The Professor – ISIS’s ‘cruel but popular’ new leader
ISIS’s new leader is believed to be a former officer in Saddam Hussein’s military who forged an alliance with al-Baghdadi in prison before becoming his enforcer and chief policymaker.
Abdullah Qardash – nicknamed The Professor or The Destroyer because of his reputation as a brutal legislator – is known as a cruel but popular figure among the ISIS rank-and-file.
According to a statement by Amaq, ISIS’s press agency, Baghdadi appointed Qardash to run the group’s day-to-day operations in August this year, making him the heir-apparent after his former boss killed himself during a raid by US forces in Syria at the weekend.
However, with the so-called Caliphate now split into independent cells spread across at least two countries, it is far from clear that Qardash will be able to retain full control over the group.
Two other figures – Tunisian Abu Othman al-Tunsi and Saudi Abu Saleh al-Juzrawi – have also been named by experts as likely contenders.
Qardash – also known as Hajji Abdullah al-Afari – was born in Tal Afar, a Sunni-majority town in Iraq – before joining the military while Saddam Hussein ruled the country.
Following the invasion of Iraq by the US in 2003 and President Bush’s move to disband the country’s military, he found himself locked in jail accused of having links to al-Qaeda.
Languishing in a cell at Camp Bucca, Qardash formed a close bond with Baghdadi, who was then fomenting the extremist religious code that would provide the ideological grounding for the death cult that became ISIS.
After his release Qardash served as a religious commissar and a general sharia judge for al-Qaeda, according to researchers at the S. Rajartnam School of International Studies in Singapore.