Just a day after the Islamic State terror group revealed the name of its new leader, President Donald Trump said the U.S. knows the man’s true identity.
“We know exactly who he is!” the president tweeted Friday, without elaborating.
ISIS has a new leader. We know exactly who he is!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 1, 2019
An audio message distributed on social media Thursday by IS’ Amaq news agency called the new leader only by his kunya, or nom de guerre, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi.
The name, according to analysts, indicates the new leader is a descendant of the Hashemite clan of the Qurashi tribe, which by bloodline would link the new leader to the Prophet Muhammed – an IS requirement for any would-be caliph.
The announcement, according to a translation by the SITE Intelligence Group, also suggests al-Qurashi is both a scholar and a warrior, calling him a “scholar of scholars,” while saying he “has attacked the protector of the Cross America.”
But while U.S. intelligence agencies have been examining Thursday’s audio message, officials have yet to make a public determination about al-Qurashi’s real identity.
“We are looking into the leader, his role in the organization, where he came from,” State Department Counterterrorism Coordinator Ambassador Nathan Sales told reporters Friday, adding, “I don’t have anything to announce on that, obviously, publicly.”
Some officials and analysts have speculated al-Qurashi is likely Hajji Abdallah, one of IS’ most senior ideologues.
Also known by other aliases, including Amir Muhammad Sa’id Abdal-Rahman al-Mawla, he is a religious scholar who rose through the group’s ranks and is thought to have been one of the architects of the slaughter and abduction of the Yazidi religious minority.
Another name that has been mentioned is Abdullah Qardesh, thought to be a former Iraqi military officer, though experts disagree over whether he and Hajji Abdallah are actually different people.
Regardless of the new IS leader’s true identity, U.S. officials have warned that Washington and its allies are intent on making his life difficult and short.
“He’s going to be facing a sustained and systematic amount of pressure from us and our partners,” Sales said. “We will dismantle the group regardless of who its leadership cadre is.”
For that reason, analysts say IS will likely try to keep the new leader’s true identity a mystery for as long as possible.
“My prediction would be that the new caliph would just be just as secretive and just as recluse as (former IS leader Abu Bakr al-)Baghdadi was,” said Amarnath Amarasingam, a terrorism researcher and assistant professor at Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada, who has interviewed active members of the movement.
“From a security perspective, it makes sense for them to be careful,” according to Aaron Zelin, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, noting that for years after he took over, Baghdadi’s actual identity was in doubt.
Already, the United States, working with Syrian Democratic Forces, has killed one potential successor to Baghdadi.
Baghdadi’s spokesman, Abu Hassan al Muhajir, was killed in a follow-up operation in the northern Syrian town of Jarablus less than a day after the raid that killed Baghdadi.
U.S. officials also may have learned the identities of other IS leaders in line to replace Baghdadi during the raid Saturday on his compound in Syria’s Idlib province, when they recovered what has been described as “highly sensitive material” regarding the group’s future plans.
The general who oversaw the operation, U.S. Central Command’s General Kenneth McKenzie, said the material included documentation and electronics, like floppy disks or thumb drives.
Trump also suggested the U.S. was familiar with the IS line of succession when he announced Baghdadi’s death this past Sunday.
“We know the successors,” he said at the time. “And we already have them in our sights.”
In the meantime, U.S. officials are bracing for new attacks against forces in Syria and Iraq, possibly inspired by IS’ latest announcement, which acknowledged the death of its former leader.
“We’re aware of the reports that ISIS seeks vengeance,” the State Department’s Sales said, using an acronym for the terror group. “We have to be prepared for any eventuality. We are constantly on the lookout for ISIS plots to hit us or to hit our interests abroad.”
A military official told VOA on Friday that despite such concerns, there has been no change to the security posture of U.S. forces in Syria and Iraq.