Al-Qaeda linked Syria-based cleric praises Baghdadi’s 'glorious' killing
A Syria-based Saudi cleric accused of links to Al-Qaeda and terrorism has commented on the death of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, saying that “the night of Baghdadi’s death was a glorious night in Muslim history”.
Sheikh Abdullah Al-Muhaysini is a Salafi Jihadi cleric who has been placed on a US terror list for his previous leadership role in Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), an Islamist extremist group which was formerly affiliated to Al-Qaeda and now dominates opposition-held Idlib province in northwestern Syria.
Analysts consider his approval of al-Baghdadi’s death, which happened during a US raid in Idlib province, as part of an attempt by Al-Qaeda and other Islamist extremists to capitalize on IS’s setback and regain ground lost to Islamic State.
IS originally grew out of Al-Qaeda but the two Islamist extremist groups have been enemies ever since Al-Qaeda’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri denounced Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi for “sedition” in 2015 and said that he was not the rightful Caliph of the Muslims.
In an audio message entitled “Lessons and Warnings in the Killing of the Proclaimed Caliph”, Muhaysini said that “God has destroyed one of the heads of misguidance”.
Al-Muhaysini went on to describe Al-Baghdadi as a “heretic”, a “criminal”, and a “tyrant” saying that “Sunnis are innocent of him”. He also mentioned his personal experiences with Al-Baghdadi, saying that the IS leader had done great harm to him and other people in northwestern Syria.
Al-Muhaysini described an incident in 2017 where an IS suicide bomber blew himself up near a mosque where Al-Muhaysini was teaching in Idlib city. Al-Muhaysini’s personal bodyguard was killed in the attack.
In July 2019, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) announced that Baghdadi’s bodyguard had been killed in a clash with its forces. In the same month it executed four people charged with belonging to IS.
There has been speculation that the group played a role in the death of Baghdadi, centred around the possibility that HTS passed information to the US regarding the notorious IS chief’s whereabouts via Turkey.
Al-Muhaysini, who originates from the Saudi city of Al-Buraydah, arrived in Syria in 2013. He has characterized his role as a religious and legal expert offering advice to all Islamist fighters and for a long time did not join any armed group.
He expressed surprise when he was placed on the US Treasury Department’s terrorism list in 2016, saying that he was an “independent figure” and not part of the then Al-Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front.
However, he was a founding member of HTS, the Nusra Front’s successor organization, leaving it in late 2017. He has also reportedly made sectarian statements against Alawis, praised suicide bombers, and sanctioned the killing of prisoners.
The Syrian conflict broke out in 2011, when the regime of President Bashar al-Assad brutally suppressed peaceful pro-democracy protests. More than 500,000 people have been killed and millions more displaced, mostly as a result of regime bombardment of civilian areas.