Today: Friday
22 September 2017
01 July 2015

Newly-minted Caliph with the blurry background

Newly-minted Caliph with the blurry background

International mass media spread the news about the leader of the so called “Islamic State” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declaring himself the Caliph who all the Muslims are supposed to give an oath to. He has taken the name Ibrahim.

For all his power in the vast territories of Iraq and Syria and newfound notoriety, there are only two authenticated photos of a man now called the world’s “most powerful jihadi leader”, “the world’s most dangerous man”, and “the new bin Laden”.

One of the pictures released by the Iraqi government in January shows a bearded man in a black suit. The image is indistinct and it seems like someone had taken a picture of a picture. Interestingly enough, the other photo released by the US depicts a man unlike the one on the first picture. So, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi seems to be an enigmatic figure surrounded by rumours.

Videos circulating in the world web are not exhaustive too. The only video is the recording where al-Baghdadi was delivering a sermon at the minbar of the Great mosque “Nur ad-Din” in Mosul city. It came up 24 hours later after there appeared information about his death. At the present moment, it is hardly possible to confirm whether it was Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi or not.

Much of what is known of “Caliph Ibrahim” background is unconfirmed. According to some resources, Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri was born in 1971 in an Iraqi city Samarra. According to a widely cited biography released by jihadists, he is a man from a religious family. His relatives include preachers and professors of the Arabic language, rhetoric and logic. Baghdadi obtained a doctorate in Islamic studies at the University of Adhamiyah situated not far from Baghdad.

Newly-minted Caliph with the blurry background


Around the time of the 2003 US military invasion in Iraq Al-Baghdadi was the imam of one of the mosques. Later he joined an insurrectionary movement and led some small formations.  In 2005 he was captured by American forces and spent the next four years a prisoner in the Bucca Camp in southern Iraq. He met the “Al-Qaeda” fighters in prison. After several leaders’ of the Iraqi “al-Qaeda” murder in 2010, he took control of the Iraqi division of the organisation. At that point, “Al-Qaeda” confrontation movement in Iraq was in decline and the Sunni opposition was in a serious crisis.

Because of the conflict in Syria, the vast areas of the country were not under Bashar al-Assad control anymore. The radicals started to arrive not only from the Arab countries, but from the West too. The upheaval gave rise to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Al-Baghdadi managed the organisation “Islamic State of Iraq” which is a new branch of “Al-Qaeda” in Iraq. Yet, after Usama Ben Laden’s death relations between al-Baghdadi and Ayman Zawahiri got worse. Al-Baghdadi started his own military operations in Syria which az-Zawahiri was did not approve of.

Now, when “the Caliphate” has been proclaimed, Al-Baghdadi will be compared with “Al-Qaeda” leaders: Usama Ben Laden and the present leader of the organisation Ayman az-Zawahiri. It would be quite hard “to compete” with the “ex-terrorist number 1” in the world. The image of Ben Laden is shrouded in myths and his authority is non-comparable to anyone else. Moreover, Ben Laden is famous among the young pop culture of the Western and the Arab countries.

As for Az-Zawahiri, he seems to be passive for the leader of the most powerful terror organisation. He is hiding in one of the gorges at the Afghan-Pakistani border. After Ben Laden’s death, Az-Zawahiri did not manage to distinguish himself.

Taking into consideration military success of the “Islamic State” in Iraq and the mystery around the figure of the new “Caliph”, it seems quite likely that “Islamic State” organisation will have most of the recruits to fight on the fields of “jihad”. The territory of this “jihad” is unlikely to be restricted to Iraq and Syria.

Aydar Zinatullin