Monday 11 November 2019

Obituary: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

Iraqi-born religious scholar who became leader of Isil terror group

Terrorist leader Al-Baghdadi
Terrorist leader Al-Baghdadi

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who has died aged 47 or 48, apparently by his own hand, was a former religious scholar and keen football player who emerged as the leader of the Islamist terrorist group, Isil, in 2010 and became one of the world's most wanted men.

Isil is the successor group to al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), whose founder, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, became famous by posting his decapitation of the American contractor Nick Berg on YouTube. Al-Zarqawi's speciality was orchestrating the massacring of crowds of Shia Muslims with suicide car bombs.

He was killed in a US bombing raid in 2006. His first replacement, Omar al-Baghdadi, was killed, also in an airstrike, in 2010. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi then emerged from the shadows to be elected head of the organisation in Iraq's northern province of Nineveh.

When he took over the movement, al-Baghdadi proved his capacity for violence by staging 60 simultaneous attacks that killed 110 people in one day.

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He then ordered an attack on the cathedral in Baghdad in which 46 Christians were killed. In 2011 the US government placed a $10m bounty on Baghdadi's head.

AQI was at a low point in its fortunes when al-Baghdadi became its leader, as the Sunni rebellion, in which it had once played a leading role, was collapsing. It was revived by the revolt of the Sunni in Syria in 2011, and in 2013 al-Baghdadi dispatched his men to fight in the Syrian civil war, when he announced the formation of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil). Joined by thousands of foreign fighters, including many from Britain, al-Baghdadi and his men wrested control of the northern Syrian city of Raqqa from the grasp of both the Syrian regime and domestic insurgent groups.

They went on to capture most of the country's oilfields, creating a lucrative source of revenue, to which they added the proceeds of ransoms for western hostages and donations from sympathisers in countries such as Saudi Arabia. The move into Syria led to a cooling, and eventually severing, of relations with al-Qaeda, whose leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, had ordered al-Baghdadi to confine his activities to Iraq.

In 2014, returning some of his men to Iraq, al-Baghdadi seized Mosul, Iraq's second city, in the north of the country, and then advanced towards Baghdad, sending the Iraqi army fleeing. A slick propaganda wing helped the advance, with al-Baghdadi's allies on social media sites circulating gruesome images of the overtly sectarian massacres the group was committing.

The images of more than 100 Shia soldiers from Tikrit lying in a gutter on a roadside, their hands tied behind their backs as they were summarily murdered, spread fear among local Shia populations, causing tens of thousands of people to flee from their homes.

In June 2014, Isil announced the establishment of a worldwide caliphate with al-Baghdadi as its caliph, to be known as "Caliph Ibrahim", with Isil renamed Islamic State. The following month he finally revealed himself to the public with a speech, filmed and posted on YouTube, in which he demanded the toppling of Baghdad and the inclusion of the Gulf and Jordan in the caliphate. In fact, he boasted, his men would not stop conquering ground until they reached "Rome".

In 2015, Baghdadi transformed Isil from a battlefield force operating in Syria and Iraq into a transnational terrorist franchise killing civilians in more than a dozen countries around the world. Orchestrating attacks against soft targets - including sports stadiums, beach resorts and museums - Isil killed more than 1,200 civilians outside Iraq and Syria that year while luring a steady stream of recruits to the cause.

Since then, however, the terrorist group had been reported to be on the run, harassed in Syria by government troops supported by Russian airstrikes and in Iraq by US airstrikes. It was reported to have lost much of the populated territory it controlled in Iraq and Syria, and in December 2018 US President Donald Trump announced that Isil had been defeated, although many politicians from other countries insisted that although it had been pushed back, it was still a threat.

Baghdadi was born Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali Muhammad al-Badri al-Samarrai in Samarra, a largely Sunni city, and is believed to have studied at the Islamic university in the Iraqi capital, where some reports suggest he took a PhD and became a "conservative Salafi" practitioner of Islam.

He was also reported to have married a German teenager, Diane Kruger, in 2015, but she apparently fled Iraq with two other women in 2016. Baghdadi died during a targeted attack by the US on his compound in northern Syria. The terrorist activated a suicide vest, killing himself and three of his children.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdad, born 1971, died October 26 or 27 2019.

© Telegraph

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