United States Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter announced this morning that he believed Abd al-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli, a senior leader of the Islamic State (IS), had been killed in a U.S. raid into Syria earlier this week. Al-Qaduli was “serving as a finance minister” and had been “responsible for some external affairs and plots,” said Carter. America is “systematically eliminating ISIL’s cabinet,” Carter went on, noting the alleged killing of Tarkhan Batirashvili (Abu Umar al-Shishani) two weeks ago, adding that al-Qaduli’s removal will “hamper” IS in conducting operations inside and outside its caliphate.
A long-time member of the Islamic State
Al-Qaduli is also known as Abu Alaa al-Afri, Haji Iman, Abu Jasim al-Iraqi, Abu Umar Qurdash, Abu Ali Qurdash al-Turkmani, Dar Islami, and—as has now become clear—Abu Ali al-Anbari. Al-Qaduli has been a member of IS for twelve years. He functioned as the primary official link between IS’s predecessor organization, al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), and al-Qaeda “Central” (AQC) in Pakistan, and gave IS credibility when it broke from al-Qaeda to claim it was a continuation of the wider jihadi-Salafist movement.
Born in the late 1950s in Mosul, al-Qaduli, was a physics teacher in Tal Afar who left Iraq for Taliban Afghanistan in 1998. Whether al-Qaduli was drawn into Islamist militancy as a by-product of Saddam Hussein’s Faith Campaign is unknown.
Al-Qaduli moved from Afghanistan to the area of Iraqi Kurdistan controlled by Ansar al-Islam in 2000. Ansar fled to Iran during the invasion of Iraq, returning to Iraq over the summer of 2003. Al-Qaduli seems to have returned around that time and started his own Islamist insurgent group, Saraya al-Jihad (Squadrons of Jihad or the Jihad Squads), around Tal Afar.
In 2004, al-Qaduli pledged allegiance to then-AQI leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was appointed the emir of Mosul (long IS’s most important base), and worked closely with al-Zarqawi as his “assistant,” according to the Treasury sanctions in May 2014 naming al-Qaduli a global terrorist and the rewards for justice notice from a year later. Al-Qaduli also seems to have overseen the shari’a committees in northern Iraq during the mid-2000s.
Al-Qaduli was a founding member of al-Majlis Shura al-Mujahideen or the Mujahideen Shura Council (MSC) when formed by al-Zarqawi in January 2006, a prototype for the later attempts to embed AQI within a wider, more Iraqi structure.
As part of his role as liaison with AQC, al-Qaduli went, in February 2006, to Pakistan to meet with Usama bin Ladin and Ayman al-Zawahiri to update them on the status of the Iraqi jihad and to take back their messages to al-Zarqawi.
Al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian, was killed in June 2006. When AQI dissolved itself within the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) later that year, beginning IS’s claim to statehood, the leader was an Iraqi, Hamid al-Zawi (Abu Umar al-Baghdadi). As the leadership of IS’s predecessor organization was ground down and nearly destroyed between 2007 and 2010 it was Iraqized—they were the only people to fill the vacancies.
Among the post-2010 IS leadership, al-Qaduli’s profile stands out. Most IS leaders have a record of early involvement in AQI but do not have an extensive AQC background, as al-Qaduli does. But al-Qaduli’s very presence in IS’s upper echelons is a disproof of the idea that IS is being run by “Ba’athists” who purged the hardcore jihadis after their takeover in 2010.
The former regime elements (FREs)—the members of Saddam’s military-intelligence apparatus, many of whom are indeed the senior leaders of IS—did not seize control of IS; they were the last men standing after the leadership structure was nearly destroyed in 2008-10. These FREs had joined AQI in 2003-04, at a time when only true believers got in.
There does appear to have been a campaign of assassination, led by ISI’s then-chief of staff Samir al-Khlifawi (Haji Bakr), a former member of an elite intelligence unit of the Saddam government, to stabilize the new regime of Ibrahim al-Badri (Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi). But there is no sign this purge was about anything but power; if it was meant to stamp out the jihadi contingent then al-Qaduli’s profile would have put him at the head of the list for elimination. Instead al-Qaduli was made one of al-Badri’s most senior deputies.
There is a claim that al-Qaduli was Bin Ladin’s preferred successor to succeed al-Zawi, but this was thwarted by al-Khlifawi. A pro-al-Qaeda defector from IS has also claimed that al-Khlifawi resorted to a “wicked idea,” writing to each member of the Shura Council to tell them that all of the others had agreed to the succession of al-Badri/al-Baghdadi. These claims form a key part of the argument that there has been a “Ba’athist” takeover of IS. There is no independent evidence for this, however.
It is true, as Adam Gadahn, the former death metal fan from Orange County who went on to be a spokesman for al-Qaeda, said in January 2011 that relations between AQC and IS had been “practically cut off for a number of years,” and there is ample evidence that IS had been effectively ignoring AQC for years. The only exception being foreign policy, where, as IS’s spokesman Taha Falaha (Abu Muhammad al-Adnani) would later explain, IS adhered to AQC’s instructions, particularly with respect to not attacking Iran, from which al-Qaeda operates an important life-line to this day with the complicity of the clerical regime. It is also true that al-Khlifawi was among the handful of the most powerful men within the battered organization in mid-2010.
In short, it is possible al-Khlifawi had the ability to orchestrate the appointment of al-Badri as IS’s leader in 2010, but we have no evidence for this. And even assuming that al-Khlifawi was involved in defying AQC’s orders during the succession, this would be very much more the rule than the exception for IS, and would not constitute evidence that impious members of the fallen Saddam regime had seized control of IS.
Al-Qaduli in Syria
A profile pushed by IS sources says al-Qaduli was “named head of the Shura Council” by al-Zawi in 2008, which might be true, but if it is it was a position al-Qaduli held from a jail cell. From other sources it is clear that al-Qaduli was arrested in 2006 sometime after the founding of MSC in January and before ISI’s founding in October. Al-Qaduli was released in “early 2012,” according to Treasury. This precedes the major wave of jailbreaks as part of IS’s “Operation Breaking Down the Walls,” the first major success of which was the freeing of more than 100 jihadi prisoners from Tasfirat in Tikrit in September 2012.
There were attacks on prisons earlier in 2012, and Iraqi-run prisons—which by this time included the jihadi internment centres—were plagued by corruption, so it is possible al-Qaduli was broken out by IS. The possibility of a mistake by Treasury also has to be entertained: al-Qaduli might have been broken out in one of the IS operations later in 2012. And it is also possible that al-Qaduli was legally freed as the Iraqi government released most of the prisoners handed over to their custody immediately after the U.S. withdrew.
In either event, al-Qaduli soon went to Syria to work for IS, which is to say as part of Jabhat al-Nusra.
IS dispatched a secret advanced party into Syria in August 2011 to link up with the other IS cells that had been sheltered by the regime of Bashar al-Assad as part of its effort to destabilize post-Saddam Iraq, killing hundreds of Western soldiers in the process. IS could also draw on jihadists who had recently been released by Assad as a cynical attempt to Islamize the opposition and taint it with terrorism, making it easier to isolate and defeat, locally and internationally. These pre-existing cells, the newly-released prisoners, and the IS advanced party together forged a nationwide network that would publicly announce itself as al-Nusra in January 2012.
In December 2012, as tension built between al-Nusra and its parent branch, the caliph’s then-deputy, al-Khlifawi, a former officer in an elite intelligence unit of the Saddam Hussein regime, travelled to Syria and resolved the matter by formally announcing IS’s expansion into Syria in April 2013 and peeling away some of al-Nusra’s commanders and most of their foreign fighters. As al-Khlifawi set about laying the foundations of IS’s statelet in late 2013, he was assisted cadre of FREs, notably Adnan Latif Hamid al-Suwaydawi (who had been in the same intelligence unit) and Adnan Ismail Najem al-Bilawi (a former military officer and close friend of al-Suwaydawi’s); their skills in espionage and experience of the old order proved useful in setting up an authoritarian pseudo-state. This work was in the shadows: al-Qaduli was the “public” face to many Syrian insurgent groups as IS sought to infiltrate and recruit them to put the new polity on a firmer footing. IS generally uses religious spokesmen for this kind of outreach.
As the fitna set in, for example, and groups brought complaints to IS (or ISIS, as it then-was), it was often to al-Qaduli that they were directed. Such was the case with Samir Hijazi (Abu Hammam al-Suri), al-Nusra’s military commander, who in late 2013 tried to have IS’s leaders cease attacking rebel and al-Nusra forces, if only on the pragmatic grounds that it was making IS deeply unpopular and would provoke the population to revolt. Al-Qaduli answered: “We will eradicate all who take up arms against us, against al-Dawla (The State). … They are sahwat. They are murtadeen (apostates). We will exterminate them!” Hijazi recalled later: “[IS] consider the mujahid as a person who came to die so [let him] go and die.”
In mid-February 2014, after the revolt had erupted, Abdullah al-Muhaysini, a major jihadi cleric who favours al-Qaeda, met with al-Qaduli. Al-Muhaysini also started with the moral obscenity of IS’s behaviour before falling back on a pragmatic argument, telling al-Qaduli that the suicide bombers being used against other insurgents are “not even hurting those you call ‘apostates’.” Al-Qaduli was again unmoved: “The terror is enough. … They [IS’s members] came to die.”
Even al-Zawahiri directed some of his messages to al-Qaduli, who was personally well-known to al-Zawahiri and whose status, as IS’s most senior religious official, was also known. “Your state in Syria and Iraq, my dear brother, is just a guerrilla front,” al-Zawahiri wrote to al-Qaduli in August 2013.
In addition to his religious roles, al-Qaduli had worked with al-Khlifawi to set up the Security and Intelligence Council (SIC), a subset of the Military Council that al-Khlifawi headed, to both protect the caliph—from whom al-Qaduli was “rarely separate“—and enforce his writ in the territory IS holds via the amniyat (security units), keeping IS’s local leaders under control and where necessary eliminating spies or dissidents. Al-Qaduli has therefore been responsible for some of the most ruthless activity by IS against its own members.
After al-Khlifawi was killed by the Syrian rebellion in January 2014, al-Qaduli became the governor of Syria, with Fadel Ahmad Abdullah al-Hiyali (Haji Mutazz or Abu Muslim al-Turkmani)—a former Special Forces operative, who had been personally close to Saddam’s deputy, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri—being appointed governor of Iraq. Al-Bilawi succeeded al-Khlifawi as head of the Military Council, a position whose occupant is the de facto IS number two. Al-Bilawi was killed in June 2014 and replaced by al-Suwaydawi, who was in turn replaced by al-Hiyali when al-Suwaydawi was killed in May 2015. Al-Qaduli became the first non-FRE leader of the Military Council after al-Hiyali was killed in August 2015, handing over responsibility for the SIC to Iyad al-Jumaili, another former intelligence officer, and Amr al-Absi (Abu al-Atheer) became the governor of Syria.
Al-Qaduli also had another portfolio: overseeing the wilayats or provinces—IS’s foreign branches. In this capacity, al-Qaduli was reported, in November 2015, to have “recently” travelled to Libya to meet with the leaders of what is becoming IS’s most stable territorial holding outside its heartland in Syria and Iraq.
What al-Qaduli meant to IS
While al-Qaduli’s role overseeing the security of the leader and more broadly the security agencies of the caliphate is important, and perhaps it is even true, as is said by some, that he was skilled at battle strategy, al-Qaduli’s most lasting personal mark is likely to be ideological. It was al-Qaduli that provided a lot of the religious license for IS’s actions, including a fatwa that allowed the killing of people suspected of being a potential threat under the banner of “public interest”.
Since al-Qaduli’s death more than forty hours of recorded lectures have emerged, given by him to IS’s senior clergy at the Imam Nawawi Mosque in Raqqa City, which explain the aqeedah (creed) of IS. Among al-Qaduli’s primary messages is a ferocious hatred of democratic concepts—the raising of man-made law over god’s—and those who would participate in them. Inevitably, this leads to a wide use of takfir: many Sunni Muslims, even many Islamists, are prepared to work within some kind of democratic architecture—and for this, al-Qaduli offers no forgiveness. This makes the Muslim Brotherhood a special target of al-Qaduli’s wrath: while claiming the mantle of religion and a desire to implement the shari’a and restore the caliphate, the Ikhwans are adaptable in their methodology of implementation. Salafists in general dislike the Brethren because Salafists value correct practice and method above all; al-Qaduli’s hatred was something else again. Given this, it is no surprise that al-Qaduli’s vision of the correct treatment of the Shi’a and Yazidis was genocidal.
Al-Qaduli was not mentioned in Dabiq 14 on April 13, the first issue released since he was killed, but “it’s tempting to see this issue as a posthumous tribute to his obsessions,” as Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan write. The cover denounced “The Murtadd [Apostate] Brotherhood,” and the first line of the article on the inside lamented that “a devastating cancer has … spread, attempting to drown the entire Ummah [Islamic community] in apostasy.” “The deviance of this cancer surpassed even that of the most deviant and widespread historical sects,” Dabiq went on, referring to the Brotherhood. “Its religion was a hodgepodge of deviance … Its ultimate goal was to serve the short-term individual and partisan interests of its leaders and members. It would claim to be working for the implementation of Shari’ah, the revival of khilafah, and the fulfillment of jihad, while waging war against Islam and the Muslims!” The Egyptian Brotherhood’s admiring stance toward the Iranian revolution is invariably quoted against it by Salafists and Dabiq does not miss the chance to condemn the Brothers for “consider[ing] the Rafidi [“Rejectionist”: bigoted term for Shi’ites, in this case Iranian] revolution to be Islamic” and more generally the “feeble attitude of the Ikhwan towards the Rafidah”. The bill of indictment against the Brotherhood was long: collaboration with the military regime, a (publicly) accommodating attitude toward Egypt’s Coptic Christians and democracy, and its embrace of irja, postponing the decision on who is a Muslim until the afterlife—i.e. not using takfir. The article concluded by asking “Allah [to] bring about the end of this pagan party”. Thus does IS carry al-Qaduli’s legacy forward.
Carter’s designation of al-Qaduli as a “finance minister” of IS is plausible. Al-Qaduli is a Turkoman and the Turkomen tribes in north-western Iraq, utilized by Saddam to set up cross-border smuggling networks to evade the sanctions in the 1990s, have been annexed by IS in the years since, and have been notably important in IS’s financial councils, for example. It is also plausible that al-Qaduli was involved in the foreign operations given his connections with al-Qaeda’s foreign networks, though when pressed on this Carter suggested al-Qaduli’s liquidation was more a victory against a source of “inspiration” rather than an operational key.
Al-Qaduli has been declared dead four times before, most prominently on May 13, 2015, when, according to the Iraqi government, al-Qaduli was killed in an airstrike by the U.S.-led Coalition near Tal Afar. This claim soon unravelled. The Coalition had not struck in that area at that time. Moreover, the video Baghdad claimed showed al-Qaduli’s expiration was actually taken on May 4, and al-Qaduli had given the Friday sermon at the Zangi Mosque in Mosul on May 8—the same mosque where al-Badri made his dramatic public appearance on July 4, 2014, five days after the caliphate declaration.
The 2015 claim of al-Qaduli’s death and its discrediting brought attention to al-Qaduli and, since al-Badri had been reported injured at the time, set off a lot of speculation that al-Qaduli would succeed the caliph. Al-Qaduli’s record of jihadi-Salafist militancy certainly put him at an advantage against rivals and made him an attractive choice for IS—al-Qaeda could not attack him as a crypto-Ba’athist. Al-Qaduli was also personally close to al-Badri, which always counts for a lot. But al-Qaduli being a Turkoman meant he was not from the Arab Quraysh tribe that is traditionally necessary to become caliph, and which IS has laid heavy stress on with both al-Zawi and al-Badri.
Ultimately, al-Qaduli was a spiritually and ideologically important IS leader, giving the group credibility against the many foes, secular and Islamist, who question its religious bona fides. Surely there are personal competencies that will be lost to IS with al-Qaduli’s demise, but IS’s well-developed bureaucracy will swiftly replace him. The caliphate has staked its survival on institutions not people, and the rate of eliminations of IS’s people is not yet sufficient to damage its institutions.
UPDATE: A Los Angeles Times report adds some details on how the U.S. raid occurred: American “special operations forces attempted to capture him in his vehicle, according to officials,” after al-Qaduli “had been monitored by U.S. surveillance for several days”. According to these officials, this is a “new phase” of Operation INHERENT RESOLVE, with the intelligence gathered setting off “a domino effect in which one raid has led to others and provided targeting information for daily bombing runs that have blown up militant-held oil production sites and cash hoards.”
The two previous raids by the U.S. into Syria were in July 2014 to attempt to recover James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and May 2015 to attempt to arrest Fathi at-Tunisi (Abu Sayyaf), the IS “oil minister”. At-Tunisi was killed but his wife was captured and told interrogators a lot, as did two Yazidi slaves freed in the raid. Only the second of those raids yielded significant intelligence. An additional source of information came from the capture of Sulayman Dawud al-Bakkar, an IS official (and former Saddam regime official) responsible for chemical weapons procurement, in Iraq earlier this month. Still, it remains that these tactical victories cannot add up to strategic victory while the Syria policy remains a de facto partnership with Iran.
UPDATE 2 (April 10, 2016): Hassan Hassan has written, drawing on various sources, that Abu Ali al-Anbari was the same person as Abd al-Rahman al-Qaduli. According to Hassan, al-Qaduli’s profile is essentially correct, which would make al-Anbari a long-time al-Qaeda member and religious cleric, rather than a former intelligence officer of the Saddam regime.
UPDATE 3 (April 10, 2016): With the confusion over who Abu Ali al-Anbari is or was, I checked with Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently about the picture below that is claimed to be Abu Ali al-Anbari. RIBSS says this is not so: the man in the picture is Abu Ali al-Shar’i, whose real name is Fawaz al-Hassan, and he was killed in Raqqa by a Coalition airstrike this morning at 3:40 a.m. (Short profile of al-Shar’i available here.)
UPDATE 4 (April 16, 2016): Post has been updated to reflect the new information discovered by Hassan Hassan and Michael Weiss about al-Qaduli, namely that he is also known as Abu Ali al-Anbari, the caliph’s deputy.
UPDATE 5 (April 30, 2016): The Islamic State effectively confirmed Abd al-Rahman al-Qaduli was dead when it named a new wave of assaults in both Iraq and Syria, though most notably and immediately on Baghdad, “The Battle of Shaykh Abu Ali al-Anbari,” adding tellingly, “May Allah accept him”. (While the operation only manifested itself in public today, a later info-graphic from IS dated its beginning as April 27.)
UPDATE 6 (May 24, 2016): The Islamic State’s Wilayat Ninawa put out a video again confirming that Abd al-Rahman al-Qaduli (Abu Ali al-Anbari) had passed and included a few seconds of footage of the man allegedly tending the frontlines.
UPDATE 7: Via Twitter my attention was directed to the 41st edition of the Islamic State’s newsletter, al-Naba, released in the territories on 30 July and online on 2 August, which has an obituary for Abdurrahman al-Qaduli (Abu Ali al-Anbari). The obituary confirms that al-Qaduli had taken to jihad before the collapse of the Saddam Husayn regime, joined the Ansar al-Islam statelet in Kurdistan, and then—after fleeing to Iran with Ansar and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi during the invasion of Iraq—set up his own group in Ninawa on return to Mesopotamia. It also seems that the U.S. was mistaken in saying al-Qaduli pledged allegiance to al-Zarqawi in 2004: that appears to have happened in 2006 (Islamic year 1427), when al-Qaduli journeyed to Baghdad to pledge to al-Zarqawi and join his al-Majlis Shura al-Mujahideen or the Mujahideen Shura Council (MSC). And here is the most interesting and significant thing in al-Naba’s obituary: al-Qaduli took on the name Abdullah bin Rashid al-Baghdadi (or Abu Abdullah Rashid al-Baghdadi).
When AQI was officially folded into MSC and Rashid was announced as its emir, the official spokesman for AQI, Abu Maysara al-Iraqi, transitioned seamlessly into being MSC’s spokesman, explains Craig Whiteside in his study of the development of IS’s media department. Whiteside points out that after Abu Maysara was killed (likely in June 2006), a man named Abu Ammar al-Dulaymi gave several speeches under the title of MSC spokesman, and read a speech on 1 July 2006 attributed to Rashid. Al-Qaduli had been arrested and placed in Abu Ghraib in April 2006, according to al-Naba. That al-Qaduli never spoke in an audio recording as Rashid, and Abu Ammar spoke for Rashid after al-Qaduli had been imprisoned, ensured that the Americans never understood who al-Qaduli was in the entire period they had him in custody.
Some had believed Rashid was “a former officer in Saddam’s army, or its elite Republican Guard, who has worked closely with al-Zarqawi since the overthrow of the Iraqi dictator in April 2003”.
Next it was assumed that Rashid was the same person as Abu Umar al-Baghdadi, the name having been changed to have a more caliphal feel when MSC became ISI, and that Rashid/Umar was a fictional character.
In July 2007, the U.S. military claimed—after capturing and interrogating Khalid al-Mashadani, ISI’s media emir—that Rashid was an actor named Abu Abdullah al-Naima, who read audio statements on behalf of Abd al-Munim al-Badawi (Abu Hamza al-Muhajir), al-Zarqawi’s Egyptian successor as head of AQI. According to the U.S., this was meant to disguise the fact that the group was a foreign-led enterprise. Two other sources claimed Abu Umar was a smokescreen for al-Badawi: Abu Sulayman al-Utaybi, who reported that al-Badawi had said: “A man will be found [to be ISI’s caliph] whom we will test for a month. If he is suitable, then we will keep him … If not, we will look for someone else,” and Abu Ahmad.
This was all nonsense, of course: in May 2008, a police chief in Haditha revealed that Abu Umar was Hamid al-Zawi, and his status as proto-caliph was a matter of conviction up and down ISI. But the U.S. was allegedly never actually sure, until it killed al-Zawi in the company of al-Badawi in 2010, that Abu Umar was a real person.
(Whiteside directed me to Awakening Victory, a 2011 book by Michael Silverman, who led one of the units involved in the crucial phases of the Anbar Surge, in which Silverman reports hunting for, and believing at one stage he has captured, Abu Umar in 2007. Whiteside also recorded in his IS media report the testimony of a U.S. Special Operator who had interviewed al-Zawi’s relatives in Haditha in 2009 during the search for Abu Umar. This is suggestive that at least somebody in the U.S. government believed Abu Umar was a real person. Why the U.S. would maintain publicly that Abu Umar was fictional if it knew better is not entirely clear. One possibility is an attempt at information warfare to destabilize ISI by, for example, providing al-Zawi a false sense of security and/or driving a wedge between local insurgents and ISI by presenting the latter as a foreign interloper. Another possibility is that, given the U.S. never seems to have disabused itself of the idea that al-Badawi was really running the show, this public fiction represented what was honestly—if conveniently—believed analytically: that ISI was an essentially foreign phenomenon.)
It has long seemed probable that al-Mashadani had deliberately fed misinformation to his American captors. The assumption was that this was to protect al-Zawi, and it probably was. With al-Naba’s information, which accords with the notable lacuna in al-Qaduli’s history from the mid-2000s until after Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi becomes emir, it can also be said that al-Mashadani was protecting al-Qaduli, blinding the Americans to the importance of their captive.
This also seems to answer another question: al-Qaduli likely was Bin Ladin’s preferred successor—to al-Zarqawi. But al-Qaduli was unable to take that post, neither in 2006 or 2010, because he was in prison.
UPDATE 8 (August 17, 2016): Further reporting from IS says that the first task for al-Qaduli upon being released from prison in 2012 was re-establishing contact with al-Qaeda. When contact was broken and to what extent is unclear.
Al-Qaduli, the known contact-point between AQI/ISI and AQC, had been in prison as of 2006; his successor for that job, Khalid al-Mashadani, was in prison; and the man AQC believed was theirs, al-Badawi, was deceased as of April 2010. From the Abu Sulayman episode we know—because AQC mentions it in their letter of 10 March 2008—that al-Badawi had written to them around this time, even if it was “slow rolling“. On 6 July 2010, Bin Ladin wrote to Jamal al-Misrati (Atiyya) directing him to “ask several sources among our brothers [in Iraq],” including “our brothers in Ansar al-Islam,” about Ibrahim al-Badri (Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi), since he did not know him or his deputy, Numan al-Zaydi (Abu Sulayman al-Nasser). And Gadahn’s letter mentioned above in early 2011 mentions “years” as the period in which communications had been “practically” absent.
Al-Qaduli it seems was imprisoned with Jabhat al-Nusra’s leader, Ahmad al-Shara (Abu Muhammad al-Jolani). After his release, al-Qaduli was sent to Syria to assess the situation. Al-Qaduli stayed a few months, and then wrote back to al-Badri saying that al-Shara was two-faced and interested only in aggrandizing himself. Al-Badri went to Syria himself and stayed at al-Nusra’s headquarters, where al-Shara allegedly tried to restrict his movements under the pretext of keeping them safe.
Soon, al-Badri and al-Qaduli confronted al-Shara and his deputy, Maysar al-Jibouri (Abu Mariyya al-Qahtani), whereupon al-Shara wept and al-Jibouri suggested everyone renew bayat to al-Badri, which they did. But al-Badri allegedly knew this was a ruse to buy time, and that al-Shara intended to break his oath, so directed al-Qaduli to begin orchestrating the defection of al-Nusra commanders. (This tallies with what was mentioned above of al-Qaduli being ISI’s outreach coordinator in advance of the caliphate because of his religious standing.)
Finally, IS claims that al-Qaduli blew himself up when the Marines came for him as he tried to cross the Iraq-Syria border on 25 March 2016. Taking into account the L.A. Times report, the fact that “two helicopters” were sent to capture al-Qaduli, and yet it is usually reported that he had been killed in an airstrike, it was clear something had gone wrong. This would explain it.