MESOP REPORT : THE DEATH OF A DEVIL – Abu Muhammad al-Adnani & Jaysh Khalid ibn al-Waleed

by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi  • 

The Islamic State (IS) has recently announced the death of its official spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, first via its auxiliary outlet Amaq News and then through an official posting under Wilayat Halab (‘Aleppo Province’). It seems most likely that he was killed in a U.S. strike on the al-Bab area in north Aleppo, the last remaining stronghold in the area amid rebel advances along the border with Turkey. Thus, it is unsurprising that the announcements of his death mention he was ‘inspecting’ IS military operations in Aleppo. It is also of note that the Wilayat Halab posting describes Adnani as a Husseini (a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad’s household) and Qurashi (of the Quraysh tribe to which the Prophet belonged). As Charles Lister notes, the bestowal of these epithets on Adnani suggests that he may have been groomed to be the successor to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (as Baghdadi, in his role as Caliph, also has his reputed Husseini and Qurashi origins trumpeted). Certainly the conception of Adnani as the successor would not be surprising in light of the fact that he had the most recognisable persona in IS as embodied in the speeches he gave.

Adnani may also have had roles that have not been publicised by IS itself. For example, some accounts characterize Adnani as leader of an IS external operations department responsible for organizing and dispatching cells abroad to conduct attacks (especially in Europe). So far, IS’ official channels describe his functional title only as ‘the spokesman in the name of IS’ (al-mutahaddith b-‘ism al-dawla al-islamiya), and in the latest issue of the al-Naba’ newsletter, an article (pictured below) pushes back against the idea that Adnani’s death will hurt IS. On the contrary, true “mujahideen” should only have their resolve increased to fight the enemy on the death of their commanders and amirs. The al-Naba’ article rather predictably invokes the precedent of Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi’s death as proof that Adnani’s death does not mean the end of the IS project. The article follows a wider trend of recent IS media pushback against the notion that territorial and battlefield losses spell the doom of the Caliphate.

Tributes to Adnani are also emerging on the accounts of members and supporters of the IS-linked Jaysh Khalid ibn al-Waleed (‘Army of Khalid ibn al-Waleed) in Deraa in southwest Syria. In its war with the other rebel factions, the situation currently remains at a stalemate, as rebels struggle to push into the group’s stronghold of the Yarmouk Valley/Basin on the border with the Golan Heights. One Jaysh Khalid ibn al-Waleed media account- run under the name of ‘Mohammad Daraa’- interestingly credits Adnani with the bestowal of the name Jaysh Khalid ibn al-Waleed on the formation, which was created out of a merger between Liwa Shuhada’ al-Yarmouk, Harakat al-Muthanna and Jama’at al-Mujahideen in late May 2016. This line of evidence, in addition to many others (e.g. here and here), further demonstrates the links with IS’ central leadership and the IS central leadership’s role in developing and organizing assets in Deraa. I have translated the post below, including the original for the record:

“Oh soldiers of the Yarmouk Basin, do you know that Sheikh Adnani- may God accept him- is the one who chose for you the name Jaysh Khalid ibn al-Waleed? He saw in you a return for Khalid’s army by God’s permission: he saw in you the defiance of Khalid, the audacity of Khalid, the bravery of Khalid, the faith of Khalid.

You, oh soldiers of Jaysh Khalid ibn al-Waleed, are the life of Adnani in the Yarmouk Basin, you are Adnani’s legacy here, so that the whole world can see today that Adnani was martyred but left behind him an army of lions. The eyes of the Ummah are on Adnani’s legacy, so be worthy of this burden.”