The Supreme Leader of the Islamic State (IS), calling himself Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, appeared in a propaganda video in April. Photo: AFP.

IS 'shut up' after losing its head

Silent and cynical, that's what IS-backed elements now respond to news that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been annihilated.

There have been no statements or grief for Baghdadi on the official Islamic State (IS) Telegram channel since President Donald Trump on October 27 announced he had died at the hands of US special forces in northwest Syria.

The Telegram account of the IS-friendly Amaq news agency remains as normal. Since October 27, the airline has published 30 statements about attacks in Syria, Egypt, Afghanistan and Iraq, and praised the militants.

The Islamic State (IS) leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, appeared in a propaganda video in April. AFP.

Compared to the death of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in 2011 or the deaths of other IS high-ranking leaders, social media conversations between IS supporters about the number Baghdadi also appears less.

Analysts say the remaining IS leaders may still be shocked and are trying to find a way to stay organized, quickly elect a successor to Baghdadi before announcing his death.

"Perhaps IS is in chaos. Top advisers have been killed and many important documents destroyed," Hisham al-Hashimi, an expert in Iraq who specializes in the study of militant groups, speculated. "They will want to find a successor before declaring Baghdadi dead," he said, adding that intra-group divisions have the potential to delay the process.

ISIS may have to change its "brand" because the use of Baghdadi's declaration of Islamic state establishment is no longer relevant now that the group has lost control of its territory in Iraq, Syria and Libya.

President Trump said last week that many of Baghdadi's supporters had been killed. On October 29, he announced on Twitter that the US military was likely to kill even the man who had the potential to replace Baghdadi. Trump did not say who he was referring to, but the US State Department on October confirmed that Abu al-Hassan al-Muhajir, the IS spokesman, died in another campaign conducted by Washington.

When Osama bin Laden was killed in 2011, al-Qaeda also took days to publish the information, said Aymenn al-Tamimi, an expert at Swansea University specializing in IS research. About 6 weeks later the group announced its successor bin Laden.

"IS may announce Baghdadi's death in its weekly newsletter on Thursday if they agree on a successor," Tamimi said.

According to him, Baghdadi's deputy Hajj Abdullah is likely to become the IS supreme leader, provided that he is still alive.

There is conflicting information about whether Baghdadi will still be alive after IS lost its last important territory occupied in Syria in March. Baghdadi's last audio message has been around since September.

After Trump announced Baghdadi's death, many IS supporters appeared to be skeptical or believed that the US President was spreading false news.

A Telegram account linked to IS warned its supporters not to believe in images or information published by the United States. The message ends with the message "The almighty god will protect him (Baghdadi)", showing that the poster still thought Baghdadi was alive.

Others seemed willing to accept the supreme leader's death but called for continued support of the war under any circumstances.

"Regardless of what happens, the holy war convoy moves forward and does not stop even when the state is destroyed," an IS supporter wrote in his personal Telegram account.

According to Tamimi, there is not much regret for Baghdadi because a large number of IS supporters want him dead. They believe that Baghdadi's cruelty, manifested in punishments such as cutting off limbs, has caused the organization to lose its momentum of development, leaving the fighters with a will to fight.

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, formerly Nusra Front, a group that once controlled Idlib province in northwestern Syria, rejoiced at his death.

"The only thing they regret is not killing Baghdadi on their own," Tamimi said.

Contrary to ISIS, al-Qaeda supporters quickly accept Baghdadi's deaths, according to the US-based intelligence group SITE, which tracks websites operated by extremist groups.

"How much more blood is shed because of the so-called Islamic state in his imagination," said Sirajuddin Zurayqat, a former senior member of Abdullah Azzam's Brigades, once affiliated with al-Qaeda, talk.

On the night of October 28, Saudi Sunni cleric Abdullah al-Muhaysini also posted an 18-minute video praising Baghdadi's destruction, urging his supporters to leave ISIS.

"For some, Baghdadi's death may be the last motivation for them to leave ISIS and return to al-Qaeda," said Elisabeth Kendall, an Arab and Islamic researcher at Oxford University, UK. Comment.

Vu Hoang (Follow Reuters)

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