Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
|Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi|
|أبو بكر البغدادي|
A mugshot photo of Baghdadi detained at Camp Bucca, Iraq, 2004
|Leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant|
Assumed office |
7 April 2013
|Preceded by||Position established|
|2nd Emir of the Islamic State of Iraq|
18 April 2010 – 7 April 2013
|Preceded by||Abu Omar al-Baghdadi|
|Succeeded by||Position abolished|
Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al-Badri (إبراهيم عواد إبراهيم علي محمد البدري السامرائي)|
1971 (age 46–47)
Saladin Governorate, Iraq
Jamaat Jaysh Ahl al-Sunnah wa-l-Jamaah
|Years of service||2003–present|
|Rank||Leader of ISIS|
War on Terror
Abū Bakr al-Baghdadi (Arabic: أبو بكر البغدادي; born Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al-Badri إبراهيم عواد إبراهيم علي محمد البدري السامرائي in 1971) is the leader of the Salafi jihadist militant terrorist organisation known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). The group has been designated a terrorist organisation by the United Nations, as well the European Union and many individual states, and al-Baghdadi has been personally designated a Specially Designated Global Terrorist. In June 2014, he was elected by the majlis al-shura (consultative council or Shura council), representing the ahl al-hall wal-aqd of the Islamic State as their caliph.
As of 2016, the U.S. State Department offers a reward of up to $25 million for information or intelligence leading to his capture or death, equal to the reward offered for the leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is the nom de guerre of an individual who has had various names and epithets attributed to him, including Abu Du'a (أبو دعاء ʾabū duʿāʾ), Al-Shabah (the phantom or ghost), and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi al-Husseini al-Hashimi al-Qurashi (أبو بكر البغدادي الحسيني الهاشمي القرشي, ʾabū bakri l-baḡdādī l-ḥusaynī l-hāšimī l-qurašī). He is known to his supporters as Amir al-Mu'minin, (Caliph), Caliph Abu Bakr, Caliph al-Baghdadi, or Caliph Ibrahim (خَلِيفَةُ إِبْرَاهِيم ḵalīfatu ʾibrāhīm). This is besides his previous epithet, which was Sheikh Baghdadi,
Aliases used by al-Badri include the names Abu Duaa and Dr. Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarrai (c.f. Samarra). A reporter of the Washington Times states the so-called real name of al-Badri is Ibrahim al-Samarrai The word Duaa in the English language signifies supplications, invocations or prayers.
In regions under ISIS control, various non-Islamic honorifics that recognize his rank may be used as a formal address recognizing him as a noble and a head of state that might precede or follow his name.
Having at sometime taken the name Abu Bakr, al-Baghdadi is thought to have adopted the name of the first caliph, Abu Bakr. During the times when Muhammad might have suffered from illnesses Abu Bakr was the replacement for leading prayer, according to the Sunni tradition of Islam.
His surname literally means The one from Baghdad and denotes he comes from Baghdad city or Baghdad governorate in Iraq. The birthname of Amir Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al-Badri (إبراهيم عواد إبراهيم البدري).
Al-Baghdadi (born Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali Muhammad al-Badri al-Samarrai, in Arabic إبراهيم عواد إبراهيم علي محمد البدري السامرائي) is believed to have been born near Samarra, Iraq, in 1971 as the third of four sons in the family. I.A.I.A.M. al-Badri al-Samarrai was apparently born as a member of the tribal group known as Al-Bu Badri tribe. This tribe includes a number of sub-tribes, including the Radhawiyyah, Husseiniyyah, Adnaniyyah, and Quraysh. Al-Baghdadi later claimed that he was descended from the Quraysh tribe and therefore from Muhammad although there was no scientific evidence to back up his claim.
According to a short semi-authorized biography written by Abid Humam al-Athari, his grandfather, Haj Ibrahim Ali al-Badri apparently lived till the age of 94 and witnessed the US occupation of Iraq. His father, Sheikh Awwad, was active in the religious life of the community. Awwad taught the teenaged Baghdadi and got his own start as a teacher, leading children in a neighbourhood chanting the Quran. Both his father and grandfather were said to be farmers. His mother, whose name was not known, was described as a religious loving person and was notable in the al-Badri tribe. One of Baghdadi’s uncles served in Saddam’s security services, and one of his brothers became an officer in the Iraqi Army. He has another brother, who probably died either during the Iran–Iraq War or the Gulf War while serving the Iraqi military.
According to an investigation by news outlet Al-Monitor based on an interview with Abu Ahmad, who claimed he has known al-Baghdadi since the 1990s, al-Baghdadi brothers are named Shamsi, Jomaa and Ahmad. Jomaa is said to be the closest and acts as his bodyguard. Shamsi and al-Baghdadi are said to have argued frequently about al-Baghdadi's decision to join the jihad. Shamsi was detained several times by US and Iraqi forces and suffers serious health problems. Little is known about Ahmad other than he has had money problems.
Official education records from Samarra High School revealed that al-Baghdadi had to retake his high school certificate in 1991 and scored 481 out of 600 possible points. A few months later, he was deemed unfit for military service by the Iraqi military due to his nearsightedness. His high-school grades were not good enough for him to study his preferred subject (law, educational science and languages) at the University of Baghdad. There is a general misconception that he graduated from the University of Baghdad with bachelor's and master's degrees, as he was likely to have attended another less prestigious institution called Islamic University, now known as Iraqi University, where he studied Islamic law and later Quran.
In 2014, American and Iraqi intelligence analysts said that al-Baghdadi has a doctorate for Islamic studies in Quranic studies, from Saddam University in Baghdad. According to a biography that circulated on extremist internet forums in July 2013, he obtained a BA, MA, and PhD in Islamic studies from the Islamic University of Baghdad. Another report says that he earned a doctorate in education from the University of Baghdad.
In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, contemporaries of al-Baghdadi describe him in his youth as being shy, unimpressive, a religious scholar, and a man who eschewed violence. For more than a decade, until 2004, he lived in a room attached to a small local mosque in Tobchi, a poor neighbourhood on the western fringes of Baghdad, inhabited by both Shia and Sunni Muslims.
Ahmed al-Dabash, the leader of the Islamic Army of Iraq and a contemporary of al-Baghdadi who fought against the allied invasion in 2003, gave a description of al-Baghdadi that matched that of the Tobchi residents:
I was with Baghdadi at the Islamic University. We studied the same course, but he wasn't a friend. He was quiet, and retiring. He spent time alone ... I used to know all the leaders (of the insurgency) personally. Zarqawi (the former leader of al-Qaeda) was closer than a brother to me ... But I didn't know Baghdadi. He was insignificant. He used to lead prayer in a mosque near my area. No one really noticed him.
"They [the US and Iraqi Governments] know physically who this guy is, but his backstory is just myth", said Patrick Skinner of the Soufan Group, a security consulting firm. "He's managed this secret persona extremely well, and it's enhanced his group's prestige", said Patrick Johnston of the RAND Corporation, adding, "Young people are really attracted to that." Being mostly unrecognized, even in his own organization, Baghdadi was known to be nicknamed at some time about 2015, as "the invisible sheikh".
Some believe that al-Baghdadi was already an Islamic revolutionary during the rule of Saddam Hussein, but other reports contradict this. He may have been a mosque cleric around the time of the US-led invasion in 2003.
After the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, al-Baghdadi helped found the militant group Jamaat Jaysh Ahl al-Sunnah wa-l-Jamaah (JJASJ), in which he served as head of the sharia committee. Al-Baghdadi and his group joined the Mujahideen Shura Council (MSC) in 2006, in which he served as a member of the MSC's sharia committee. Following the renaming of the MSC as the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) in 2006, al-Baghdadi became the general supervisor of the ISI's sharia committee and a member of the group's senior consultative council.
Al-Baghdadi was arrested by US Forces-Iraq on 2 or 4 February 2004 near Fallujah while visiting the home of his old student friend, Nessayif Numan Nessayif, who was on the American wanted list at the time and studied together with al-Baghdadi at the Islamic University. He was detained at the Abu Ghraib and Camp Bucca detention centers under his name Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al-Badry as a "civilian internee". His detainee card gives his profession as administrative work (secretary). The US Department of Defense said al-Baghdadi was imprisoned at Compound 6, which was a medium security Sunni compound. On 8 December 2004, he was released as a "low level prisoner" after recommended for a release by the Combined Review and Release Board.
A number of newspapers and cable news channels have instead stated that al-Baghdadi was interned from 2005 to 2009. These reports originate from an interview with the former commander of Camp Bucca, Colonel Kenneth King, and are not substantiated by Department of Defense records. Al-Baghdadi was imprisoned at Camp Bucca along with other future leaders of ISIS.
As leader of the Islamic State of Iraq
The Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), also known as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), was the Iraqi division of al-Qaeda. Al-Baghdadi was announced as leader of the ISI on 16 May 2010, following the death of his predecessor Abu Omar al-Baghdadi.
As leader of the ISI, al-Baghdadi was responsible for masterminding large-scale operations such as the 28 August 2011 suicide bombing at the Umm al-Qura Mosque in Baghdad, which killed prominent Sunni lawmaker Khalid al-Fahdawi. Between March and April 2011, the ISI claimed 23 attacks south of Baghdad, all allegedly carried out under al-Baghdadi's command.
Following the death of founder and head of al-Qaida, Osama bin Laden, on 2 May 2011, in Abbottabad, Pakistan, al-Baghdadi released a statement praising bin Laden and threatening violent retaliation for his death. On 5 May 2011, al-Baghdadi claimed responsibility for an attack in Hilla, 100 kilometres (62 mi) south of Baghdad, that killed 24 policemen and wounded 72 others.
On 15 August 2011, a wave of ISI suicide attacks beginning in Mosul resulted in 70 deaths. Shortly thereafter, in retaliation for bin Laden's death, the ISI pledged on its website to carry out 100 attacks across Iraq featuring various methods of attack, including raids, suicide attacks, roadside bombs and small arms attacks, in all cities and rural areas across the country.
On 22 December 2011, a series of coordinated car bombings and IED (improvised explosive device) attacks struck over a dozen neighborhoods across Baghdad, killing at least 63 people and wounding 180. The assault came just days after the US completed its troop withdrawal from the country. On 26 December, the ISI released a statement on jihadist internet forums claiming credit for the operation, stating that the targets of the Baghdad attack were "accurately surveyed and explored" and that the "operations were distributed between targeting security headquarters, military patrols and gatherings of the filthy ones of the al-Dajjal Army (the Army of the Anti-Christ in Arabic)", referring to the Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr.
On 2 December 2012, Iraqi officials claimed that they had captured al-Baghdadi in Baghdad, following a two-month tracking operation. Officials claimed that they had also seized a list containing the names and locations of other al-Qaeda operatives. However, this claim was rejected by the ISI. In an interview with Al Jazeera on 7 December 2012, Iraq's Acting Interior Minister said that the arrested man was not al-Baghdadi, but rather a sectional commander in charge of an area stretching from the northern outskirts of Baghdad to Taji.
Leader of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)
Expansion into Syria and break with al-Qaeda
Al-Baghdadi remained leader of the ISI until its formal expansion into Syria in 2013 when, in a statement on 8 April 2013, he announced the formation of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) – alternatively translated from the Arabic as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
When announcing the formation of ISIS, al-Baghdadi stated that the Syrian Civil War jihadist faction, Jabhat al-Nusra – also known as al-Nusra Front – had been an extension of the ISI in Syria and was now to be merged with ISIS. The leader of Jabhat al-Nusra, Abu Mohammad al-Julani, disputed this merging of the two groups and appealed to al-Qaeda emir Ayman al-Zawahiri, who issued a statement that ISIS should be abolished and that al-Baghdadi should confine his group's activities to Iraq. Al-Baghdadi, however, dismissed al-Zawahiri's ruling and took control of a reported 80% of Jabhat al-Nusra's foreign fighters. In January 2014, ISIS expelled Jabhat al-Nusra from the Syrian city of Raqqa, and in the same month clashes between the two in Syria's Deir ez-Zor Governorate killed hundreds of fighters and displaced tens of thousands of civilians. In February 2014, al-Qaeda disavowed any relations with ISIS.
According to several Western sources, al-Baghdadi and ISIS have received private financing from citizens in Saudi Arabia and Qatar and enlisted fighters through recruitment drives in Saudi Arabia in particular.
Declaration of a caliphate
On 29 June 2014, ISIS announced the establishment of a worldwide caliphate. Al-Baghdadi was named its caliph, to be known as "Caliph Ibrahim", and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant was renamed the Islamic State (IS). There has been much debate, especially across the Muslim world, about the legitimacy of these moves.
The declaration of a caliphate has been heavily criticized by Middle Eastern governments, other jihadist groups, and Sunni Muslim theologians and historians. Qatar-based TV broadcaster and theologian Yusuf al-Qaradawi stated: "[The] declaration issued by the Islamic State is void under sharia and has dangerous consequences for the Sunnis in Iraq and for the revolt in Syria", adding that the title of caliph can "only be given by the entire Muslim nation", not by a single group.
As a caliph, al-Baghdadi is required to hold to each dictate of the sunnah, whose precedence is set and recorded in the sahih hadiths. According to tradition, if a caliph fails to meet any of these obligations at any period, he is legally required to abdicate his position and the community has to appoint a new caliph, theoretically selected from throughout the caliphdom as being the most religiously and spiritually pious individual among them. Due to the widespread rejection of his caliphhood, al-Baghdadi's status as caliph has been compared to that of other caliphs whose caliphship has been questioned.
In an audio-taped message, al-Baghdadi announced that ISIS would march on "Rome" – generally interpreted to mean the West – in its quest to establish an Islamic State from the Middle East across Europe. He said that he would conquer both Rome and Spain in this endeavor and urged Muslims across the world to immigrate to the new Islamic State.
According to a report in October 2014, after suffering serious injuries, al-Baghdadi fled ISIS's capital city Raqqa due to the intense bombing campaign launched by Coalition forces, and sought refuge in the Iraqi city of Mosul, the largest city under ISIS control.
On 5 November 2014, al-Baghdadi sent a message to al-Qaeda Emir Ayman al-Zawahiri requesting him to swear allegiance to him as caliph, in return for a position in the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The source of this information was a senior Taliban intelligence officer. Al-Zawahiri did not reply, and instead reassured the Taliban of his loyalty to Mullah Omar.
On 20 January 2015, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that al-Baghdadi had been wounded in an airstrike in Al-Qa'im, an Iraqi border town held by ISIS, and as a result, withdrew to Syria.
On 8 February 2015, after Jordan had conducted 56 airstrikes, which had reportedly killed 7,000 ISIS militants from 5–7 February, Abu Bakr al-Bagdadi was said to have fled from Raqqa to Mosul, out of fear for his life. However, after a Peshmerga source informed the US-led Coalition that al-Baghdadi was in Mosul, Coalition warplanes continuously bombed the locations where ISIS leaders were known to meet for 2 hours.
On 14 August 2015, it was reported that he allegedly claimed, as his "wife", American hostage Kayla Mueller and raped her repeatedly. Mueller was later alleged by an ISIS media account to have been killed in an airstrike by anti-ISIS forces in February 2015. However, other reports cite that Mueller was murdered by ISIS.
Sectarianism and theocracy
Through his forename, al-Baghdadi is rumored to be styling himself after the first caliph, Abu Bakr, who led the "Rightly Guided" or Rashidun. According to Sunni tradition, Abu Bakr replaced Muhammad as prayer leader when he was suffering from illnesses. Another feature of the original Rashidun was what some historians dub as the first Sunnist Shiist discord during the Battle of Siffin. Some publishers have drawn a correlation between those ancient events and modern Salafizing and caliphizing aims under al-Baghdadi's rule.
Due to the relatively stationary nature of ISIS control, the elevation of religious clergy who engage in theocratization, and the group's scripture-themed legal system, some analysts have declared al-Baghdadi a theocrat and ISIS a theocracy. Other indications of the decline of secularism are the evisceration of secular institutions and its replacement with strict sharia law, and the gradual caliphization and Sunnification of regions under the group's control. In July 2015, al-Baghdadi was described by a reporter as exhibiting a kinder and gentler side after he banned videos showing slaughter and execution.
Video and audio communications
First recorded public appearance of 4 July 2014
A video was made during Friday prayers, during the time of Ramadan, the video was uploaded to YouTube on 5 July 2014, (by Ye Thurein Min), with the title ISIS Leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi Makes First Public Appearance video, having the duration 22 minutes and 3 seconds. The video shows Amir Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi speaking on a pulpit in the Arabic language with no English sub-titles, and has had, of 31 January 2017, over 48,000 views, (52,106 as of 27 May 2017)
The video apparently shows Amir al-Baghdadi making a speech at the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul, northern Iraq. A representative of the Iraqi government denied that the video was of al-Baghdadi, calling it a "farce". However, both the BBC and the Associated Press quoted unnamed Iraqi officials as saying that the man in the video was believed to be al-Baghdadi. In the video, al-Baghdadi declared himself the world leader of Muslims and called on Muslims everywhere to support him.
13 November 2014
ISIS released an audio-taped message, claiming it to be in the voice of al-Baghdadi. In the 17-minute recording, released via social media, the speaker says that ISIS fighters would never cease fighting "even if only one soldier remains". The speaker urged supporters of the Islamic State to "erupt volcanoes of jihad" across the world. He called for attacks to be mounted in Saudi Arabia – describing Saudi leaders as "the head of the snake" and said that the US-led military campaign in Syria and Iraq was failing. He also said that ISIS would keep on marching and would "break the borders" of Jordan and Lebanon and "free Palestine". Al-Baghdadi also claimed in 2014 that Islamic jihadists would never hesitate to eliminate Israel just because it has the United States support.
14 May 2015
On 14 May 2015, ISIS released an audio message which it claimed was from al-Baghdadi. In the recording, al-Baghdadi urged Muslims to immigrate to the Islamic State, and to join the fight in Iraq and Syria. In the recording, he also condemned the Saudi involvement in Yemen, and claimed that the conflict would lead to the end of the Saudi royal family's rule. He also claimed that Islam was never a religion of peace, that it was "the religion of fighting." Assessment was made that this statement proved that al-Baghdadi remained in control or influencing ISIS.
26 December 2015
Was an audio message of approximately 23 minutes duration, which includes comments with regards to Crusaders and Jews, which in the latter of the two, refers to individuals specifically belonging to Judaism.
2 November 2016
Was an audio message regarding the need for IS to defend their forces within Mosul, and IS forces should fight the Shia, the Alawites, to begin fighting in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and further away, and for individuals to be martyrs in Libya. The communication includes a quote by Salman the Persian, which is, fighting for Islam: "A day and a night, is more meritorious than a month of fasting."
28 September 2017
On 28 September 2017, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant released a 46-minute audio recording on its Al Furqan news organization of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, that appears to follow the latest death rumours, in which he accuses the United States of wilting in the face of Russia and lacking “the will to fight”.
Baghdadi also called for attacks on Western media, saying: “Oh soldiers of Islam in every location, increase blow after blow, and make the media centers of the infidels, from where they wage their intellectual wars, among the targets.”
23 August 2018
On 23 August 2018, Islamic State released an audio message said to be from their leader al-Baghdadi, his first in almost a year. The message called on his followers to 'persevere' despite heavy losses in Iraq and Syria and called for more attacks around the world. He also commented on recent events, suggesting that the audio message was recorded recently amongst many rumors that he had been killed. Many experts believed that it was him as the voice resembled that heard in his other audio messages
Listed as a global terrorist
Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi is designated by the Department of State for the nation of the U.S. as a Specially designated global terrorist. This designation was passed initially after the events of 11 September 2001, by George W. Bush as Executive Order 13224 of the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the U.S. Department of the Treasury during 23 September 2001, and was made effective as of the time of "12:01 a.m. eastern daylight time on September the 24th 2001". The Department of State of the U.S. Rewards for Justice states Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, as a senior leader of the terrorist organization Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), is involved in: numerous attacks in Iraq since 2011, and as leader of ISIS, "is responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians in the Middle East, including the brutal murder of numerous civilian hostages from Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States". Authorities within the United States have also accused al-Baghdadi of kidnapping, enslaving, and repeatedly raping an American, Kayla Mueller, who ISIS later falsely alleged was killed in a Jordanian airstrike.
Al-Baghdadi is the top target in the war against ISIS. U.S. Intelligence believed that he was based in Raqqa and that he kept a low profile, hiding among the civilian population. Until Summer 2017, ISIS was believed to be headquartered in a series of buildings in Raqqa, but the proximity of civilians made targeting the headquarters off limits under U.S. rules of engagement. Photos of a possible public appearance in a Fallujah mosque surfaced in February 2016.
Haider al-Abadi was reported (Ensor, 7 February 2017) to have stated he knew of the location of al-Baghdadi. Colonel John Dorrian, of the Combined Joint Task Force, stated he was aware of al-Baghdadi having chosen to sleep in a suicide vest, as a reaction to the necessities of his current situation; should it be that he might find himself facing capture.
In 2018, Iraqi intelligence officials and a number of experts believed that al-Baghdadi was hiding in ISIS's new de facto capital of Hajin, in ISIS's Middle Euphrates Valley Pocket in Syria. Even though no direct evidence has yet been found that al-Baghdadi himself was present in the city, experts noted that the remaining ISIS leadership was concentrated in Hajin, and that ISIS was persistently launching a strenuous defense.
Reports of death, bodily harm, and arrest
According to media reports, al-Baghdadi was wounded on 18 March 2015 during a coalition airstrike on the al-Baaj District, in the Nineveh Governorate, near the Syrian border. His wounds were apparently so serious that the top ISIS leaders had a meeting to discuss who would replace him if he died. According to reports, by 22 April al-Baghdadi had not yet recovered enough from his injuries to resume daily control of ISIS. The U.S. Department of Defense said that al-Baghdadi had not been the target of the airstrikes, and "we have no reason to believe it was Baghdadi." On 22 April 2015, Iraqi government sources reported that Abu Ala al-Afri, the self-proclaimed caliph's deputy and a former Iraqi physics teacher, had been installed as the stand-in leader while Baghdadi recuperated from his injuries.
In April 2015, The Guardian reported that al-Baghdadi was recovering from the severe injuries which he had received during the airstrike on 18 March 2015, in a part of Mosul. It was also reported that a spinal injury which had left him paralyzed meant that he might never be able to fully resume direct command of ISIS. By 13 May, ISIS fighters had warned they would retaliate for al-Baghdadi's injury, which the Iraqi Defense Ministry believed would be carried out through attacks in Europe.
On 20 July 2015, The New York Times wrote that rumors that al-Baghdadi had been killed or injured earlier in the year had been "dispelled".
On 11 October 2015, the Iraqi air force claimed to have bombed al-Baghdadi's convoy in the western Anbar province close to the Syrian border while he was heading to Kerabla to attend an ISIS meeting, the location of which was also said to be bombed. His fate was not immediately confirmed. There was some subsequent speculation that he may not have been present in the convoy at all.
On 14 June 2016, several Middle Eastern media outlets claimed that al-Baghdadi had been killed in a U.S. airstrike in Raqqa on 12 June. Coalition spokesmen said they could not confirm the reports. The Independent however, later stated that these reports of Baghdadi's death were based on a digitally altered image claiming to be a media statement from ISIL.
On 18 April 2017, some media reported that al-Baghdadi was arrested in Syria. Citing the European Department for Security and Information (DESI), several media outlets reported that al-Baghdadi was apprehended by Syrian and Russian joint forces. However, the Russian Foreign Ministry told Rudaw they did not have knowledge of the news and were not aware of his arrest.
On 11 June 2017, Syrian state TV claimed al-Baghdadi had been killed in the artillery strike that was backed by the U.S.
On 16 June 2017, Russian media reported that al-Baghdadi might have been killed in a Russian air strike near Raqqa, Syria on 28 May along with 30 mid-level ISIS leaders and 300 other fighters. The Russian claims to have killed 330 ISIS fighters including Baghdadi did not match reports from Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently and Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) that found 17 or 18 civilian deaths and possibly 10 ISIS fighter deaths from an airstrike against buses south of Raqqa on May 28. The United States cast doubt on the claim, noting a lack of independent evidence.
On 29 June 2017, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), the Iranian government's official media, published an article quoting a representative for Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to the Quds Force, stating that al-Baghdadi was "definitely dead". IRNA removed this quotation in an updated version of this article.
On 11 July 2017, Iraqi news agency Al Sumaria stated on its website that ISIS had circulated a brief statement in Tal Afar that Baghdadi was dead. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claimed it had "confirmed information" of his death. The U.S. Department of Defense stated it was trying to confirm the new reports of his death. The Kurdish counter-terrorism official Lahur Talabany told Reuters he was "99 percent" sure Baghdadi was alive and hiding in Raqqa. The search was reported to still be ongoing by The Guardian in January 2018.
On 28 July 2017, drone expert and former intelligence soldier Brett Velicovich, described multiple covert missions in which his special operations team led the hunt for al-Baghdadi immediately after they killed his predecessor, Abu Umar al-Baghdadi in April 2011. One of those missions described an opportunity to capture al-Baghdadi when he was discovered via drone meeting ISIS associates in downtown Baghdad; a mission that was ultimately delayed due to State Department rules of engagement at the time. Velicovich was further questioned by Fox News about the reports of al-Baghdadi's death after a Russian government claim to have killed him in Syria, during which Velicovich stated that he didn't believe the claims and if he was dead the U.S. Government would have announced it.
Asma Fawzi Mohammed al-Dulaimi and Israa Rajab Mahal A-Qaisi
Reuters, quoting tribal sources in Iraq, reports Baghdadi has three wives, two Iraqis and one Syrian. The Iraqi Interior Ministry has said that al-Baghdadi has two wives, Asma Fawzi Mohammed al-Dulaimi and Israa Rajab Mahal A-Qaisi. However, in 2016 Fox News reported, based on local media, that Saja al-Dulaimi is al-Baghdadi's most powerful wife.
In April 2015, multiple media reports emerged claiming that Baghdadi had married a German teenager on 31 March. On 28 February 2016, Iraqi media reported that she had left ISIS and had fled Iraq along with two other women. Her name was identified as Diane Kruger.
According to many sources, Sujidah al-Dulaimi, in other sources, named instead as Saja, is or was al-Baghdadi's wife. It was reported the couple had allegedly met and fallen in love online. Sujidah al-Dulaimi was arrested in Syria in late 2013 or early 2014, and was released from a Syrian jail in March 2014 as part of a prisoner swap involving 150 women, in exchange for 13 nuns taken captive by al-Qaeda-linked militants. Also released in March were her two sons and her younger brother. The Iraqi Interior Ministry has said, "There is no wife named Saja al-Dulaimi".
Al-Dulaimi's family allegedly all adhere to ISIS's ideology. Her father, Ibrahim Dulaimi, a so-called ISIS emir in Syria, was reportedly killed in September 2013 during an operation against the Syrian Army in Deir Attiyeh. Her sister, Duaa, was allegedly behind a suicide attack that targeted a Kurdish gathering in Erbil. The Iraq Interior Ministry has said that her brother is facing execution in Iraq for a series of bombings in southern Iraq. The Iraq government, however, said that al-Dulaimi is the daughter of an active member of al-Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, al-Nusra Front.
In late November 2014, al-Dulaimi was arrested and held for questioning by Lebanese authorities, along with two sons and a young daughter. They were traveling on false documents. The children were held in a care center while al-Dulaimi was interrogated.
The capture was a joint intelligence operation by Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, with the US assisting Iraq. Al-Dulaimi's potential intelligence value is unknown. An unnamed intelligence source told The New York Times that during the Iraq war, when the Americans captured a wife of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, "We got little out of her, and when we sent her back, Zarqawi killed her." As of December 2014, al-Baghdadi's family members were seen by the Lebanese authorities as potential bargaining chips in prisoner exchanges.
In the clearest explanation yet of al-Dulaimi's connection to al-Baghdadi, Lebanese Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk told Lebanon's MTV channel that "Dulaimi is not Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's wife currently. She has been married three times: first to a man from the former Iraqi regime, with whom she had two sons." Other sources identify her first husband as Fallah Ismail Jassem, a member of the Rashideen Army, who was killed in a battle with the Iraqi Army in 2010. Machnouk continued, "Six years ago she married Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi for three months, and she had a daughter with him. Now, she is married to a Palestinian and she is pregnant with his child." The Minister added, "We conducted DNA tests on her and the daughter, which showed she was the mother of the girl, and that the girl is [Baghdadi's] daughter, based on DNA from Baghdadi from Iraq."
Al-Monitor reported a Lebanese security source as saying that al-Dulaimi had been under scrutiny since early 2014. He said that Jabhat al-Nusra "had insisted back in March on including her in the swap that ended the kidnapping of the Maaloula nuns. The negotiators said on their behalf that she was very important, and they were ready to cancel the whole deal for her sake". He added, "It was later revealed by Abu Malik al-Talli, one of al-Nusra's leaders, that she was Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's wife."
On 9 December 2014, al-Dulaimi and her current Palestinian husband, Kamal Khalaf, were formally arrested after the Lebanese Military Court issued warrants and filed charges for belonging to a terrorist group, holding contacts with terrorist organizations, and planning to carry out terrorist acts. In December 2015, the Lebanese government exchanged al-Dulaimi and her daughter for Lebanese soldiers being held by al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front in a prisoner swap deal.
According to a reporter for The Guardian, al-Baghdadi married in Iraq around the year 2000 after finishing his doctorate. The son of this marriage was 11 years old in 2014.
After Saja al-Dulaimi's arrest in 2014, a connection was made to her sister, Duaa Amid Ibrahim (aged 24 in 2016), who was arrested with a suicide vest entering Erbil in about 2011. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's sister-in-law remains in a Kurdish jail.
The Head of the Khalidiya Council in Anbar Province reported in February 2016: "Today, Iraqi Air Force conducted an airstrike on the so-called ISIS sharia court in Albu Bali area in Khalidiya Island east of Ramadi. The strike resulted in the death of Abu Ahmed al-Samarrai the nephew of the ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, along with eight of his companions, as well as Adel al-Bilawi, the Military Commander of Albu Bali area."
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