The reign of new Islamic State terror group leader Abu al-Hassan al-Hashimi al-Qurashi may be over, less than three months after it began.
The Turkish website OdaTV first reported the arrest of Abu al-Hassan Thursday, saying Turkish police captured him without firing a single bullet during a raid on a house in Istanbul last week.
The website further reported the IS leader was being questioned and that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is set to formally announce the arrest and share additional details in the coming days.
Separately, two senior Turkish officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, confirmed the arrest to Bloomberg News, adding that Erdogan has been informed.
U.S. officials, however, remained cautious.
“[We] can’t confirm the reports about al-Qurashi,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters Thursday. “Obviously we’ve been looking at this all day, but we’re just not in a position where we can actually confirm that press reporting.”
IS named Abu al-Hassan al-Hashimi al-Qurashi as the terror group’s third leader in March, saying he took over shortly after the death of his predecessor during a raid by U.S. special forces in northwestern Syria in February.
IS followers quickly lined up behind the new leader, with the terror group’s media division sharing photos and videos of fighters from Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, Somalia, Afghanistan, the Philippines and elsewhere pledging their allegiance to Abu al-Hassan.
Yet despite the show of support, there are still questions about the new leader’s true identity, which may be making it more difficult to verify Turkey’s claims.
Abu al-Hassan al-Hashimi al-Qurashi is a nom-de-guerre meant to indicate the new leader is a descendant of the Hashemite clan of the Qurashi tribe, which by bloodline would link him to Prophet Muhammed — an IS requirement for any would-be caliph.
And so far, Western counterintelligence officials have yet to form a firm consensus about who is really leading IS.
There are, however, several theories.
New Lines Magazine in February identified Bashar Khattab Ghazal al-Sumaidai as next in line to lead the terror group.
“Known by numerous noms de guerre, including Ustath Zaid (Teacher or Professor Zaid), Abu Khattab al-Iraqi, Abu al-Moez al-Iraqi and Abu Ishaq, he returned to Syria from Turkey about a year ago,” New Lines said, adding that al-Sumaidai had become increasingly popular in jihadist circles.
But Iraqi and Western officials told Reuters in March that the new leader was actually Juma Awad al-Badri, the brother of former IS caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Still, no matter who it is that Turkey ultimately captured, some analysts say as long as Turkish officials have a senior IS leader, it could help further weaken IS operations.
“It could end up being an intelligence boon once he’s interrogated and questioned,” Colin Clarke, director of research at the global intelligence firm The Soufan Group, told Muhabarishaji.
“We’ve long known that the organization’s financiers and logisticians had strong networks in Turkey, but now it seems like senior leadership is active there as well,” Clarke said.
“A country like Turkey is a double-edged sword for groups like ISIS,” he added, using another acronym for the terror group.
“On the one hand, Turkey has capable security forces,” Clarke said. “On the other hand, unlike a country like Afghanistan that is somewhat isolated, Turkey can serve as a safe haven for terrorists, and it’s connected to the illicit financial system, communications, [and] transportation.”