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New Caliph, Same Old Problems

Baghdadi’s Legacy Looms Large Over the New ISIS Leader

Rubble from the fighting between ISIS and the Philippine government forces, Marawi City, the Philippines, May 2018 Rouelle Umali / Xinhua / eyevine​ / Redux

The Islamic State, also known as ISIS, is down but not out. In March 2019, U.S.-backed Kurdish and Arab forces captured the group’s last territorial stronghold in the Middle East, the town of Baghuz in eastern Syria. Seven months later, the organization’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, killed himself after U.S. special operations forces trapped him in a dead-end tunnel. 

But ISIS didn’t die with him. In November, Russell Travers, the acting director of the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, testified to Congress that over the last year ISIS carried out a number of centrally coordinated transnational attacks and propaganda campaigns, indicating a degree “of enhanced connectivity.” Even after Baghdadi’s death, Travers said, the group “remains robust and—in some areas—is expanding.”

The man upon whom ISIS’s continued resurgence now depends is Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi. Little is known about Baghdadi’s successor,

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