Intel: US doubles reward for information on Islamic State leader

al-monitor A member loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) waves an ISIL flag in Raqqa, June 29, 2014.  Photo by REUTERS/Stringer.

Jun 24, 2020

The US government is doubling the reward offered for information on the whereabouts of the man believed to be the current leader of the Islamic State (IS, or ISIS). 

“I am pleased today to announce the State Department has increased our reward offer, now up to $10 million, for information about the new leader of ISIS,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters Wednesday. 

Amir Muhammad Sa’id Abdal-Rahman al-Mawla, also known as Hajji Abdallah and Abu-‘Umar al-Turkmani, is listed as a specially designated global terrorist by the United States and is also sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council. 

The US State Department describes him as one of IS's “most senior ideologues” who led some of the group’s global operations and helped orchestrate the slaughter and trafficking of the Yazidi religious minority in Iraq. 

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's replacement as IS chief is shrouded in mystery. Shortly after the US commando raid that killed Baghdadi in October, an IS spokesperson announced that Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi would take over as the group’s new caliph. US officials believe al-Qurayshi is a nom de guerre for Mawla, although there is some skepticism over his true identity. 

A United Nations report from January noted Mawla’s Turkmen ethnicity indicates “he might only be a temporary choice until the group finds a more legitimate emir” who is a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad's Quraysh tribe, which IS considers a prerequisite for its leader. 

Why it matters: The hunt for Mawla comes as IS, unable to hold territory in Iraq and Syria, continues to wage what the Pentagon describes as a “low-level insurgency." 

More than a year after losing its last pocket of territory in Syria, the terrorist group is reasserting itself with an increasing number of attacks in Syria’s eastern provinces of Deir ez-Zor, Hasakah and Raqqa. The Rojava Information Center reports IS sleeper cells killed 36 people in the month of May, mostly through roadside bombs.

In neighboring Iraq, the militants have reverted to insurgent tactics and exploited the security vacuum in areas contested by the central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government. IS has also conducted attacks on the Shiite-led Popular Mobilization Units not far from the capital city of Baghdad.

What’s next: Amid the resurgence of IS attacks in Iraq, US troops have withdrawn from several smaller bases in the country. The United States, which maintains some 5,000 troops in Iraq to advise and train partner forces, has said it will continue reducing the American military presence in the coming months. A number of coalition countries, including the United Kingdom, Spain and France, have also downsized their training missions over coronavirus concerns. 

Know more: Shelly Kittleson takes a look at the joint operation to rout out IS sleeper cells in Kirkuk, and Jared Szuba has the story on a recent US drone strike in northwest Syria that killed two members of the al-Qaeda-linked Huras al-Din group.

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