Baghdadi, the ‘caliph’ of terror

Abu Bakr al- Baghdadi (File/IANS)

Cairo: Until his death in a US special operations raid in northwest Syria overnight, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was the world’s most-wanted terrorist leaders since al-Qaida’s Osama Bin Laden.

He will be remembered as a ruthless terrorist, powerful enough to declare a so-called caliphate in Iraq and Syria and to export his bloody vision of holy war around the world, the Efe news reported.

Ever elusive, the head of the Islamic State terror organisation, who was 48 at the time of his death, oversaw the murder of thousands of civilians in the name of religion.

By harnessing barbaric punishments, the IS imposed a theocratic regime over its de facto state, drawing on medieval customs inspired by the early interpretations of Islam.

Baghdadi’s reign of terror will be especially remembered for the bloodthirsty methods his acolytes used in their slick and professional propaganda videos of warfare, beheadings, torture and executions.

The elusive Baghdadi, who has been presumed killed on several occasions, only made one public recording during his time as at the helm of the IS – the video from al-Nuri Mosque, where he proclaimed himself caliph in 2014, a title historically endowed only to those who belong to the lineage of the Prophet Muhammad.

Dressed in black robes, identifying himself with Muhammad’s lineage, and with a long beard, the IS leader took on the megalomaniac nom de guerre Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi al-Husseini al-Hashimi al-Qurashi, with which he wanted to associate himself with the Quraysh, an Arab tribe associated with Muhammad, as well as Abu Bakr, the first caliph.

Mosul went on to serve a IS’ de facto capital in Iraq.

The second and last time he appeared on camera was in April this year. In the footage, surrounded by associates, Baghdadi acknowledged that the extremist group’s last outpost in al-Baghouz, southeastern Syria, had fallen, effectively spelling the territorial end of the caliphate.

Recorded voice messages were shared with a little more frequency.

His last proof of life came just over a month ago when he featured in a 30-minute recording advocating the continuation of the “global battle” and to free women jihadists locked up in Kurdish-controlled camps in northern Syria.

Born in Samara, north of Baghdad in 1971, Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al-Badri, Baghdadi’s given name, studied Islamic theology at Baghdad University and became a preacher for several years before joining the armed resistance against the United States invasion under the umbrella of the Iraqi branch of al-Qaida.

During that period, he was arrested and imprisoned for four years in the US-administered Bucca detention camp. He later rejoined the armed struggle.

In 2010, by which time he had already adopted his more famous pseudonym, he ascended to the head of the terror group then known as the Islamic State of Iraq.

He displayed seemingly limitless ambition, which led him into a dispute with Osama bin Laden’s heir in al-Qaida, the Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri, whom Baghdadi called “a pacifist.”

The rupture between the two occurred in April 2013, when Baghdadi announced the merger between his group and an al-Qaida affiliate in Syria, which gave birth to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

This decision, which was not authorized by al-Zawahiri, led to his total disengagement with al-Qaida in January 2014.

His military successes in Syria were followed by a dizzying expansion through Iraq, where the extremists made it to the gates of Baghdad thanks to a disheveled Iraqi Army.

In the blink of an eye, Baghdadi came to dominate a vast territory. The so-called caliphate functioned as a de facto state, with its own institutions and mint.

It attracted extremists from around the world.

The tables began to turn in 2017 when Kurdish militias, with the help of US firepower and intelligence, began chipping away at IS territory.

Baghdadi was on the run.

Many speculated that he was hiding out somewhere along the border of Iraq and Syria or in the deserted areas of central Syria.

Ultimately, he was killed somewhere much more unexpected – not far from the Turkish border in Idlib province, the final key but of territory under the control of the armed opposition fighting President Bashar al-Assad.

Published on: Oct 28, 2019 at 11:08 IST


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