ISIS’s new leader is believed to be a former officer in Saddam Hussein’s military who forged an alliance with al-Baghdadi in prison before becoming his enforcer and chief policymaker.
Abdullah Qardash – nicknamed The Professor for his reputation as a legislator – is known as a cruel but popular figure among the ISIS rank-and-file.
According to a statement by Amaq, ISIS’s press agency, Baghdadi appointed Qardash to run the group’s day-to-day operations in August this year, making him the heir-apparent after his former boss killed himself during a raid by US forces in Syria at the weekend.
Qardash – also known as Hajji Abdullah al-Afari – was born in Tal Afar, a Sunni-majority town in Iraq – before joining the military while Saddam Hussein ruled the country.
Following the invasion of Iraq by the US in 2003 and President Bush’s move to disband the country’s military, he found himself locked in jail accused of having links to al-Qaeda.
Languishing in a cell at Camp Bucca, Qardash formed a close bond with Baghdadi, who was then fomenting the extremist religious code that would provide the ideological grounding for the death cult that became ISIS.
After his release Qardash served as a religious commissar and a general sharia judge for al-Qaeda, according to researchers at the S. Rajartnam School of International Studies in Singapore.
When ISIS emerged as a splinter group from Al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch he changed allegiances, where he became Baghdadi’s enforcer.
Working close to Baghdadi,he was responsible for eliminating anyone who disagreed with his style of leadership, which is where he earned his other nickname, ‘The Destroyer’.
From there he became the group’s chief policymaker and legislator, known for enforcing its strict brand of Islam and Sharia Law punishments.
He is thought to have personally welcomed Baghdadi into Mosul in 2014 after ISIS took the city – announcing their presence as the world’s foremost terror group.
It was from the minaret of the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul that Baghdadi gave a speech announcing the formation of ISIS’s so-called Caliphate.
On August 7 this year Amaq announced that Qardash had taken over day-to-day running of the terror group, while Baghdadi concentrated on drumming up religious fervour in the group’s aims.
With news of Baghdadi’s death, Qardash is in nominal charge of the terror group – however the exact extent of his reach and control is unknown.
Following the territorial defeat of the terror group, it is now split into cells spread across at least two countries operating largely independently of each-other.
Leadership is said to be split between three factions largely along ethnic lines, with Tunisian, Saudi and Iraqi leaders vying for control.
He is understood to have already taken over a number of duties from al-Baghdadi prior to his demise this week when he detonated a suicide vest.
It comes as experts have warned the IS and the extremist jihadist movements have over the last one-and-a-half decades repeatedly shown resilience after the death of key leaders.
And their militants, battle-hardened by years of fighting, remain in place around the world.