Under assault, ISIS gasps for air through propaganda

Attack on Qatar raises questions
Friday 29/05/2020
Iraqi security forces during military operations to search for Islamic State militants in Anbar province, Iraq, in December 2019. (REUTERS)
Iraqi security forces during military operations to search for Islamic State militants in Anbar province, in Iraq in December 2019. (REUTERS)

BAGHDAD--As it struggles to rear its head again, ISIS issued an audio recording Thursday threatening governments it accused of supporting the international coalition fighting against it.

The terror group’s threat against Iraq, whose incoming Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has close ties with the US, was expected. But their anger at Qatar, which has itself been accused of supporting extremism, raised questions.

According to the audio broadcast on Telegram, a person identifying themselves as ISIS spokesman Abu Hamzah al-Quraishi vowed more attacks in Arab states.

Quraishi urged ISIS fighters “everywhere to prepare whatever strength they could and be as hard as they could on the enemies of God and to raid their places,” according to the tape.

The ISIS spokesman gave no specific targets but mentioned countries where the group is active, such as Syria and Iraq. He also took aim at Qatar for its hosting the US’s al-Udeid air base.

US State Department reward announcement for information leading to the capture of senior ISIS leader Muhammad Khadir Musa Ramadan. (Reuters)
US State Department reward announcement for information leading to the capture of senior ISIS leader Muhammad Khadir Musa Ramadan. (Reuters)

“We have never forgotten that the base the tyrants built to host the American army was and still is the center of command of the crusade against Muslims in Khorasan, Iraq, the Levant, and Yemen,” he said, referring to the international coalition against ISIS led by the US.

Al Udeid air base is the largest American air base in the region, hosting some 11,000 soldiers. Qatar has not announced its official participation in the coalition against ISIS, but the United States has named it among the members.

Qatar holds significant influence over many Syrian armed and political opposition groups.

In Quraishi’s 39-minute audio-tape, he accused Qatar of “financing” groups fighting jihadists in Syria and Iraq.

However, some observers were intrigued by ISIS’s targeting of Qatar, which has been also accused of lending support to groups affiliated with ISIS.

They cited Doha’s alleged relationship with al-Qaeda and named numerous internationally designated terrorists it has been accused of financing.

Quraishi, who replaced Abu al-Hassan al-Muhajer after he was killed in a joint US-Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) strike in Syria last year, accused Iraq’s new prime minister of being an “American agent.”

Kadhimi, a former intelligence chief backed by Washington, played a major role in driving ISIS out of Iraq in 2017.

Quraishi said that Kadhimi acts as the intelligence community’s “pointed sword on the heads of Muslims” and urged ISIS fighters to launch daily attacks in Syria, Iraq and other countries.

In recent weeks, extremists have tried to take advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to launch deadly attacks in their former self-declared caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria, where analysts warn they are gaining strength.

On Wednesday, ISIS fighters attacked a Syrian government post in northern Syria, killing eight soldiers. Russian airstrikes followed, killing 11 ISIS gunmen, according to opposition activists.

The international coalition against ISIS, meanwhile, has carried out a series of joint raids with the SDF in Syria, killing regional terror leaders in Deir ez-Zor province.

According to the Iraqi counterterrorism agency, an airstrike in eastern Syria carried out by the US-led military coalition killed one of the group’s senior figures, Mu’taz Numan ‘Abd Nayif Najm al-Jaburi, who headed the terrorist group’s foreign operations.

Two other ISIS figures were also reportedly killed in Deir al-Zor this month, according to a coalition statement –Ahmad Isa Ismail Ibarhim al-Zawi, also known as Abu Ali al-Baghdadi, who was the group’s “wali” (governor) and Ahmad Abd Muhammad Hasan al-Jughayfi, also known as Abu Ammar, who managed the acquisition and transport of weapons, explosives and personnel.

On May 21, Iraqi intelligence services said it had arrested one of the group’s top leaders, Nasser al-Qirdash, who had once been considered as a successor to the slain caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

On Thursday, the US State Department announced a $3 million reward for information leading to the capture of senior ISIS leader Muhammad Khadir Musa Ramadan.

The Jordanian-born terrorist, also known as Abu Bakr al-Gharib, has been accused of staging and distributing execution videos for recruitment purposes.

Observers said that ISIS’s new recording could be a response to growing international retaliation against it and a message to its base that the group remains strong and undeterred.

ISIS has struggled to regroup and develop new strategies since the killing of Baghdadi. It lost its last major territorial hold in Syria last year after already being defeated in Iraq.

After former caliph Baghdadi was killed in a US raid in northwest Syria last year, the terror group named Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi as the new leader. He has not released any audio messages since assuming the role.