AMU Homeland Security Intelligence Terrorism

Death of ISIS Leaders Continue to Rise: What is the Effect?

IHS new contributor Monique Maldonado

By Monique M. Maldonado
Contributor, In Homeland Security

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), called the “true Sunni Islam” by its supporters, is one of the most dangerous and highly publicized terrorist groups in the world. With a net worth of $2 billion and making more millions per day, ISIS is the wealthiest extremist group to date.

ISIS continues to grow through highly organized and sophisticated measures. ISIS has proven that it is more than just a revolutionary assemblage; the group has shown that it is innovative, complex, and calculating.

Since its inception, ISIS seized power in central and western locations within Iraq as well as major cities in Syria, showing that they are capable of maintaining their own territory. To show the extent of their control, Graeme Wood of The Atlantic stated that ISIS captured areas “larger than the United Kingdom.”

[Related: Is the F-35 Ready to Defeat ISIS?]

The group’s goals are dependent upon the foundation of the Islamic Sunni State. In 2014, the organization established a caliphate and appointed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi as its caliph. ISIS used a methodical approach to embed the Islamic State worldwide through terrorism or territory. According to Dabiq magazine, the group made a statement in regards and seizing land:

“Our blessed flag [ISIS] covers all eastern and western extents of the Earth, filling the word with the truth and justice of Islam and putting an end to the falsehood and tyranny of jahiliyyah [ignorance].”

Their proverb is quite simple: “terrorize, mobilize and polarize.” Jason Burke, an author of the Jihadi Salafism, stated that the strategy of ISIS is to “terrorize to intimidate civilian populations and force governments of the target enemy to make rash decisions that they otherwise would not choose.” ISIS mobilizes their followers by motivating them to carry out heinous acts to show their dedication and allegiance to the Islamic State, then polarizes Muslim communities from governmental platforms to embed their caliphate ideologies.

Is Leadership Shaky?

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been the leader of ISIS since 2010, but has been reclusive throughout his reign. His presence is powerful and evident by the sophistication of ISIS, its advanced technology and large-scale attacks, but his force is most powerfully felt through the caliph.

His first and last appearance was on July 5, 2014 in Mosul, Iraq, where he gave a sermon declaring himself caliph to all Muslims throughout the world. This single sermon showed his power not only within ISIS, but his religious stature throughout the entire Muslim community.

In seclusion, al-Baghdadi entirely relies on his commanders to maintain order, run operations, and lead the ISIS front. Senior ISIS commander, Hassan Aboud, did just that.

Initially thought to be dead in 2014, Hassan Aboud was one of the top ISIS commanders from the Syrian regime. Before he gave his allegiance to ISIS, Aboud was a mason in Sarmin, Syria. As an ISIS commander, he gained admiration from supporters as well as strong epithets from those who thought Aboud was a fraud.

C.J. Chivers and Karam Shoumali of The New York Times highlighted that Aboud was “admired by jihadists but despised by many Syrian rebels and activists, who accused him of betrayal and of organizing an assassination campaign against rebel leaders.” The animosity began with Aboud declaring his allegiance for ISIS, leaving his position as an activist for Syrian rebels.

Aboud died on March 16, 2016, from injuries sustained from a roadside bomb hit by his vehicle in Khanaser, Syria. A double amputee from a previous firing accident, he was one of the most prominent leaders for ISIS in Syria. He was paramount in establishing ISIS’s bomb-making operations and was considered one of the front-runners in war operations.

VIDEO: Hassan Aboud – ISIS Leader killed this month:

How Stable is ISIS?

With U.S.-led airstrikes, it is believed that more than 50 percent of ISIS commanders are dead. According to John Hall for MailOnline, “Allied airstrikes have decimated ISIS’s leadership and about nine of the 18 members of the ruling council have been killed.” Al-Baghdadi’s number two in command, Army Lieutenant Colonel Abu Muslim al-Turkmani, was killed in February 2015 from coalition strikes. His deputy, Assi Ali Mohammed Nasser al-Obeidi, was killed in January 2016 during an Iraqi air strike.

So many deaths among ISIS’s leadership forced al-Baghdadi to appoint locals as commanders to continue operations. Sources believe even though many prominent leaders have been killed, their leadership remains strong and does not affect their operations. This belief was based on the fact that Mohammed Emwazi, a.k.a. “Jihadi John,” was still one of the strongest chief executioners within the group. He was killed by drone aircraft strikes in November 2015.

Al-Baghdadi’s plan to replenish top leaders with “warlords” is his moneymaking plan to prepare ISIS to continue operations after his demise or the deaths of other top leaders. Eric Schmitt and Ben Hubbard of The New York Times reported that when ISIS commanders are killed, “the organization will quickly adapt and continue fighting.”

With a solid plan, ISIS stands to fight through chaos and reorganization, but will it continue to spread radical testimonies and extremist behavior against all anti-Muslims? How long does al-Baghdadi believe this will last? Continuity and longevity are key elements to long-lasting operations.

With the loss of most commanders to its adversaries, ISIS will need to continue its strategy of reorganization and flexibility. One of their main strengths is having sovereignty to run their own operations between cells. That way, if they are captured or killed, limited information is given. They continue their operations without mission stoppage.

ISIS studies other terrorist organizations’ failures and how they react to a loss of leadership. The group also studies how the United States and its allies analyze intelligence information to track their people and operations. With this knowledge, ISIS learned to make it almost impossible for its enemies to track their movements and developed plans to replenish their commanders. These intelligent and methodical tactics make ISIS exceedingly dangerous.

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