Days after Syrian-Kurdish forces quashed a week-long prison riot orchestrated by ISIS sleeper cells in Hassakeh, north-eastern Syria, US special forces killed the terror group’s leader on Thursday.
Al Qurayshi, whose birth name is believed to have been Amir Mohammed Said Abd Al Rahman Al Mawla, led from the shadows and kept a low profile, hoping to avoid the fate of his predecessor.
“He commanded [ISIS] by couriers who came and went and used these innocent people as his shield,” a senior US official said following Al Qurayshi's death.
The US government, which had a $10 million bounty on Al Qurayshi's head, said he was likely born near Tal Afar in northern Iraq in 1976.
He oversaw a group that, despite the fall of its self-proclaimed caliphate in March 2019, managed to not only survive but to thrive, continuing to wreak havoc in far-flung corners of the world.
During Al Qurayshi's leadership, ISIS-Khorasan Province emerged as a serious threat in Afghanistan.
Members of the terror group also captured an entire town in Mozambique, killing at least 55 people and displacing more than 34,000. Mozambique’s military eventually retook the town of Palma but the organisation remains active in East Africa.
Terror experts viewed Al Qurayshi as a formidable leader.
He inherited "an organisation that was on the ropes on some level and [was] able to weather that storm, do a little bit of strategic expansion, if you will, and maintain tactical capability,” said Daniel Milton, director of research at the Combating Terrorism Centre at West Point.
Before he took over ISIS, Al Qurayshi held several high-profile posts and is believed to have spearheaded the group's brutal enslavement of Yazidi women and children.
“He was the driving force behind the genocide of the Yazidi religious minority in north-western Iraq in 2014 and the enslavement of thousands of young Yazidi girls, using rape as a weapon of war," said a US official.
Al Qurayshi spent time in US custody during the war in Iraq after being captured by US forces in Mosul in 2008.
Released interrogation reports show that he provided a treasure trove of information on his fellow group members.
“He was a very kind of savvy political player, willing to kind of turn on his own organisation members if it suited his best interests,” Mr Milton told The National.
He added that Al Qurayshi’s death would not be a silver bullet and that the group’s history suggests it will eventually be rebuilt.