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The Hindu
The Hindu

Death of a terrorist: On the death of Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi

The death of Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, the leader of the Islamic State (IS), has come at a time when the terrorist outfit has been trying to revive its fortunes in Iraq and Syria, its core region. A few weeks earlier, IS militants had carried out an ambitious attack — their largest since the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, IS founder, in 2019 — on a prison in northeastern Syria’s Hasakah, to free thousands of jihadists. But it was a failure as American soldiers joined the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish militia, to push back the militants. Qurayshi blew himself up along with his family, like his predecessor did three years ago, when U.S. special forces approached his hideout in Idlib, the province controlled by jihadists linked with al Qaeda. When he became the IS chief, the entity had transformed itself from a ‘Caliphate’, with control over some key cities in Iraq and Syria, into an underground insurgency with global branches. Under Qurayshi, the IS continued to operate like a loose confederation of autonomous networks. Its Afghan and West African branches expanded operations, while in Iraq and Syria, it staged occasional attacks — a reminder that it is only the physical Caliphate that has been destroyed.

It is more than a coincidence that both Baghdadi and Qurayshi were hiding in Syria’s Idlib. The Syrian government’s efforts to recapture the territory have not been successful as there is strong regional opposition, especially from Turkey which fears another refugee influx. The province is controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a globally designated terrorist outfit that was formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian branch of al Qaeda. Idlib is now run by Abu Mohammad al-Joulani, the al Qaeda militant who was sent to Syria by Baghdadi in 2013, in the early stages of the civil war, to open a branch of his outfit. If a lasting solution to the jihadist control of Idlib is not found, the future Baghdadis and Qurayshis would also take refuge in this region. Another important lesson the IS’s recent attacks provides is that the Syrian Kurds remain a key ally in the fight against the IS, as the Hasakah incident has shown. The U.S. should not throw them at the mercy of Turkey — like the Trump administration once did — once the IS threat is minimised. They should be incorporated into a larger regional counter-terror strategy. Lastly, the IS has learned how to survive these occasional setbacks. It has lost its Caliphate and its top commanders but there are thousands of foot soldiers spread across Iraq and Syria, waiting to strike. The still open wounds of the civil war in Syria and the lingering sectarian sentiments in Iraq have let them survive so far. As long as these geopolitical and sectarian faultlines remain in Iraq and Syria, the IS threat will not vanish.

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