ISIS Announces New Leader
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
ISIS says it's back and under new leadership. Less than a week after President Trump announced the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the extremist group has issued a defiant message to the world. In a statement, ISIS has said that Baghdadi died a martyr's death. The group warned that his goal of building an extremist state will persist. NPR national security correspondent Hannah Allam has been looking into this and joins us in the studio. Hi, Hannah.
HANNAH ALLAM, BYLINE: Hi there.
GREENE: So I'm curious how ISIS even makes an announcement like this.
ALLAM: Right. Well, remember how President Trump posted this cliffhanger tweet saying he had big news to announce the next day and it turned out to be...
ALLAM: ...The death of Baghdadi? Well, yeah. Well, ISIS kind of did the same thing. The main ISIS media outlet promised big news was coming. And about 24 hours later, there's a 7 1/2-minute audio recording. It was the first official confirmation of Baghdadi's death. And it praised him as a martyr. And it confirmed the death of his senior spokesman and aide, Abu Hassan al-Muhajer (ph). And replacements were named for both men.
The tape says they were killed in recent days, but it didn't mention U.S. military operations as the cause. But there was a tit for tat with Trump. The president had called Baghdadi a coward, said he died like a dog. And in this new recording, ISIS tells Americans that they're being ruled by a, quote, "old and crazy man" who's made them a laughingstock.
GREENE: Oh, wow. OK. So comments about President Trump. But what about the big reveal? I mean, did they say who is now going to lead ISIS? And what do you know about them?
ALLAM: Well, like all ISIS fighters, they use aliases. So these are not their real identities. But there is some symbolism involved. Baghdadi's successor as so-called caliph is Abu Ibrahim al-Quraishi (ph). No biographical details were given. We don't have a photo. We don't know his nationality, age - nothing - and the same goes, really, for this replacement spokesman, though we do at least hear his voice. He's the guy speaking on the tape. And he's identified as Abu Hamza al-Quraishi (ph).
And it's the last part of both names that carries weight, al-Quraishi (ph). It denotes lineage tracing back to the tribe of Islam's prophet, Muhammad. And ISIS sees that bloodline as a requirement for carrying on the title Baghdadi claimed for himself - caliph, Muslim spiritual leader. The group likes to boast that it resurrected the caliphate from Islamic history. That was their recruiting pitch. And it did mobilize, really, a generation of jihadists. But we should note that we're talking about a hardcore fringe and that, you know, the vast majority of the world's Muslims see this as a gross distortion of their faith by a group known for terrible atrocities.
GREENE: Sure. Well, that group - I mean, ISIS - we talked about after Baghdadi's death and after President Trump made the announcement, like, what it really meant for the future of ISIS. Would it make a huge difference? So you listen to this recording now - I mean, what do we learn about ISIS as it stands right now?
ALLAM: Right. Well, it shows that there is still a command structure, a bureaucracy. The recording says that the group's ruling council convened quickly after Baghdadi's death and chose the successor, an assertion of continuity and leadership at a time when there's a lot of speculation that the group could splinter. ISIS lost its territory in Iraq and Syria. Baghdadi's gone. Thousands of its fighters are dead or detained. And here's ISIS saying to its followers, don't worry. Business as usual. And also, the recording shows that for all those losses, ISIS still has a well-oiled propaganda machine. The recording warns America not to rejoice over Baghdadi's death, says it's expanding globally. And it urges followers to seek revenge for Baghdadi and to hurry and - you know, hurry up and pledge allegiance to Quraishi (ph). So overall - part eulogy, part battle cry.
GREENE: All right. NPR national security correspondent Hannah Allam talking to us about ISIS and that big announcement from the group. Thanks so much, Hannah.
ALLAM: Thank you.
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