The emergence of a new leader of the Islamic State (ISIS) holds ominous potential for a powerful coalition of several Middle East terrorist groups in their brutal war against the West.
After a March 18 bombing attack which seriously wounded ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Newsweek
reports that Abu Alaa Afri, a former physics teacher from Mosul and a favorite of the deceased al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, has taken over temporary command of ISIS while al-Baghdadi is recuperating.
Citing statements from Dr. Hisham al Hashimi, an Iraqi government adviser, Newsweek states that Afri is believed to favor reunification between ISIS and rival groups al-Qaida and Jabhat al-Nusra, also known as the Nusra Front.
Termed a "rising star" in ISIS by Hashimi, Afri is said to be "more important, and smarter, and with better relationships," than Baghdadi, and likely to take over leadership of ISIS should Baghdadi die from his injuries.
"He is a good public speaker (with) strong charisma," Hashimi told Newsweek. "All the leaders of Daesh (ISIS) find that he has much jihadi wisdom, and good capability at leadership and administration."
Afri also favors allowing more volunteer foreign fighters into the leadership of ISIS, and is considered "very strict" when it comes to enforcing Sharia, or Islamic law, Business Insider
However, Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steven Warren told The Daily Beast
, "we have no reason to believe it was Baghdadi" who was wounded in the attack.
The Guardian said it has confirmed that Baghdadi was injured
, quoting Hashimi, who said, "yes, he was wounded in al-Baaj near the village of Umm al-Rous on 18 March with a group that was with him."
"After Baghdadi's wounding, he (Afri) has begun to head up Daesh with the help of officials responsible for other portfolios," Hashimi told Newsweek. "He will be the leader of Daesh if Baghdadi dies."
Afri was bin Laden's choice to lead al-Qaida in Iraq and was a "general coordinator for the affairs of martyrs and women" for al-Qaida, Newsweek reported.
Middle East analyst Hassan Hassan, co-author of "ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror,"
told Newsweek that Afri is "one of its (ISIS') most important players.
"Abu Alaa (Afri) seems to have become more prominent in recent months, especially after the group began to suffer tactical defeats in Syria and Iraq since December. He replaced (ISIS governor of Syria Abu Ali) al-Anbari as al-Baghdadi's top man after al-Baghdadi became less involved in decision making for security reasons," Hassan told Newsweek.
Baghdadi, who refers to himself as the "caliph" of ISIS, recently may have become less of a real tactical leader than believed in the West, and more of a symbolic figurehead, Hashimi told Sky News
"Al Baghdadi is important as far as the media is concerned and symbolically, but in truth, after the former deputy was killed, his current deputy has been in charge," Hashimi said.
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