WASHINGTON — The US national counterterrorism chief predicted ISIS will announce a new leader in the coming days following this weekend’s killing of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
At a House Homeland Security Committee hearing Wednesday, acting Director of the National Counterterrorism Center Russell Travers called the death of Baghdadi a “significant” loss but added that the terror group has a “deep bench.”
“We need to remember that the United States and the coalition overall has had tremendous success in eliminating leadership over the years of both al Qaeda and ISIS, and yet the bench tends to rise to the top. And my guess is that if history is any judge, over the next — somewhere between a couple of days and a couple of weeks — we’ll see a new leader, khalif, announced,” Travers said.
Baghdadi died in the early morning hours Sunday after blowing himself up when cornered by US forces who had raided his compound in northern Syria, according to President Donald Trump.
Abu Hasan al-Muhajir, a high ranking deputy in the terror group and its spokesman, was seen as a possible successor, Travers said, although he was also killed in recent days in a different part of northern Syria than where Baghdadi died.
Another potential new leader is Hajji Abdallah, an Iraqi religious scholar, Travers said.
Travers predicted the late ISIS leader would be eulogized, including by the head of al Qaeda, a rival group, and said the NCTC expects to see requests from the new ISIS leader for the group’s branches and affiliates to swear allegiance.
“That’s what we’ll be watching very carefully — to see how this individual consolidates control going forward,” Travers said.
Also Wednesday, FBI Director Christopher Wray warned that terrorists still pose a threat to the US even after the operation against Baghdadi.
“Even as we recognize our country’s important recent achievements with the death of al-Baghdadi and our fight against ISIS in the Middle East, we know that we have to stay vigilant against the threat both overseas and here at home,” Wray said.