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Islamic State co-founder named as militant group's new leader in report

Officials from two spy agencies say Amir Mohammed Abdul Rahman al-Mawla al-Salbi was named the new head hours after Baghdadi's death
The United States put a $5m bounty on Hajj Abdullah last year (Screenshot)

A founding member of the Islamic State (IS) group who orchestrated the enslavement of Iraq's Yazidi minority, has been appointed as its new leader, officials from two intelligence services have said.

The Guardian reported on Monday that Amir Mohammed Abdul Rahman al-Mawla al-Salbi, also known as Abdullah Qardash or Hajj Abdullah, was named the group's leader hours after the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in October.

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Under Baghdadi's command, IS became one of the most brutal armed groups in modern history and, at its peak, its self-declared caliphate covered roughly equivalent the same size of the United Kingdom.

Harnessing the internet and encouraging followers from different parts of the world to join them, IS carried out mass killings, beheadings and rape campaigns in Syria and Iraq, and inspired attacks beyond the Middle East. 

In the following years, a series of offensives gradually stripped the group of its territory, losing its final scrap of land in northern Syria in March of last year.

According to reports, Hajj Abdullah was touted as a potential replacement for Baghdadi in August but confirmation of his appointment took several months to secure.

It's unclear how or where Hajj Abdullah was elected as so-called caliph, as the traditional role of protecting the Muslim community requires a caliph to have 'amr, or authority over territory for him to enforce Islamic law.

It is also unclear if he was elected by IS's Shura council - representing influential members of society.

Hunt extends to Turkey

Born into an Iraqi Turkmen family in the town of Tal Afar, Hajj Abdullah is one of the few non-Arabs among the group's leadership and is unlikely to be a descendant from the lineage of the Prophet Muhammad – a historical prerequisite for the position.

According to the US State Department, Hajj Abdullah was a religious scholar in IS's predecessor organisation, al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), and steadily rose through the ranks to assume a senior leadership role in IS.

He helped drive and justify the abduction, slaughter, and trafficking of the Yazidi religious minority in northwest Iraq and is believed to have overseen some of the group's global terrorist operations.

The US put a $5m bounty on Hajj Abdullah's head last year, and on two other high-ranking IS members.

According to the Guardian, the hunt for Hajj Abdullah has extended to Turkey where his brother, Adel Salbi, is a representative in a political party called the Turkmen Iraqi Front. He is thought to have maintained connections with his brother until he was named as IS leader.

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