July 10

A Profile of the Islamic State Leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarrai, better known by his nom de guerre, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is the former head of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and now the Caliph Ibrahim of the Islamic State.

It is believed that Baghdadi was born in 1971 somewhere near Samarra Iraq. Not much is known about his younger years except that he attended the University of Islamic Studies in Adhamiya, the east-central district of Baghdad Iraq, where earned both a master’s degree and PhD in Islamic studies. 

Baghdadi’s jihadist ambitions may have begun in 2003 when he was reportedly a mullah in a mosque. Soon after, Baghdadi is said to have led numerous small militant groups and was awarded a seat on the Majlis al-Shura of the Mujahideen. During this time, he also became a member of the judicial Council of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI)/al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). Early on in the insurgency Baghdadi was captured, and From February 2004 until December 2004, he was held by U.S. forces at Camp Bucca Iraq as a civilian internee until a Combined Review and Release Board recommended Baghdadi’s unconditional release.

Baghdadi became the leader of ISI on 16, May 2010 when the former leader of the group, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi was killed in a raid. On 2, December 2012, the Iraqi government announced the capture of Baghdadi following a two month operation. However, this claim proved to be false and the man captured was identified as an ISI section commander.

During his tenure as the ISI leader, Baghdadi planned and executed numerous large-scale operations:

  • March 2011 – April 2011: Baghdadi reportedly planned and directed 23 attacks south of Baghdad.
  • 28, August 2011: Baghdadi planned and executed an attack on the Umm al-Qura mosque in Baghdad, during which, Sunni lawmaker Khalid al-Fahdawi was killed.
  • 5, May 2011: Baghdadi organized an attack In Hilla Iraq that killed 24 policemen and wounded 72 others. This attack may have been in response to the death of Osama bin Laden on 2, May 2011. Baghdadi had previously released a statement following bin Laden’s death in which he vowed revenge for the killing.
  • 15, August 2011: A suicide attack campaign directed by Baghdadi killed 70 people across Iraq. This attack may also have been orchestrated in response to the death of bin Laden and the ISI stated that 100 more attacks would take place as revenge for his death.
  • 22, December 2011: Baghdadi coordinated numerous VBIED/IED attacks in Baghdad that killed 63 people and injured 180 others. 

Following the ISI spillover into Syria, Baghdadi announced the formation of the ISIS on 8, April 2013 and took responsibility for both areas of operations.  He also claimed that Jabhat al-Nusra (JN) was merging with the ISIS. This statement was refuted by JNs leader, Abu Mohammad al-Jawlani, who appealed to al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri for support. Zawahiri agreed to Jawlani’s request and issued a statement in which he demanded that the ISIS be abolished and its fighters return to Iraq. However, Baghdadi ignored Zawahiri and continued to operate in Syria. This decision paid off, and an estimated 80 percent of foreign fighters in JN may have joined the ISIS shortly thereafter. However, despite the large percentage of former JN fighters which joined the ISIS ranks, both groups have continued to clash throughout the course of the Syrian Civil War and many notable battles have taken place between the two organizations:

  • January 2014:  ISIS fighters pushed JN out of the city Raqqa Syria.
  • January 2014: Numerous battles in Syria’s Deir ez-Zor Governorate resulted in the deaths of an estimated 230 fighters and the displacement of tens of thousands of civilians.

Battles have continued between the two organizations despite calls for an end in hostilities by both sides. On 14, January 2014, Bagdhadi issued a statement in which he urged other rebel groups to “stop fighting us, to focus on fighting the nusairiyah.” A similar statement was issued on May 2014, in which al-Qaeda’s leader, Zawahiri called on the ISIS and JN to cease all hostilities against each other. On 4, May 2014 JN issued a statement in which it promised not to conduct offensive operations against the ISIS unless provoked.  Despite the calls by all sides to reach a truce, fighting has continued unabated.

On 29, June 2014, ISIS spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani announced the dissolution of the ISIS and the formation of the Islamic State, naming Baghdadi its Caliph Ibrahim the “Caliph for Muslims everywhere.” This statement was reinforced by Baghdadi himself, who in a 5, July 2014 speech at the Great Mosque of al-Nuri, in Mosul Iraq referred to himself as the leader of all Muslims stating, “I am your leader, though I am not the best of you, so if you see that I am right, support me, and if you see that I am wrong, advise me.”  The Islamic State, according to Baghdadi, currently encompasses Iraq and Syria, but will encompass the entire world as the state expands.

By declaring himself the Caliph of the IS, Baghdadi is inadvertently declaring both his regional and global ambitions. On 2, July 2014, Baghdadi stated, “Rush O Muslims to your state. It is your state. Syria is not for Syrians and Iraq is not for Iraqis. The land is for the Muslims, all Muslims.” And that “This is my advice to you. If you hold to it you will conquer Rome and own the world, if Allah wills.” Baghdadi clearly has global ambitions and it appears that he is beginning to make significant strategic gains in both Syria and Iraq.