BAGHDAD — The rented house where the now defunct leader of Iraq’s Islamic State (IS), known as Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Quraishi, was either blown up during a US special forces raid in Syria on February 3 or blew himself up, appeared to be a one-for-one family of very modest means, judging by photos later published.
However, IS still has significant financial resources to draw on, as does its rival for international jihadist supremacy, al-Qaeda. According to a recent UN report, both groups appear to be operating and growing in Afghanistan.
The takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban six months ago has reportedly already led to an increase in both al-Qaeda and IS fighters there, as many experts had predicted.
The 29th report of the UN Security Council’s Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team, prepared by UN experts between June and December 2021 and released earlier this month, states: “Although the Taliban, under the Doha Accords of February 2020 In order to prevent any international terrorist threat emanating from Afghanistan, Member States are concerned that the Al Qaeda regime will provide a safe haven, provided the latter does not jeopardize the Taliban’s efforts to establish international legitimacy.”
The number of suspected IS fighters in the country doubled in the months that followed Takeover by the Taliban to around 4,000.
ISIS has not yet announced the death of the man widely reported to have been the group’s supreme leader. Al-Qaeda’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, rarely appears, and it is sometimes questioned whether he is still alive.
Taliban intelligence chief Dr. In an interview with Nikkei Asia this month, Bashirmal denied that ISIS operates in the country, “not just in Nangarhar province, but throughout Afghanistan.”
Nangarhar Province in eastern Afghanistan, near Pakistan, has long been a stronghold of the Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP), the local branch of ISIS. ISKP has claimed responsibility for several attacks in Afghanistan in recent months in several provinces.
The UN report noted: “Al-Qaeda also received a significant boost following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, as some of its closest sympathizers within the Taliban now occupy senior positions in the new de facto Afghan government.”
She added: “On August 31, al-Qaeda released a statement congratulating the Taliban on their victory. Since that statement, al-Qaeda has maintained a strategic silence, likely in an effort not to jeopardize the Taliban’s efforts to gain international recognition and legitimacy.
The takeover by the Taliban has also led to a massive slump prices of weapons and riot gear across the region as large numbers were left behind by US forces and those of the former Afghan government.
The journalist was told during a reporting trip last year to the Afghan regions of Kandahar, Nangarhar and Kabul, shortly before the Afghan capital was taken over by the Taliban on August 15, that in the then Taliban-held areas, foreigners were joining the ranks of the Taliban found the group, raising questions about the Taliban’s longstanding close ties to al-Qaeda and other groups.
The reporting trip took place during fighting between the former government’s forces and the Taliban. Several of the sources she spoke to at the time have either left the country or gone into hiding. One interviewee, a local police commander, was reportedly hanged by the Taliban when they invaded the city of Kandahar.
The interviewee, who had agreed to meet briefly in Kandahar but was even then very vigilant about security measures and did not communicate via phone or internet, had said that a Taliban commander had traveled in his area with Iranian bodyguards and often did Crossed land for decades in western Afghanistan and played a leading role in the Taliban near the Iranian border during the previous years of the group’s rule from 1996 to 2001.
A decline in the number of local media still operating after the Taliban takeover and increased risks for local journalists have made verifying information in Afghanistan even more difficult than before, although the Taliban have relatively welcomed the presence of international media to report on rising poverty and some other issues.
In early February, however, the Taliban arrested two western journalists and several local employees of the UN refugee agency UNHCR and released them only after media reports and general outcry.
The UN report released earlier this month said: “The Taliban takeover has made it more likely that Mohammed Salahaldin Abd El Halim Zidane (a.k.a. Sayf-Al Adl) has an opportunity to settle should he succeed al -Zawahiri was due to step up in Afghanistan to take up his new role, although one member state has denied his presence in the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
Iran, which shares a long, porous border with Afghanistan, has long been accused of harboring al Qaeda leaders.
There is growing evidence that the Taliban takeover has also fueled a surge in regional drug trafficking, affecting Iraq’s eastern border with Iran.
It has also led to at least some foreign fighters reportedly entering the country, as massive movements across borders in the region – mainly those fleeing Taliban rule and harsh conditions in the country – with little regulation or supervision to be continued.
Meanwhile, speculation as to who will be named the next IS leader is rife.
Some Iraqi counter-terrorism experts have said that the leader will again – as always – be an Iraqi citizen, but that this time he will be a man with greater military expertise rather than one with an Islamic legal background, as were his two predecessors.
One of the experts told Reuters that one of the possibilities “is Abu Yasser al-Issawi, who is suspected of being alive. He is valuable to the group as he has many years of military experience.”
The same Iraqi expert told this journalist in January 2021, when Issawi was reportedly killed, that the man “participated in the execution of 18 Kurdish Peshmerga officers” and “personally oversaw” “more than 200 fights” by ISIS against Iraqi forces , including in Fallujah, al-Karma, al-Khalidiyah and Qaim along the Iraqi-Syrian border, and that he was “known for targeting tribes in western Anbar such as the Jughayfa and the Albu Nimr”.
Responding to a query from Al-Monitor on the certainty of Issawi’s death, an official of the US-led international coalition against ISIS said: “We are very confident that Abu Yasser al-Issawi was killed in January 2021. “
He didn’t respond to a question about whether they had done DNA testing or other evidence to prove it.
In any case, access to financial resources, training opportunities and a welcoming location is likely to prove more important than who the new IS leader is, and Afghanistan under the Taliban has the potential to serve these ends.