Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
|Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi|
|أبو بكر البغدادي|
A mugshot photo of al-Baghdadi detained at Camp Bucca, Iraq, 2004.
|Leader of the Islamic State Group|
Assumed office |
29 June 2014
|Preceded by||Position created|
|1st Emir of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant|
7 April 2013 – 29 June 2014
|Preceded by||Position created|
|Succeeded by||Position abolished|
|2nd Emir of the Islamic State of Iraq|
18 April 2010 – 7 April 2013
|Preceded by||Abu Omar al-Baghdadi|
|Succeeded by||Position abolished|
Ibrahim Awwadty Ibrahim Ali Muhammad al-Badri al-Samarrai|
28 July 1971
Near Samarra, Iraq
Jamaat Jaysh Ahl al-Sunnah wa-l-Jamaah
|Years of service||2003–present|
|Rank||Leader of ISIL|
War on Terror
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (Arabic: أبو بكر البغدادي; born 28 July 1971 as Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al-Badri إبراهيم عواد إبراهيم علي محمد البدري السامرائي) is the leader of the Sunni militant jihadist organisation known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which controls territory in western Iraq, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan. The group has been designated as a terrorist organisation by the United Nations. In June 2014 he was elected by the majlis al-shura (consultative council or Shura council), representing the ahl al-hall wal-aqd (its people of authority) of the Islamic State, to be their caliph, which he claims to be.
On 4 October 2011, the U.S. State Department listed al-Baghdadi as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist and announced a reward of up to US$10 million for information leading to his capture or death. Only the leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has a larger reward offered for his capture or death (US$25 million). The United States has also accused al-Baghdadi of kidnapping, enslaving, and repeatedly raping an American citizen who was later killed. Over time, there have been a number of reports of al-Baghdadi's death or injury; however, none have been verified.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has had various names and epithets attributed to him, including Abu Du'a (أبو دعاء ʾabū duʿāʾ), and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi al-Husseini al-Hashimi al-Qurashi (أبو بكر البغدادي الحسيني الهاشمي القرشي, ʾabū bakri l-baḡdādī l-ḥusaynī l-hāšimī l-qurašī). He is known to his supporters as Amir al-Mu'minin, Caliph Abu Bakr, Caliph al-Baghdadi, or Caliph Ibrahim (خَلِيفَةُ إِبْرَاهِيم ḵalīfatu ʾibrāhīm). This is besides his previous epithet, which was Sheikh Baghdadi, or his birthname, Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al-Badri (إبراهيم عواد إبراهيم البدري). His surname literally means one from Baghdad and denotes he comes from Baghdad city or Baghdad governorate in Iraq. In regions under ISIL control, various Islamic honorifics that recognize his rank may be used as a formal address recognizing him as a noble and a head of state that might precede or follow his name.
Al-Baghdadi (born Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali Muhammad al-Badri al-Samarrai, in Arabic إبراهيم عواد إبراهيم علي محمد البدري السامرائي) is believed to have been born near Samarra, Iraq, in 1971. In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, contemporaries of al-Baghdadi describe him in his youth as being shy, unimpressive, a religious scholar, and a man who eschewed violence. For more than a decade, until 2004, he lived in a room attached to a small local mosque in Tobchi, a poor neighbourhood on the western fringes of Baghdad, inhabited by both Shia and Sunni Muslims.
Ahmed al-Dabash, the leader of the Islamic Army of Iraq and a contemporary of al-Baghdadi who fought against the allied invasion in 2003, gave a description of al-Baghdadi that matched that of the Tobchi residents:
I was with Baghdadi at the Islamic University. We studied the same course, but he wasn't a friend. He was quiet, and retiring. He spent time alone ... I used to know all the leaders (of the insurgency) personally. Zarqawi (the former leader of al-Qaeda) was closer than a brother to me ... But I didn't know Baghdadi. He was insignificant. He used to lead prayer in a mosque near my area. No one really noticed him.
In 2014, American and Iraqi intelligence analysts said that al-Baghdadi has a doctorate for Islamic studies in Quranic studies, from Saddam University in Baghdad. According to a biography that circulated on jihadist internet forums in July 2013, he obtained a BA, MA, and PhD in Islamic studies from the Islamic University of Baghdad. Another report says that he earned a doctorate in education from the University of Baghdad.
"They [the US and Iraqi Governments] know physically who this guy is, but his backstory is just myth," said Patrick Skinner of the Soufan Group, a security consulting firm. "He's managed this secret persona extremely well, and it's enhanced his group's prestige," said Patrick Johnston of the RAND Corporation, adding, "Young people are really attracted to that." He is so unrecognized even in his own organization Baghdadi is nicknamed "the invisible sheikh".
Some believe that al-Baghdadi was already an Islamic revolutionary during the rule of Saddam Hussein, but other reports contradict this. He may have been a mosque cleric around the time of the US-led invasion in 2003.
After the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, al-Baghdadi helped found the militant group Jamaat Jaysh Ahl al-Sunnah wa-l-Jamaah (JJASJ), in which he served as head of the sharia committee. Al-Baghdadi and his group joined the Mujahideen Shura Council (MSC) in 2006, in which he served as a member of the MSC's sharia committee. Following the renaming of the MSC as the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) in 2006, al-Baghdadi became the general supervisor of the ISI's sharia committee and a member of the group's senior consultative council.
Al-Baghdadi was arrested by US Forces-Iraq on 2 February 2004 near Fallujah and detained at the Abu Ghraib and Camp Bucca detention centers under his name Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al-Badry as a "civilian internee" until December 2004, when he was recommended for release by a Combined Review and Release Board. In December 2004, he was released as a "low level prisoner".
A number of newspapers and cable news channels have instead stated that al-Baghdadi was interned from 2005 to 2009. These reports originate from an interview with the former commander of Camp Bucca, Colonel Kenneth King, and are not substantiated by Department of Defense records. Al-Baghdadi was imprisoned at Camp Bucca along with other future leaders of ISIL.
As leader of the Islamic State of Iraq
The Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), also known as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), was the Iraqi division of al-Qaeda. Al-Baghdadi was announced as leader of the ISI on 16 May 2010, following the death of his predecessor Abu Omar al-Baghdadi.
As leader of the ISI, al-Baghdadi was responsible for masterminding large-scale operations such as the 28 August 2011 suicide bombing at the Umm al-Qura Mosque in Baghdad, which killed prominent Sunni lawmaker Khalid al-Fahdawi. Between March and April 2011, the ISI claimed 23 attacks south of Baghdad, all allegedly carried out under al-Baghdadi's command.
Following the death of founder and head of al-Qaida, Osama bin Laden, on 2 May 2011, in Abbottabad, Pakistan, al-Baghdadi released a statement praising bin Laden and threatening violent retaliation for his death. On 5 May 2011, al-Baghdadi claimed responsibility for an attack in Hilla, 100 kilometres (62 mi) south of Baghdad, that killed 24 policemen and wounded 72 others.
On 15 August 2011, a wave of ISI suicide attacks beginning in Mosul resulted in 70 deaths. Shortly thereafter, in retaliation for bin Laden's death, the ISI pledged on its website to carry out 100 attacks across Iraq featuring various methods of attack, including raids, suicide attacks, roadside bombs and small arms attacks, in all cities and rural areas across the country.
On 22 December 2011, a series of coordinated car bombings and IED (improvised explosive device) attacks struck over a dozen neighborhoods across Baghdad, killing at least 63 people and wounding 180. The assault came just days after the US completed its troop withdrawal from the country. On 26 December, the ISI released a statement on jihadist internet forums claiming credit for the operation, stating that the targets of the Baghdad attack were "accurately surveyed and explored" and that the "operations were distributed between targeting security headquarters, military patrols and gatherings of the filthy ones of the al-Dajjal Army (the Army of the Anti-Christ in Arabic)", referring to the Mahdi Army of Shia warlord Muqtada al-Sadr.
On 2 December 2012, Iraqi officials claimed that they had captured al-Baghdadi in Baghdad, following a two-month tracking operation. Officials claimed that they had also seized a list containing the names and locations of other al-Qaeda operatives. However, this claim was rejected by the ISI. In an interview with Al Jazeera on 7 December 2012, Iraq's Acting Interior Minister said that the arrested man was not al-Baghdadi, but rather a sectional commander in charge of an area stretching from the northern outskirts of Baghdad to Taji.
Leader of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)
Expansion into Syria and break with al-Qaeda
Al-Baghdadi remained leader of the ISI until its formal expansion into Syria in 2013 when, in a statement on 8 April 2013, he announced the formation of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) – alternatively translated from the Arabic as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
When announcing the formation of ISIL, al-Baghdadi stated that the Syrian Civil War jihadist faction, Jabhat al-Nusra – also known as al-Nusra Front – had been an extension of the ISI in Syria and was now to be merged with ISIL. The leader of Jabhat al-Nusra, Abu Mohammad al-Julani, disputed this merging of the two groups and appealed to al-Qaeda emir Ayman al-Zawahiri, who issued a statement that ISIL should be abolished and that al-Baghdadi should confine his group's activities to Iraq. Al-Baghdadi, however, dismissed al-Zawahiri's ruling and took control of a reported 80% of Jabhat al-Nusra's foreign fighters. In January 2014, ISIL expelled Jabhat al-Nusra from the Syrian city of Ar-Raqqah, and in the same month clashes between the two in Syria's Deir ez-Zor Governorate killed hundreds of fighters and displaced tens of thousands of civilians. In February 2014, al-Qaeda disavowed any relations with ISIL.
According to several Western sources, al-Baghdadi and ISIL have received private financing from citizens in Saudi Arabia and Qatar and enlisted fighters through recruitment drives in Saudi Arabia in particular.
Declaration of a caliphate
On 29 June 2014, ISIL announced the establishment of a worldwide caliphate. Al-Baghdadi was named its caliph, to be known as "Caliph Ibrahim", and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant was renamed the Islamic State (IS). There has been much debate, especially across the Muslim world, about the legitimacy of these moves.
The declaration of a caliphate has been heavily criticized by Middle Eastern governments, other jihadist groups, and Sunni Muslim theologians and historians. Qatar-based TV broadcaster and theologian Yusuf al-Qaradawi stated: "[The] declaration issued by the Islamic State is void under sharia and has dangerous consequences for the Sunnis in Iraq and for the revolt in Syria," adding that the title of caliph can "only be given by the entire Muslim nation", not by a single group.
As a caliph, al-Baghdadi is required to hold to each dictate of the sunnah, whose precedence is set and recorded in the sahih hadiths. According to tradition, if a caliph fails to meet any of these obligations at any period, he is legally required to abdicate his position and the community has to appoint a new caliph, theoretically selected from throughout the caliphdom as being the most religiously and spiritually pious individual among them. Due to the widespread rejection of his caliphhood, al-Baghdadi's status as caliph has been compared to that of other caliphs whose caliphship has been questioned.
In an audio-taped message, al-Baghdadi announced that ISIL would march on "Rome" – generally interpreted to mean the West – in its quest to establish an Islamic State from the Middle East across Europe. He said that he would conquer both Rome and Spain in this endeavor and urged Muslims across the world to immigrate to the new Islamic State.
On 5 July 2014, a video was released apparently showing al-Baghdadi making a speech at the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul, northern Iraq. A representative of the Iraqi government denied that the video was of al-Baghdadi, calling it a "farce". However, both the BBC and the Associated Press quoted unnamed Iraqi officials as saying that the man in the video was believed to be al-Baghdadi. In the video, al-Baghdadi declared himself the world leader of Muslims and called on Muslims everywhere to support him.
According to a report in October 2014, after suffering serious injuries, al-Baghdadi fled ISIL's capital city Ar-Raqqah due to the intense bombing campaign launched by Coalition forces, and sought refuge in the Iraqi city of Mosul, the largest city under ISIL control.
On 5 November 2014, al-Baghdadi sent a message to al-Qaeda Emir Ayman al-Zawahiri requesting him to swear allegiance to him as caliph, in return for a position in the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The source of this information was a senior Taliban intelligence officer. Al-Zawahiri did not reply, and instead reassured the Taliban of his loyalty to Mullah Omar.
On 7 November 2014, there were unconfirmed reports of al-Baghdadi's death after an airstrike in Mosul, while other reports said that he was only wounded.
On 13 November 2014, ISIL released an audio-taped message, claiming it to be in the voice of al-Baghdadi. In the 17-minute recording, released via social media, the speaker said that ISIL fighters would never cease fighting "even if only one soldier remains". The speaker urged supporters of the Islamic State to "erupt volcanoes of jihad" across the world. He called for attacks to be mounted in Saudi Arabia – describing Saudi leaders as "the head of the snake" and said that the US-led military campaign in Syria and Iraq was failing. He also said that ISIL would keep on marching and would "break the borders" of Jordan and Lebanon and "free Palestine". Al-Baghdadi also claimed in 2014 that Islamic jihadists would never hesitate to eliminate Israel just because it has the United States support.
On 20 January 2015, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that al-Baghdadi had been wounded in an airstrike in Al-Qa'im, an Iraqi border town held by ISIL, and as a result, withdrew to Syria.
On 8 February 2015, after Jordan had conducted 56 airstrikes, which had reportedly killed 7,000 ISIL militants from 5–7 February, Abu Bakr al-Bagdadi was said to have fled from Ar-Raqqah to Mosul, out of fear for his life. However, after a Peshmerga source informed the US-led Coalition that al-Baghdadi was in Mosul, Coalition warplanes continuously bombed the locations where ISIL leaders were known to meet for 2 hours.
On 14 August 2015, it was reported that he allegedly claimed, as his wife, American hostage Kayla Mueller and raped her repeatedly. Mueller was later alleged to have been killed in an airstrike by anti-ISIL forces in February 2015. However, other reports cite that Mueller was murdered by ISIL.
Sectarianism and theocracy
Through his forename, al-Baghdadi is rumored to be styling himself after the first caliph, Abu Bakr, who led the "Rightly Guided" or Rashidun. According to Sunni tradition, Abu Bakr replaced Muhammad as prayer leader when he was suffering from illnesses. Another feature of the original Rashidun was what some historians dub as the first Sunnist Shiist discord during the Battle of Siffin. Some publishers have drawn a correlation between those ancient events and modern Salafizing and caliphizing aims under al-Baghdadi's rule.
Due to the relatively stationary nature of ISIL control, the elevation of religious clergy who engage in theocratization, and the group's scripture-themed legal system, some analysts have declared al-Baghdadi a theocrat and ISIL a theocracy. Other indications of the decline of secularism are the evisceration of secular institutions and its replacement with strict sharia law, and the gradual caliphization and Sunnification of regions under the group's control. In July 2015, al-Baghdadi was described by a reporter as exhibiting a kinder and gentler side after he banned videos showing slaughter and execution.
Al-Baghdadi is the top target in the war against ISIL. U.S. Intelligence believes he is based in Raqqa and that he keeps a low profile, hiding among the civilian population. ISIL is believed to be headquartered in a series of buildings in Raqqa, but the proximity of civilians makes targeting the headquarters off limits under U.S. rules of engagement. Photos of a possible public appearance in a Fallujah mosque surfaced in February 2016.
Little is known about al-Baghdadi's family and sources provide conflicting information. Reuters, quoting tribal sources in Iraq, reports Baghdadi has three wives, two Iraqis and one Syrian. The Iraqi Interior Ministry has said, "There is no wife named Saja al-Dulaimi" and that al-Baghdadi has two wives, Asma Fawzi Mohammed al-Dulaimi and Israa Rajab Mahal A-Qaisi. However, in 2016 Fox News reported, based on local media, that Saja al-Dulaimi is al-Baghdadi's most powerful wife.
In April 2015, multiple media reports emerged claiming that Baghdadi had married a German teenager on 31 March. On 28 February 2016, Iraqi media reported that she had left ISIL and had fled Iraq along with two other women. Her name was identified as Diane Kruger.
She was arrested in Syria in late 2013 or early 2014, and was released from a Syrian jail in March 2014 as part of a prisoner swap involving 150 women, in exchange for 13 nuns taken captive by al-Qaeda-linked militants. Also released in March were her two sons and her younger brother.
Al-Dulaimi's family allegedly all adhere to ISIL's ideology. Her father, Ibrahim Dulaimi, a so-called ISIL emir in Syria, was reportedly killed in September 2013 during an operation against the Syrian Army in Deir Attiyeh. Her sister, Duaa, was allegedly behind a suicide attack that targeted a Kurdish gathering in Erbil. The Iraq Interior Ministry has said that her brother is facing execution in Iraq for a series of bombings in southern Iraq. The Iraq government, however, said that al-Dulaimi is the daughter of an active member of al-Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, al-Nusra Front.
In late November 2014, al-Dulaimi was arrested and held for questioning by Lebanese authorities, along with two sons and a young daughter. They were traveling on false documents. The children were held in a care center while al-Dulaimi was interrogated.
The capture was a joint intelligence operation by Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, with the US assisting Iraq. Al-Dulaimi's potential intelligence value is unknown. An unnamed intelligence source told The New York Times that during the Iraq war, when the Americans captured a wife of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, "We got little out of her, and when we sent her back, Zarqawi killed her." Al-Baghdadi's family members are seen by the Lebanese authorities as potential bargaining chips in prisoner exchanges.
In the clearest explanation yet of al-Dulaimi's connection to al-Baghdadi, Lebanese Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk told Lebanon's MTV channel that "Dulaimi is not Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's wife currently. She has been married three times: first to a man from the former Iraqi regime, with whom she had two sons." Other sources identify her first husband as Fallah Ismail Jassem, a member of the Rashideen Army, who was killed in a battle with the Iraqi Army in 2010. Machnouk continued, "Six years ago she married Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi for three months, and she had a daughter with him. Now, she is married to a Palestinian and she is pregnant with his child." The Minister added, "We conducted DNA tests on her and the daughter, which showed she was the mother of the girl, and that the girl is [Baghdadi's] daughter, based on DNA from Baghdadi from Iraq."
Al-Monitor reported a Lebanese security source as saying that al-Dulaimi had been under scrutiny since early 2014. He said that Jabhat al-Nusra "had insisted back in March on including her in the swap that ended the kidnapping of the Maaloula nuns. The negotiators said on their behalf that she was very important, and they were ready to cancel the whole deal for her sake". He added, "It was later revealed by Abu Malik al-Talli, one of al-Nusra's leaders, that she was Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's wife."
On 9 December 2014, al-Dulaimi and her current Palestinian husband, Kamal Khalaf, were formally arrested after the Lebanese Military Court issued warrants and filed charges for belonging to a terrorist group, holding contacts with terrorist organizations, and planning to carry out terrorist acts. In December 2015, the Lebanese government exchanged al-Dulaimi and her daughter for Lebanese soldiers being held by al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front in a prisoner swap deal.
According to a reporter for The Guardian, al-Baghdadi married in Iraq around the year 2000 after finishing his doctorate. The son of this marriage was 11 years old in 2014.
After Saja al-Dulaimi's arrest in 2014, a connection was made to her sister, Duaa Amid Ibrahim (aged 24 in 2016), who was arrested with a suicide vest entering Erbil in about 2011. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's sister-in-law remains in a Kurdish jail.
The Head of the Khalidiya Council in Anbar Province reported in February 2016: "Today, Iraqi Air Force conducted an airstrike on the so-called ISIS sharia court in Albu Bali area in Khalidiya Island east of Ramadi. The strike resulted in the death of Abu Ahmed al-Samarrai the nephew of the ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, along with eight of his companions, as well as Adel al-Bilawi, the Military Commander of Albu Bali area."
Reports of paralysis, wounds or death
According to media reports, al-Baghdadi was wounded on 18 March 2015 during a coalition airstrike on the al-Baaj District, in the Nineveh Governorate, near the Syrian border. His wounds were apparently so serious that the top ISIL leaders had a meeting to discuss who would replace him if he died. According to reports, by 22 April al-Baghdadi had not yet recovered enough from his injuries to resume daily control of ISIL. The US Pentagon said that al-Baghdadi had not been the target of the airstrikes and "we have no reason to believe it was Baghdadi." On 22 April 2015, Iraqi government sources reported that Abu Ala al-Afri, the self-proclaimed caliph's deputy and a former Iraqi physics teacher, had been installed as the stand-in leader while Baghdadi recuperated from his injuries.
In April 2015, The Guardian reported that al-Baghdadi was recovering from the severe injuries which he had received during the airstrike on 18 March 2015, in a part of Mosul. It was also reported that a spinal injury which had left him paralyzed meant that he might never be able to fully resume direct command of ISIL. By 13 May, ISIL fighters had warned that they would retaliate for al-Baghdadi's injury, which the Iraqi Defense Ministry believed would be carried out through attacks in Europe.
On 14 May 2015, ISIL released an audio message which it claimed was from al-Baghdadi. In the recording, al-Baghdadi urged Muslims to immigrate to the Islamic State, and to join the fight in Iraq and Syria. In the recording, he also condemned the Saudi involvement in Yemen, and claimed that the conflict would lead to the end of the Saudi royal family's rule. He also claimed that Islam was never a religion of peace, that it was "the religion of fighting." Assessment was made that this statement proved that al-Baghdadi remained in control or influencing ISIL.
On 20 July 2015, The New York Times wrote that rumors that al-Baghdadi had been killed or injured earlier in the year had been "dispelled".
On 11 October 2015, the Iraqi air force claimed to have bombed al-Baghdadi's convoy in the western Anbar province close to the Syrian border while he was heading to Kerabla to attend an ISIL meeting, the location of which was also said to be bombed. His fate was not immediately confirmed. There were some subsequent speculation that he may not have been present in the convoy at all.
On 14 June 2016, several Middle Eastern media outlets claimed that al-Baghdadi had been killed in a US airstrike in Raqqa on 12 June. Coalition spokesmen said they could not confirm the reports. The Independent however later stated that these reports of Baghdadi's death were based on a digitally altered image claiming to be a media statement from ISIL.
On 3 October 2016, various media outlets claimed that al-Baghdadi and 3 senior ISIL leaders have been poisoned by an assassin. He was reported as being monitored in a secret location alive. A man hunt for the assassins was reportedly started.
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