Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed caliph of the Islamic State and a most wanted man, may or may not be dead after a Friday airstrike, leading many to speculate about the succession of the militant group if and when such an event transpires.
After consulting a number of experts, including retired U.S. Maj. Gen. James "Spider" Marks, CNN concluded
that the Islamic State would likely handle a leadership transition smoothly.
"ISIS likely has a clear line of succession," said Lauren Squires of the Institute for the Study of War, using the group's former acronym.
"This is a bureaucratic organization with a deep bench ... either Baghdadi has signed off on the line of succession himself or the Shura Council has agreed to a line of succession."
The Shura Council is responsible for the organization's military and religious affairs, and is the only entity with the power to stand up to al-Baghdadi. According to Jasmine Opperman of the Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium, the council likely oversaw the recent beheadings of Western hostages James Foley, Steven Sotloff, and David Haines in accordance with Sharia Law.
Upon the death of its leader, the Islamic State "will morph, and new leaders will emerge," Marks said. "In fact, bear in mind that ISIS leadership originated from Saddam's military. These are very conventionally trained, very professional leaders."
Peter Neumann of King's College echoed those comments.
"These people who had previously served in Saddam Hussein's army were extremely brutal because Saddam Hussein's regime was very brutal," he said. "But they also inherited the disciplines and the military skills that are now benefiting ISIS in its campaign against its enemies."
Getting down to specifics, three candidates are likely replacements for al-Baghdadi should he be killed: Abu Muslim al-Turkmani, Abu Ali al-Anbari, and Abu Mohammed al-Adnani. The first two are al-Baghdadi's deputies overseeing operations in Iraq in Syria, respectively, and the third is the chief spokesman and recruiter for the group. This fall, he's been a prominent voice in calling for lone wolf terrorist attacks in the West.
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