Category Archives: Jihadi Biographies

Qassem Sulaymani and the Future of Iran’s Imperial Project

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 7 January 2020

At 1 AM on 3 January, an American drone strike killed the head of Iran’s Quds Force, the division of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) charged with exporting the Islamic revolution, and his Iraqi deputy, Jamal al-Ibrahimi (Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis). Sulaymani was the strategic driver of Iran’s expansionist policy in the Middle East, as well as the orchestrator of its terrorism and assassinations further afield. Unlike with the killing of Al-Qaeda’s Usama bin Laden in 2011 or the Islamic State’s Ibrahim al-Badri (Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi) in October, where the dynamics shifted little, Sulaymani’s death opens up questions about the direction in which the Middle East will now move. Continue reading

In Search of the Caliph

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 8 November 2019

The destroyed compound where Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was found in Syria // Drone footage taken by Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency

The so-called caliph of the Islamic State (ISIS), Ibrahim al-Badri (Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi), was killed in an American raid in Syria on 27 October, and the spokesman, Abu Hassan al-Muhajir, was killed the next day in an airstrike. ISIS acknowledged the losses and appointed new leaders on Halloween.

Abu Hamza al-Qurayshi introduced himself in a nearly-eight-minute audio statement as the new spokesman and named Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Qurayshi as Al-Baghdadi’s replacement. Little information was given about either man.

The U.S. government has said it knows “almost nothing” about the new caliph, Abu Ibrahim, leaving us no closer, for now, to knowing his identity. But some options present themselves. Continue reading

Ruslan Asainov: An American Islamic State Jihadist

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 20 July 2019

Sketch of Ruslan Asainov // Image credit: Jane Rosenberg/Reuters

In the Eastern District of New York, on 19 July, a criminal complaint was unsealed against Ruslan Maratovich Asainov, described in the press release as a “naturalized U.S. citizen born in Kazakhstan”. According to the release, Asainov is to be charged with providing and attempting to provide “material support, including training, services, and personnel” to a terrorist group, namely the Islamic State (IS), which he joined in 2013 and rose through the ranks to become an emir. Asainov was captured by the “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF), the Coalition’s anti-IS Kurdish partner force, and handed over to the FBI, before being returned to America this month.  The maximum penalty for these charges is twenty years imprisonment, and it is likely the U.S. government will be seeking additional charges in the indictment. The case raises an interesting question over the gaps in knowledge about IS. Continue reading

Islamic State Profiles the Leadership

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 6 April 2019

Islamic State flag in front of the main gate of Saddam Husayn’s palace in Tikrit, 5 April 2015 // AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED SAWAF

A lengthy document—roughly sixty pages and 12,000 words—was published online on 21 February 2019 containing biographies of twenty-seven senior Islamic State (IS) officials, past and more recent. Those bios that are dated were written between October 2018 and the time of publication, with one exception that was written in the summer of 2018. The author claims to be an IS veteran. While longevity is difficult to prove, the fact that the author provides heretofore unseen images of some of the IS leaders suggests that at a minimum he is an IS operative. Continue reading

Islamic State Obituary for French Jihadist Fabien Clain

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 16 March 2019

Fabien Clain, Al-Naba 173, page 9

The U.S.-led Coalition against the Islamic State (IS) announced on 28 February that it had killed Fabien Clain (Abu Anas al-Firansi), a French citizen. Clain and his brother, Jean-Michel (Abu Uthman), were targeted by a Coalition airstrike in Baghuz, the final pocket of the “caliphate” in eastern Syria, on 20 February. It was unclear what happened to Jean-Michel, though the 173rd edition of IS’s newsletter, Al-Naba, published on 14 March, says (pp. 9-10) that he was killed a few days after Fabien. Continue reading

What Captured ISIS Jihadists Tell Us About the Group

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 2 December 2018

An Islamic State poster near al-Sukhna in the eastern Homs desert, Syria, August 2017 (source)

Over the past week, two members of the Islamic State (IS) have been arrested—a rarity in itself during the Coalition campaign against the group—and both in different ways give a glimpse of archetypes that have made up the organisation, from its inception to its expansion into Syria. Continue reading

State Department Sanctions Abd al-Nasir, a Mysterious Senior ISIS Official

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 20 November 2018

Islamic State video from Wilayat al-Baraka, north of al-Jafra, October 2017

The United States State Department today sanctioned Haji Abd al-Nasir as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT), which covers “foreign persons who have committed, or pose a significant risk of committing, acts of terrorism”. Abd al-Nasir is a senior official in the Islamic State (IS). Continue reading