Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead, Syria monitor confirms

Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead, Syria monitor confirms
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says it has "confirmed information" that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been killed.
3 min read
11 July, 2017
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi may have been killed in a Russian strike [Getty]

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said on Tuesday that it had information from top Islamic State group leaders confirming the death of the organisation's chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

"Top tier commanders from IS who are present in Deir Az-Zour province have confirmed the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, emir of the Islamic State group, to the Observatory," director Rami Abdel Rahman said.

"We learned of it today but we do not know when he died or how."

The New Arab could not independently verify Baghdadi's death.

The statement comes nearly a month after Russia said its jets may have taken out the leader of the world's most notorious terror organisation in an airstrike in May.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi may have been killed with several of his top henchmen in a Russian strike, after Su-34 and Su-35 warplanes attacked an IS military council meeting south of the group's de-facto capital of Raqqa in northern Syria on May 28, Moscow said, adding that the US was informed in advance of the raid.

If true, this would be a major propaganda coup for the Russians, who intervened in Syria to prop up the regime of dictator Bashar al-Assad, unleashing their devastating arsenal primarily on moderate rebels and their civilian backers, and to a lesser extent on extremist groups operating in the country.

The intervention proved crucial in ensuring the survival of Syria's embattled regime and armed forces, who are also backed by Iranian-trained militias from Lebanon and Iraq.

Most of the Russian war effort in Syria has focused on opponents of Assad. However, Moscow made sure to score symbolic victories against IS from time to time to justify its intervention in the war-ravaged nation, helping to recapture the iconic ancient city of Palmyra (Tadmur) from the extremists, twice, to much fanfare.

Baghdadi pursued an ultraviolent form of extremism that included bringing back slavery, engaging in genocide on non-Muslim minorities and Shia Muslims

Who is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi?

This is not the first time Baghdadi has been rumoured dead, and once again reports of his demise may be exaggerated.

A character shrouded in mystery, Baghdadi's real name may be Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim al-Badri, and he may have been born in 1971 in Samarra, an ancient Iraqi city in the so-called Sunni Triangle north of Baghdad.

He may have been a cleric in a mosque in the city around the time of the US-led invasion in 2003. Reports suggest he was radicalised during the four years he was held at Camp Bucca, a US prison in southern Iraq where many al-Qaeda commanders were detained.

He emerged as the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, one of the groups that later became Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) in 2010 and then Islamic State (IS) in 2014, and rose to prominence during the failed merger with al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front in Syria (now Jabhet Fateh al-Sham).

He did not swear allegiance to the leader of the al-Qaeda franchise, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who had urged IS to focus on Iraq and leave Syria to al-Nusra.

Baghdadi and his fighters split with al-Qaeda and pursued an ultraviolent form of extremism that included bringing back slavery, engaging in genocide on non-Muslim minorities and Shia Muslims, and applying an extreme version of Islamic capital punishments, involving live immolation and mass beheading.

The group and lone wolves inspired by it have claimed numerous terror attacks from the US to the Philippines, via Europe and the Middle East.

In 2014, following his group's rapid capture of Mosul and vast swathes of western Iraq, he declared himself from the pulpit of al-Nuri Mosque in the Old City of Mosul the new caliph, leader of the entire Muslim nation, a title abolished in 1924 with the fall of the Ottoman Empire.