C.J. Chivers writes: Mr. Aboud, in his mid-30s, is an exile from Sarmin, where he had lived most of his adult life. Past associates refer to him as either an ISIS wali or emir, titles conveying authority or military power that the Islamic State bestows on governors and its middle rank.
They note that he did not simply drift to ISIS; he has had a relationship with the original underground Sunni insurgents in Iraq’s Anbar Province, part of the crucible where ISIS formed, reaching back more than a decade.
Mr. Aboud and one of his brothers fought American forces there in 2004 and 2005, several townspeople said. Some suggested that the pair returned to Syria as a sleeper cell tied to Al Qaeda in Iraq, which was founded by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and after his death in 2006 eventually became ISIS.
In the nearly year and a half since Mr. Aboud publicly joined the Islamic State, taking with him most of his fighters and many powerful weapons, he has been credited with, or blamed for, a sprawling mix of battlefield action and crime. Those who know him contend he led the capture of Palmyra, the town and ancient heritage site that ISIS defiled.
For all of Mr. Aboud’s activity, however, his story suggests limits to advancement within the group, which analysts say to a large degree remains led by Iraqis, including many connected to the dismantled Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein.
Hassan al-Dugheim, a rebel cleric who said he had observed Mr. Aboud since 2011, said his tactical skill and ruthlessness were beyond question. He bluntly added, however, that he considered Mr. Aboud stupid, and that the Islamic State had found in him a man who could be flattered, bought, then used.
“Syrians are for fighting,” he said, and those who had joined ISIS recently faced a glass ceiling inside. “They are like animals to be ridden, like a horse or a mule.” [Continue reading…]