The Elusiveness of News and ISIS Leadership

04/22/20 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – The seemingly never-ending elusiveness of ISIS leadership haunts the Middle East. The region eagerly looks towards a future where the terrorist organization is dismantled. Until then, any news that a high ranking member of ISIS was captured is welcomed across the region. But confusion reigns amongst the details, creating an atmosphere which decreases the confidence of those surviving victims.

Yesterday, Middle Eastern news published a flurry of articles regarding the arrest of Abdul Nasser Qardash. He was arrested during ISIS’s famous last stand in Syria’s Baghouz last year, but was only recently transferred into Iraqi custody. Some reported that during his intake, when asked about his leadership role with ISIS, Qardash was silent.

His name bore a striking resemblance to a man with a reputation of using pseudonyms; a man currently serving as leader of ISIS: Abdullah Qardash. Further muddling the news, both men were born in Iraq’s Nineveh Governorate, home to the country’s highest concentration of religious minorities.

Headlines ran with the possibility that this man is perhaps the latest mastermind of ISIS, or at least at some point was seriously considered for the role. Information contained within the articles ran contradictory.

Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency reported, “Iraq Nabs Possible Successor of Dead Daesh/ISIS Chief.”

Iraq’s Kurdistan 24 reported that a “Potential Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi Successor Arrested in Iraq.”

Meanwhile, in Syria, the Deir Ezzor Media Center said that “Qardash was arrested by the Syrian Democratic Forces after surrendering himself in the aftermath of the Baghouz battles on the Syrian-Iraq border.”

“Abdul Nasser Qardash, the ISIS leader making headlines in Iraq, was captured in Baghouz by the SDF in March 2019 and transferred to Iraq, not newly captured by Iraqi forces. Nor is he to be confused with Baghdadi’s successor, ‘Abdullah Qardash’, who is still at large,” tweeted Syria’s Rojava Information Center.

The news soon spiraled. Exactly which Qardash was arrested? Who gets credit for the arrest? Where in the leadership structure of ISIS did this Qardash serve? Why is this news now if the arrest was a year ago?

Many locals were quick to share their thoughts. “There are big efforts to chase all those leaders and we are proud of that,” a member of Iraq’s counter-terrorism service shared with ICC.

I left Islam because of Qardash. His followers are committed to Islam. They are doing exactly what is written in the Quran. Daesh was based on true Islam,” said a Muslim Background Believer.

As the news cycled through the headlines, local Iraqi journalists began speaking about the problems with these reports.

“It seems that Iraqi state media royally *** this one up. Iraq’s National Intel Service didn’t tell the media that Qardash had been captured. They just assumed and reported it. It seems Qardash was detained in Syria a while back and recently transferred to INIS,” tweeted one Iraqi journalist.

“All the information posted about him is false. He is not the Khalifa (after) al-Baghdadi but he was a high leader and chosen to lead development and manufacturing because he is an engineer. He was in the grip of the Americans and Kurds in Syria and was delivered to Iraq,” posted another Iraqi journalist.

But the publications were already made. The man from Nineveh, a leader within ISIS, was captured. It was a media circus observed by all, but with special meaning to the religious minorities who are from Nineveh and who suffered genocide at the hands of ISIS.

For these victims, what happens when something so personal is widely reported throughout the news?

Hope is one emotion. ISIS caused so much pain for Christians. The desire for accountability is strong. It is hoped that justice would discourage future instances of extremism.

“I will not comment as a Christian, but as a human,” says one believer. “I was happy when I heard Qardash had been captured. This made me happy because the number of evil people decreased by one, and I am even more excited because he is an evil leader.”

But there is also exhaustion. There is always news of ISIS. One never knows what is true. One never knows the motivations for publishing what is published, just that Iraq is a country occupied by many competing interest groups. ISIS has never lost its sights on Nineveh.

One Christian explains, “a very concerning point is capturing all these leaders close to Mosul, geographically close to Christian areas. That is a plan to lead Christians to leave. There is no distance between those bad people and the Nineveh Plains. This is a bad sign for us as Christians.”

For some, this news always brings discouragement. After all, there is always news of ISIS and the truth of these reports always remain elusive. How can one rebuild their lives in such an unstable environment?

“I am disappointed; I feel I am losing hope when finding out. There are too many leaders at ISIS. That gives me an indication that still there are too many of them. I feel like I can’t be happy because whenever one of them has been captured, a successor appears,” adds another Christian.

The elusiveness of ISIS and the news about its leaders will always create an atmosphere. Whether that atmosphere is hope, exhaustion or discouragement can vary. But in a world where elusiveness of truth runs parallel to issues of stability and security, it is an issue of utmost importance. It is an issue of restoring confidence and trust in communities broken by ISIS.

For interviews, please contact Olivia Miller, Communications Coordinator: press@persecution.org. 

ICC is on a mission to help persecuted Christians. Will you join us?