Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the Iraqi militant who rose from obscurity to declare himself “caliph” as the leader of IS, has been targeted in a US military operation in Syria.
Sources in Syria, Iraq and Iran said on Sunday they believed he had been killed. A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Baghdadi was targeted in the overnight raid but was unable to say whether the operation was successful. US President Donald made a “major statement” at the White House confirming his death.
Baghdadi has long been a target for US and regional security forces trying to eliminate IS, even as they reclaimed most of the territory the group once held.
The IS territory that Baghdadi declared in July 2014 over a quarter of Iraq and Syria was notable for atrocities against religious minorities and attacks on five continents in the name of a version of an ultra-fanatic religion that horrified many people.
The genocide of Yazidis, adherents of one of the Middle East’s oldest religions, illustrated the brutality of his rule. Thousands of men were slaughtered on their ancestral Sinjar mountain in northwestern Iraq and women were killed or taken as slaves. Some other religious groups suffered slavery, slaughter and floggings.
The group also caused global revulsion with beheadings of hostages from countries including the United States, Britain and Japan. The United States put up a $25 million reward for his capture, the same amount as it had offered for Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his successor Ayman al Zawahri.
US air strikes have killed most of Baghdadi’s top lieutenants, including Abu Omar al Shishani, Abu Muslim al Turkmani, Abu Ali al Anbari, Abu Sayyaf and the group’s spokesman Abu Mohammed al Adnani. Thousands of his fighters were also killed or captured.
Baghdadi was born Ibrahim Awad al Samarrai in 1971 in Tobchi, a poor area near the town of Samarra, north of the Iraqi capital Baghdad, whose name he took.
He joined the Salafi insurgency in 2003, the year of the US-led invasion of Iraq, and was captured by the Americans. They released him about a year later, thinking he was a civilian agitator rather than a military threat.
It was not until July 4, 2014, that he seized the world’s attention, climbing the pulpit of Mosul’s medieval Al Nuri mosque in black clerical garb during Friday prayers to announce the restoration of the caliphate. Thousands of volunteers flocked into Iraq and Syria from around the world to become soldiers of the caliphate
and join him in his fight against the Iraqi government and its US and Western allies. — Reuters
Ahmed Rasheed and Ahmed Aboulenein