ISIS Gets New 'Cruel But Popular' Leader Known as 'The Professor'
Ex-Saddam Hussein officer Abdullah Qardash takes over Islamic State after old chief killed
Former Saddam Hussein officer Abdullah Qardash has taken over the leadership of ISIS after the former Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed by US forces in Syria over the weekend.
Hussein military official Qardash, sometimes spelled Karshesh, forged an alliance with al-Baghdadi in prison before rising in the ranks of ISIS to become a top enforcer and chief policymaker.
Qardash - nicknamed "The Professor" for his reputation as a legislator - is described as a "cruel but popular" figure among the Islamic State rank-and-file.
Baghdadi appointed Qardash to run the terrorist group's day-to-day operations in August this year, according to a statement by Amaq, the Islamic State's press agency.
Qardash was the heir-apparent after his former boss was killed during a raid by US forces in Syria on Saturday night, and "died like a dog," according to President Donald Trump.
Qardash - also known as Hajji Abdullah al-Afari - was born in Iraq's Sunni-majority town of Tal Afar and went on to join the military while Saddam Hussein's regime ruled the country.
Following the invasion of Iraq by the US in 2003 and President Bush's move to disband the country's military, he found himself locked in jail accused of having links to al-Qaeda, according to the Daily Mail.
Languishing in a cell at Camp Bucca, Qardash formed a close bond with Baghdadi, who was then fomenting the extremist religious code that would provide the ideological grounding for the death cult that became ISIS.
After his release, Qardash served as a religious commissar and a general sharia judge for al-Qaeda, according to researchers at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.
With news of Baghdadi's death, Qardash is in nominal charge of the terror group - however, the exact extent of his reach and control is unknown.
Following the territorial defeat of the terror group, it is now split into cells spread across at least two countries operating largely independently of each other.
Leadership is said to be split between three factions largely along ethnic lines, with Tunisian, Saudi and Iraqi leaders vying for control.
He is understood to have already taken over a number of duties from al-Baghdadi prior to his demise this week when he detonated a suicide vest.
It comes as experts have warned the IS and the extremist jihadist movements have over the last one-and-a-half decades repeatedly shown resilience after the death of key leaders.
And their militants, battle-hardened by years of fighting, remain in place around the world.
The group may have been ready for the death of Baghdadi and after an initial adjustment period of a few months could even use it as a rallying case for launching new attacks, they added.
Jean-Pierre Filiu, a professor in Middle East studies at Sciences-Po in Paris, said his death represented a huge setback for IS, which at the height of its success in 2014 proclaimed a new "caliphate" across parts of Iraq and Syria.
"But it is not certain that such a symbolic loss will fundamentally affect the operational direction of Daesh (IS), which has long been in the hands of seasoned professionals," he told AFP.
"In this respect, his demise could, in the long run, have even less impact than the killing of Osama bin Laden did on Al-Qaeda."