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New non-Arab Daesh leader confirmed by intelligence

A Daesh sign at the entrance of the city of al-Qaim, in Iraq's western Anbar province near the Syrian border, seen on November 3, 2017 [AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images]
A Daesh sign at the entrance of the city of Al-Qaim, in Iraq's western Anbar province near the Syrian border, seen on November 3, 2017 [AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images]

The new leader of Daesh has been confirmed and identified by two intelligence services as one of the founding members of the terror group.

Hailing from the town of Tal Afar in northern Iraq he goes by a variety of names including Abdullah Qardash as well as Hajji Abdullah Al-Afari among his Daesh militant network, while his birth name is Amir Mohammed Abdul Rahman Al-Mawli Al-Salbi.

Al-Salbi was named the new leader of the group just hours after the killing of the former self-titled ‘Caliph’ Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi by US forces in October last year, but was only fully confirmed yesterday night by Western and regional intelligence sources, according to the UK-based newspaper The Guardian.

READ: Don’t lose sight of Syria’s main terrorist leader

Al-Salbi’s journey in the group goes back to 2004, when, following the US-led coalition’s invasion of Iraq and the insurgency that arose, he was detained by US forces in the prison facility of Camp Bucca in southern Iraq, where he met Al-Baghdadi.

Throughout the years that followed he emerged as one of the founding and senior members of the group, and due to him being a graduate of Shariah legal studies at the University of Mosul, was classed as a scholar by Daesh. He was reportedly among the people that gave an alleged Islamic ruling for the group to assault and enslave Iraq’s Yazidi sect five years ago, as well as overseeing international operations.

After Al-Baghdadi was killed Al-Salbi was naturally seen as a battle-hardened Daesh veteran and one of the potential successors, causing the US State Department to impose a $5 million bounty on his head among other senior members.

READ: UK tells Daesh mother her 4 children can return home if she stays in Syria

As an Iraqi Turkman he is noted to be the first non-Arab leader of the group, which has been speculated on due to Daesh’s alleged insistence on the Arab and Quraishi heritage of a ‘Caliph.’

There is little knowledge of the new leader’s whereabouts, however, with intelligence officials saying that he most likely did not follow Al-Baghdadi to Syria’s Idlib province where he was killed, but is possibly in the surrounding countryside around the Iraqi city of Mosul.

The search for Al-Salbi has also extended to Turkey, where his brother Adel Al-Salbi heads and represents a political party called the Turkmen Iraqi Front. The two brothers are suspected to have maintained communication until he was appointed Daesh leader.

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Following Daesh’s rapid expansion since 2014 and its capture of vast swathes of the Levant, it started to significantly lose territory two years later as a result of an international coalition in which both local and foreign actors fought against it.

It gradually lost control of its major strongholds such as Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria, being reduced to its current state of sleeper cells scattered around the region.

Despite its military defeat, however, there are increasing concerns that the group is recuperating and rebuilding itself, with the Pentagon having released a report in early August warning that “Despite losing its territorial ‘caliphate,’ the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) [Daesh] solidified its insurgent capabilities in Iraq and was re-surging in Syria.”

China gave a similar warning last year. These concerns have been given some credibility due to a significant increase in recent attacks on Syrian and Iraqi soldiers in recent months, as well as attacks on other groups.

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