ISIS Chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi Killed in US Raid: Who Was He?

He succeeded in inspiring a unique brand of lone-wolf terrorist attacks which could evade law-enforcement.

3 min read

Video Producer: Debayan Dutta
Video Editor: Mohd Irshad

“Last night, the US brought the world’s number one terrorist to justice. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead,” announced United States President Donald Trump in a special address on Sunday, 27 October.

His words confirmed what US media reports had been claiming, that one of the world’s most wanted men, Islamic State chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was killed in a raid conducted by the US military in northwest Syria on Saturday.

So, who was al-Baghdadi?


A Brand of Terrorism

Al-Baghdadi was the central figure who presided over the IS for the last five years as it carved a blood-soaked place for itself in the 21st century and succeeded in setting up a ‘caliphate’ in Iraq and Syria.

While speculation about his death surfaced multiple times, each time it turned out that he had managed to remain at large and run the IS from the shadows, even with a USD 25 million bounty on his head.

During his reign, he succeeded in inspiring a unique brand of lone wolf terrorist attacks, mainly executed in Europe and in the United States.

Al-Baghdadi and his supporters prefered smaller scale acts of violence to bypass law enforcement and intelligence agencies, the Associated Press reports. They encouraged jihadists who could not travel to the caliphate to kill where they were, using their own resources.

His first and only known public appearance, according to AP, was back in 2014, when he delivered a sermon from the pulpit of Mosul's Great Mosque of al-Nuri, urging the world’s Muslims to swear allegiance to the caliphate and accept him as their leader, the ‘caliph’.

Over the years, as his organisation expanded, he became far less visible, releasing only audio recordings. In the most recent one, released only last month, he asked IS members to attempt and free IS detainees and women held in jails and camps.

Building the Islamic State

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was born Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarrai in 1971 near Samarra, Iraq. Little else is known about his early life.

According to IS-affiliated websites, reports AP, he was detained by US forces in Iraq and sent to Bucca prison in February 2004.

Released 10 months later, he joined the al-Qaida branch in Iraq, led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, known at the time as the Islamic State of Iraq. He later assumed control of the group.

Taking advantage of the Syrian civil war in 2011, he merged his organisation with the Anti-Assad Nusra Front to create the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, still an Al-Qaida affiliate at the time.

From then on, his organisation went on a sustained campaign capturing territory across Iraq and Syria, including key cities like Fallujah, Ramadi and Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria.

In 2014, Al-Baghdadi parted ways with Al-Qaida and declared himself the ‘Caliph’ of the newly established self-styled ‘caliphate’: the Islamic State.

Under his leadership, the IS caught the world’s attention with brutal beheadings, massacre of local minorities, lone wolf attacks throughout the world and a surprisingly stable oil-based economy, which also had its own system of taxation.

His death is a major symbolic victory for the West in its fight against global terrorism. It is unknown what practical changes it will bring to the Islamic State as an organisation.

(With inputs from Associated Press)

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