Wounded Isil leader al-Baghdadi is forced to hand over control
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isil), is no longer in operational control of the organisation after being wounded in an airstrike, it was reported today.
Baghdadi, who is the self-described 'caliph' or spiritual leader of Isil, was seriously hurt in a strike in a village in western Iraq on March 18, according to 'The Guardian'.
The newspaper said that his wounds were at first thought to be so serious that he might die, and that while he had since staged a gradual recovery, he was not now involved in the direct day-to-day control of the terror group.
When they first heard of his wounds, Isil deputies convened meetings to discuss who might take over as leader.
Previous reports of Baghdadi's demise have proved premature. 'The Guardian' cited three separate sources for its story, including a source with connections to Isil, a Western diplomat, and Hisham al-Hashimi, an Iraqi official.
He told the paper: "Yes, he was wounded in al-Baaj near the village of Umm al-Rous on 18 March with a group that was with him."
Al-Baaj lies in Nineveh district, close to the Syrian border, and is believed to have been chosen as a hiding place by Baghdadi because of its remote desert location.
Its mainly tribal residents lay beyond the writ of government even during Saddam Hussein's time, and the area was also only scantly visited during by US troops during the occupation. It is said that the airstrike that wounded al-Baghdadi was aimed at a convoy of local Isil leaders, and killed three men.
Western officials are said not to have realised that Baghdadi was in the convoy at the time.
Al-Baghdadi, who has had a $10m price put on his head by the US government, was twice reported to have been wounded in November and December of last year, although neither claim turned out to be accurate.
Prior to Isil's take-over of northern Iraq, the government in Baghdad also claimed to have killed or captured a man of that name several times.
Believed to be a former Islamic scholar, he spent four years in US custody at Camp Bucca in Iraq, where many other al-Qa'ida commanders were held. Following his release he rejoined al-Qa'ida in Iraq and took over as its leader in 2010, following the killing of two other top commanders.
He is said to be extremely careful about his security, and in the company of all but the closest devotees wears a mask to prevent any potential informants getting a close look at him. Last July, however, a video surfaced of him making a rare public appearance at Mosul's Great Mosque, telling fellow Muslims to "make jihad" for the sake of Allah.
Footage showed military black Humvees advancing in a residential area in Ramadi and Iraqi soldiers firing their rifles (© Daily Telegraph, London)