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Al Baghdadi’s legacy seeks heir

The terrorist group has subsidiaries in about twenty countries that remain a threat. The death of the caliph could be difficult to replace and could lead to a merger with al Qaeda

Just like the death of Usama bin Laden in a US military operation in May 2011 in Pakistan did not mean the end of Al Qaeda, the death of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi in a similar action by the US Army in northwestern Syria on 26 October will not mean the end of Islamic State.

The Iraqi jihadist has managed to create a terrorist ‘brand’ that has exported from Iraq, where Islamic State originated, and Syria all over the world, with subsidiaries covering more than twenty countries and that has inspired numerous attacks. work of individuals whose relationship with those of Al Baghdadi was at least diffuse but nonexistent.

But now the Islamic State needs a new leader to maintain that important legacy, just as Ayman al Zawahiri took the al Qaeda witness after the death of Bin Laden. The death of Al Baghdadi has not surprised either his own or strangers, since as Donald Trump himself acknowledged, he was the most wanted man in the world, hence he who thinks that in Islamic State there should be some kind of succession plan .

“The Islamic State is an excessively bureaucratic organization and has a plan for everything,” said Charles Lister, director of the Counter Terrorism and Extremism Program at the Middle East Institute (MEI), in statements to ‘Financial Times’. “Surely there is a list of potential successors,” he adds, stressing that the terrorist group “will recover from this.”

In fact, this is not the first time that the Islamic State loses its leader at the hands of the United States. In 2006, Abú Musab al Zarqaui, the founder of what is now Islamic State, was killed in an American air bombing in Iraq, and was succeeded by Abú Omar al Baghdadi (nothing to do with the last leader), who died in a joint operation of the United States and Iraq in 2010 in the latter country.

“Without a doubt, Islamic State was preparing potential substitutes and for what would happen next,” says Aaron Zelin, an expert in jihadist movements at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “I would be surprised if there were many changes in the day to day in the short to medium term,” he adds in statements to ‘New Yorker’.


However, whoever succeeds Al Baghdadi should meet certain requirements, given that he was not only the leader of the group but also proclaimed himself Caliph, and was seen as such by millions of Muslims around the world. To vindicate this position of a religious nature, he not only used his Islamic studies but also presented himself as a member of the Quraish tribe, to which the Prophet Muhammad belonged.

Hence, the expert in extremism J. M. Berger has raised whether the successor will be “caliph or just emir”, since the conditions that allowed Al Baghdadi to rise to the rank of caliph “are very different now,” he highlights on his Twitter. The requirements to be a caliph, he stresses, “cannot be falsified or confused, but an emir is an easier place to fill.”

Amarnath Amarasingam, an expert in terrorism, pronounces himself in the same vein. In his opinion, the Islamic State shura council “will choose some kind of successor” able to lead the group in the current situation, in which the physical caliphate went down in history, but “it is unlikely to be a caliph with religious credentials. ” “Most likely, he is a qualified military commander who acts as emir,” he predicts on his Twitter.

Whoever receives the task of leading the Islamic State will also have before him the challenge of keeping under his umbrella the numerous subsidiaries that arose as a result of the proclamation of the caliphate in 2014. Currently, he has fourteen subsidiaries, three of them again This same year, as the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) stands out.

In addition to its presence in the Levant – Irak and Syria – it also has a subsidiary in Turkey, in Egypt and in Yemen. In Asia, it is present with virulence in Afghanistan, where it has perpetrated high-level attacks, but also in the Philippines and to a lesser extent in India and Pakistan, the latter ‘province’ created in 2019.


But if there is a continent in which the Islamic State is especially active, it is in Africa. In addition to its presence in Libya or Somalia, countries where other terrorist groups are also operational and where instability facilitates their activity, this year has created a new province in Central Africa that has already claimed actions in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC ) and in northern Mozambique.

However, the two most active provinces of the jihadist group are Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA) and Islamic State in the Great Sahara (ISGS). The first, arising as a split-off of Boko Haram, operates essentially in northeastern Nigeria and in the Lake Chad basin, while the second is operational in the border area between Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. Both have been gaining visibility and raising the level of their objectives, becoming a serious threat to the region.

Thus, as summarized by The Soufan Center, founded by Ali Soufan, a former FBI agent who investigated Bin Laden before 9/11, although Al Baghdadi’s death is a “tactical success”, the group will continue to exist as much “as Global ‘brand’ as a lasting insurgency in Iraq and Syria, not to mention as a transnational terror franchise with a network that goes from Afghanistan, through Libya, Egypt, Yemen, West Africa, Southeast Asia and beyond. “


The death of Al Baghdadi can also bring a turn in the world jihadist scene, with a potential rapprochement between Islamic State and Al Qaeda, experts warn, after the schism starring both organizations in the wake of Iraq’s repeated disobedience to the guidelines from Al Zawahiri.

“Islamic State could now be vulnerable to a renewed push by Al Qaeda to regain the leadership of the world jihadist movement,” the ISW said in this regard in its article on the jihadist leader, stressing that in all likelihood those of Al Zawahiri will try “Remove local support and recruits to Islamic State subsidiaries.” “Your successor might be more willing to consider a unification, even a limited and pragmatic one,” he adds.

Bruce Hoffman, expert of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), also points to this possibility. “Al Qaeda has been consolidating its position in Syria” through its subsidiary Hurras al Din, highlights on his Twitter, stressing that “without a clear Islamic State heir, a voluntary merger with Al Qaeda or the absorption of what remains of the State Islamic is plausible. “

For its part, the geopolitical analysis firm Stratfor emphasizes that the death of Al Baghdadi is a “symbolic victory” because it was he who the new recruits and subsidiaries swore loyalty by joining the terrorist group.

“Al Baghdadi had been hiding for years and the command and control of Islamic State fighters in Syria and Iraq and the subsidiaries did not depend on direct communication or coordination with him,” underlines this analysis center, which, like other experts, affects in which he lacked the “charisma” that Bin Laden did enjoy.

According to Stratfor, what attracted the new recruits was “the idea of ​​an expanding Islamic State, not Al Baghdadi himself” so that the subsidiaries could now feel “free to deny the group.”

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