? It is also expanding and remaining from east to west,” the speaker said.
A day earlier at a briefing, General Kenneth McKenzie, the head of US Central Command, had said they were bracing for “some form of retribution attack.”
“We are under no illusions that [ISIS is] going to go away just because we killed Baghdadi. They will be dangerous. We suspect they will try some form of retribution attack, and we are prepared for that,” McKenzie told reporters.
Al-Baghdadi came to the fore in 2014 when he declared a self-proclaimed “caliphate”. The group later took control of large parts of Syria and Iraq by carrying out multiple atrocities that resulted in thousands of deaths.
The US-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) defeated the territorial caliphate in Syria in March this year. Since then, the group has resorted to guerrilla attacks in the region.
Since Baghdadi’s demise, the group has posted dozens of claims of responsibility for attacks in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere.