U.S. Official Says New ISIS Leader Is 'Not Going to Enjoy His Promotion'

A senior official within President Donald Trump's administration has issued a new threat against the individual who succeeded Islamic State militant group (ISIS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi following his death in Syria during a U.S. Special Operations raid.

ISIS announced last week that newly-vacated leadership positions had been filled after Baghdadi detonated his suicide vest in the face of assaulting Delta Team personnel in an Idlib operation first reported by Newsweek and ISIS spokesperson Abu al-Hassan al-Muhajir was killed in CIA strikes in Aleppo. In an audio message, new spokesperson Abu Hamza al-Qurashi declared that Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi—both names also sometimes spelled Qurayshi—would take over, but the Trump administration has warned he would meet the same fate.

"He is probably not going to enjoy his promotion," a senior State Department official told reporters Thursday.

"We intend to subject him and any other ISIS leader to unrelenting pressure, using all the tools at our disposal," he added. "That was true of previous ISIS leadership; that's going to be true of future ISIS leadership."

syria idlib isis leader baghdadi killed
An aerial view taken on October 27 shows the site near the northwestern Syrian village of Barisha in the Idlib province along the border with Turkey, where the U.S. Special Operations Forces raid against ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi took place. The U.S. military blasted the compound in order to prevent a shrine from being erected, a senior Pentagon official told Newsweek. OMAR HAJ KADOUR/AFP/Getty Images

Little is known about the new ISIS chief. His likely assumed name suggests that he, like Baghdadi, claimed lineage to the Qurayshi tribe and direct lineage to the Islamic Prophet Muhammad, a sign of legitimacy for a post that once commanded a self-styled caliphate spanning large parts of Iraq and Syria, along with outposts abroad in countries like Afghanistan, Libya and the Philippines.

With the group now physically decimated due to the efforts of local forces and international powers such as the United States, Russia and Iran, however, the militants have so far opted to double down on the obscurity of their leader. Speaking to Newsweek prior to ISIS' announcement, one regional intelligence suggested that the new head would be Abdullah Qardash, another Qurayshi member believed to hail from Iraq.

Qardash is also known as Hajji Abdullah al-Afari and has been linked to Amir Muhammad Sa'id Abdal Rahman al-Mawla, who is also known as Hajji Abdullah and currently has a $5 million price on his head with the State Department's Rewards for Justice Program. Another senior State Department official told reporters Thursday that the program was working.

"We think it's a tool that has been brought out and saw new life in it," the second official said. "This administration has given it a chance to grow in a sense of more money, more people to talk about it. I think it's a great tool that has atrophied for a while and now it's picking up, and very well so."

The official declined to discuss the new self-proclaimed caliph's identity, though President Donald Trump tweeted that he and his officials "know exactly who he is!"

Whoever it is that has succeeded Baghdadi as the leader of ISIS, he has also taken on the role of one of the world's most-wanted men. The State Department offered a price of $25 million for information leading regarding Baghdadi's whereabouts, a figure matched only by that offered for Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who took over after Osama bin Laden's death at the hands of the Navy's SEAL Team Six in May 2011.

hajji abdullah mawla isis reward poster
A posted issued by the State Department's Rewards for Justice Program details three top ISIS deputies including Amir Muhammad Sa'id Abdal Rahman al-Mawla (a.k.a. Hajji Abdullah), Sami Jasim Muhammad al-Jaburi (a.k.a. Hajji Hamid) and Mu'ataz Nu'man ('Abd Nayif al-Jaburi), also called Taysir and Hakim. Hajji Abdullah has been linked to the name Abdullah Qardash, also known as Hajji Abdullah al-Afari, who one regional intelligence official told Newsweek last week was believed to be the next ISIS caliph. State Department

Baghdadi began his jihadi rise in Iraq, where he was detained by U.S. forces following the 2003 invasion that toppled Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and led to widespread unrest. Once released, Baghdadi became a rising star in Al-Qaeda in Iraq, which then merged into the Islamic State of Iraq.

Under Baghdadi's lead, the group took advantage of a 2011 uprising to expand into neighboring Syria, where the U.S. and regional allies backed rebels and jihadis seeking to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Rebranding first as ISIS and then simply the Islamic State, Baghdadi made just one public appearance during his infamous speech at the Grand al-Nuri Mosque in Mosul and did not appear again until an April 2019 video at an undisclosed location amid constant rumors of his death.

With Baghdadi's demise, experts have speculated as to the lingering strength of the embattled group, but the Pentagon has warned the group may retaliate at any point and the first senior State Department official said Thursday that the administration has observed a "longer-term trend line towards a more diffused, dispersed ISIS threat."

"We've decimated the core in Syria and Iraq and we're also turning our attention to the branches and networks and affiliates around the world," the official said. "ISIS is an increasing threat in places like Afghanistan, in places like West Africa, Southeast Asia. There's an active presence there as well."