Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 November 2019

Pledges of allegiance to new ISIS leader trickle in as group rebounds from Al Baghdadi’s death

Experts say ISIS needs time to regroup following its loss of territory earlier this year

ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi killed himself during a US raid. AFP
ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi killed himself during a US raid. AFP

In the hours and days following the announcement of Abu Ibrahim Al Quraishi as the new leader of ISIS, ‘wilayats’ or provinces began to pledge allegiance to him.

‘Wilayats’ or provinces, of the group range from bands of under one hundred fighters to thousands in areas across the Middle East and North Africa.

The oaths of allegiance, called Bay’ah, are a continuation of a wider push from ISIS groups to show cohesion in the wake of complete territory loss in Syria and Iraq in March said Raffaello Pantucci, a senior associate fellow and the Royal United Services Institute.

“The fact that you saw these things coming in quite quickly is a reflection of the fact that over the last few months. Groups have been pledging allegiance around the world to the organisation, re-pledging their allegiance and saying “the struggle continues, we know the caliphate has gone but it might come back and in the meantime the struggle continues and we're loyal to the group”.

At the time of writing, ISIS groups in Pakistan, Somalia, Afghanistan, Egypt and Yemen had pledged allegiance via photographs and video released on ISIS channels hosted on encrypted chat app Telegram.

“Of all of the branches and networks of ISIS, ISIS-K (Khorasan, a group covering Afghanistan and Pakistan) is certainly one of those of most concern," Acting Director of the US National Counterterrorism Centre Russell Travers, told a Senate Homeland Security Committee meeting on Tuesday.

"They have attempted, certainly, to inspire attacks outside of Afghanistan," Mr Travers said, adding the group also seemed motivated to carry out attacks themselves.

The US State Department estimates the Khorasan province has up to 5,000 fighters, making it the largest group to pledge allegiance to Al Quraishi so far.

It announced its support of the new leader by releasing 16 photos showing masked figures posing with weapons in front of the black ISIS flag, the SITE Intelligence Group confirmed.

However, a number of key regional groups are yet to openly promise support for Al Quraishi, including provinces in Turkey, Syria and Iraq, previous strongholds for the group.

For now, putting on a united front of ISIS organisations and affiliates may be the only plan Al Quraishi has. He is unlikely to lead a push for regaining territory, said Mr Pantucci.

“I think at this point demonstration of survival, continued activity and basically biding their time is enough,” he said.

“We think these people are in a hurry to do something, they're not. They're fighting on godly timescales which are even millennia rather than four-year election cycles.

“So from their perspective as long as they can demonstrate they are continuing forward, they've got Wilayats around the world pledging allegiance and the group is strong and going forwards, that’s enough.”

Updated: November 6, 2019 07:51 PM

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