Al-Haj Abdullah Qardash (Arabic: عبد الله قرداش) (sometimes spelled Karshesh, also known as Hajji Abdullah al-Afari), also nicknamed "The Professor" and "Destroyer", is or was an Iraqi-born militant Islamist who in 2019 was wrongly reported as the leader of the The Islamic State (ISIL) following the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Qardash is an Iraqi Turkman and was born in Tal Afar, Iraq. He studied in the Islamic Sciences college in Mosul. As of 2014, Qardash was in his mid-50s.
Prior to joining ISIL, Qardash was a Major General within the army of Saddam Hussein. Qardash was jailed in 2003–2004 by the US authorities with al-Baghdadi in Camp Bucca, a detention facility in Basra, following the invasion of Iraq and the ouster of Saddam Hussein's regime, becoming one of al-Baghdadi's closest companions. During the International military intervention against ISIL, Qardash oversaw operations against the Free Syrian Army in Aleppo and the Syrian Arab Army in Deir ez-Zor. Qardash also personally oversaw the selection of suicide bombers and the conduct of suicide operations for the Islamic State.
Qardash was earlier a religious commissar in al-Qaeda before joining the Islamic State.
Qardash was believed by some to have assumed the position on 27 October 2019 following the death of ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in the Barisha raid conducted by the United States Army in northwest Syria. This claim was based on a statement in August 2019 which was attributed to ISIL's propaganda arm, the Amaq News Agency, and claimed that Qardash had been named as al-Baghdadi's successor. Several news organizations reported the statement as an official announcement.
Analysts, however, dismissed the statement as a fabrication. Rita Katz, a terrorism analyst and the co-founder of SITE Intelligence, noted that the statement used a different font when compared to other statements and it was never distributed on Amaq or ISIL channels. The fake statement re-emerged in October 2019 following the death of al-Baghdadi, and was reported on by several news organizations, including Newsweek. A few days later, on 31 October, ISIL named Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi as Baghdadi's successor.
Hisham al-Hashimi, an ISIL analyst and counter-terrorism advisor to the Iraqi government, said in October 2019 that, according to Iraqi intelligence sources, Qardash had died in 2017 and his daughter was being held by Iraqi intelligence. He said Qardash's death had been confirmed by both his daughter and other relatives. As of 31 October, his death has not been confirmed by other sources.
The Iraqi National Intelligence Service (INIS) said in May 2020 that they had taken custody of Abdul Nasser Qardash. Qardash is the highest ranking Islamic State officer to ever be taken into custody. INIS issued a statement saying "Today, the terrorist named Abdul Nasser al-Qardash, the candidate to succeed the criminal al-Baghdadi, was arrested. The arrest came after accurate intelligence." INIS also distributed a picture of a somber and thin Qardash wearing a long-sleeved flannel shirt.
On 21 May 2020, the Iraqi National Intelligence Services further elaborated that Qardash was in charge of manufacturing chemical warfare agents to attack Iraqi troops. It said: "Qardash was responsible for the production and development of mustard gas, which was used for attacking Iraqi forces across the country. He plays a prominent role in the negotiation process between the group [ISIL] and its factions, as well as with other terrorist movements".
There are conflicting reports however that Qardash may have been initially arrested in Syria in 2019 by Kurdish forces but was handed over to the Iraqi authorities only recently (May 2020). The Syrian Democratic Forces affiliated with the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) had captured Qardash after the Boghuz Battle and kept him for months before delivering him to the Iraqi authorities. His transfer to Iraq was coordinated with the US-led International Coalition.
After his capture, al-Qardash confirmed in an interview with Al Arabiya television: "There was a massive reevaluation of the Islamic State after it lost vast areas including Kobani and many other areas. There were three of us, myself [Qardash], Omar al-Furkan and Ayoub Rakawi, who sat with the leadership to review our steps." After the death of Al-Baghdadi, none of the three emerged as ISIL leader as Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi was declared the eventual leader and caliph of the Islamic State.