Global leader of ISIS targeted and possibly killed in U.S. airstrike

The U.S. military targeted the global leader of ISIS in an airstrike in Somalia late last month but cannot confirm whether he was killed, three U.S. officials say.

The U.S. government has publicly identified Abdulqadir Mumin as the head of the ISIS affiliate in Somalia, but two U.S. officials say that last year he quietly became the worldwide leader of the terror group.

U.S. Africa Command released a statement on May 31 saying it had conducted an airstrike against ISIS militants in a remote area 81 km (50 miles) southeast of Bosaso, Somalia, and killed three militants. The AFRICOM statement did not say whom the U.S. was targeting, however, or who was killed. AFRICOM reported that no civilians were killed in the strike.

Abdul al-Qadir Mumin ISIS-SOMALIA leader founder (National Counterterrorism Center)
Abdul al-Qadir Mumin ISIS-SOMALIA leader founder (National Counterterrorism Center)

Three U.S. officials now say Mumin was the target of that operation, even though they do not have confirmation of his death.

A senior administration official confirmed that the U.S. did carry out a strike against a senior ISIS target in Somalia, but declined to provide the individual’s name and said the U.S. is still working to verify the outcome.

A senior defense official says ISIS in Somalia is relatively small, with only 100 to 200 total fighters, all located in northern Somalia. But there are other small ISIS groups throughout parts of Africa, including Libya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Mozambique.

ISIS still has thousands of fighters worldwide, primarily in northern Iraq and northeastern Syria, according to U.S. intelligence agencies.

But because the U.S. has been effective against the ISIS leadership in Iraq and Syria, ISIS leaders view Africa as “a place where they should invest, where they are more permissive and able to operate better and more freely, and they want to expand the ISIS cell there. So they did bring the caliph to that region,” the senior defense official said. The cells around Africa have expanded because of the strategic direction from ISIS leadership, the official added.

The official said ISIS militants in Somalia operate more effectively in certain ways than other terror networks that are active in the country, including evading the FBI and Interpol and sharing their tactics, techniques and procedures with one another, like financing.

The U.S. says Mumin is responsible for deadly attacks throughout Somalia over the past decade, including the 2019 assassination of a judicial official in his home and the 2016 capture and monthslong occupation of a city in the Puntland region.

In 2016, the U.S. declared him a specially designated global terrorist, saying that he posed a significant risk of committing acts of terrorism that threaten the security of U.S. nationals or the national security, foreign policy or economy of the U.S.

That Mumin had taken over as the latest global head of ISIS was not widely known, say two U.S. officials. He succeeded Abu al-Hasan al-Hashimi al-Qurashi, who was killed in combat in Syria in late 2022. The previous two global chiefs of ISIS, including its best-known leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, had killed themselves when they were cornered during U.S. military raids.

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