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Invisible Sheikh of ISIS Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi killed; how he built caliphate

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pic_giant_071414_SM_Abu-Bakr-al-Baghdadi

By NewsGram Staff Writer

According to reports from Radio Iran, the Islamic State chief has died following injuries from an air strike against an Iraqi target last month. The terrorist was responsible for the death of 215,000 people in Syria alone, while the situation created by his group is being seen as the worst military threat to the world after World War II.

Baghdadi stood in stark contrast to any other religious leader. Even amongst the extremists, he possessed a peculiar history and a flexible strategy which stood as the cornerstone of his ISIS vision.

Starting from 2010 onwards, Baghdadi captained the ship of Islamic extremism with utmost efficiency and ease. Within a short span of five years he managed to usurp large swathes of Iraq and parts of Syria under the violent umbrella of ISIS.

The man was listed as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist by the US State Department, with a bounty of $ 10 million, second to only the leader of al-Qaida, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Baghdadi–A regular guy

Baghdadi had a normal upbringing which should have ideally led to a more nuanced understanding of religion. Here are a few facts, from his childhood to his youth:

  •  Baghdadi had an intense passion for football during his teenage years.
  •  In his youth, the ISIS leader was quiet and shy and liked to spend time alone. Surprisingly, Baghdadi eschewed violence at that time.
  • Baghdadi was well educated. He held an undergraduate, a masters and a Phd degree in Islamic studies from the University of Baghdad.

According to contemporaries of Baghdadi, he was not a preacher, although he used to lead the prayers sometimes. This is against the current image of Baghdadi as a grand Imam by the ISIS.

  •  Baghdadi was a practitioner of conservative ‘Salafi’ Islam. Normal acts of merry-making and socialization, like dancing, singing etc seemed so disgusting to him, that he ridiculed them as ‘irreligious’.
  • The ISIS leader was a family man and was a father to an 11-year-old son.

Even at the time of war by the USA for the ouster of Saddam Hussein, Baghdadi is believed to have harbored no ill-feelings against the Americans.

What led to the transformation?

Like many leaders, the life of Baghdadi was also a witness to a couple of landmark, life-defining events. Here is a look at the rapid transformation of Baghdadi:

In 2004, Baghdadi had a bitter argument with an owner of a local mosque, who was also his landlord. The owner had asked Baghdadi to join the Islamic Party, a thought which was sacrilegious according to Baghdadi. Seeing political parties as opposing God, Baghdadi refused the proposal and was subsequently banished from his house and eventually from Tobschi, his resident town.

Although the banishment might have been a catalyst for Baghdadi’s shift in allegiance to violent, radical Islam, it was a stint in an American prison which established Baghdadi as the jihadist that he was.

In 2004, American forces had arrested him near Fallujah, and later imprisoned him at the Camp Bucca detention centre as a ‘’civilian internee” for almost an year.

He is believed to have been radicalized by jihadists from al-Qaeda, the terror inflicting Islamic group that was organizing large scale suicide bombings in Iraq.

Baghdadi–the unlikely sly operator of ISIS

Baghdadi had an unusual, typical style of operating and presenting himself. It was to present the least level of personality– or a secret persona to the outside world and his coterie of followers. This was particularly attractive to the youth and gave him an aura of innocence, which further magnified his mass-appeal.

In fact, this was one of the main reasons he managed to befuddle the Americans and escape their net. After failing to recognize him as a dangerous individual, the US guards released him from prison when it shut in 2009.

After being handed down the mandate of ISIS, Baghdadi had brought unprecedented changes in the workings of the terror group.

With decentralization of the power structure, he had ensured that one man’s death does not lead to the disruption of the organization.

He was more scheming and circumspect in his approach and was willing to abort missions if he felt the life of his men was at stake.

The ISIS leader had spelled a deep and ambitious plan for the organization. He planned to expand the caliphate continuously and even visualized to take over Rome.

With his shrewd, calculative mind, Baghdadi ensured that ISIS became deeply entrenched within the Iraqi population, incapable of being dislodged by local police forces.

Although cases of sexual violence abound against non-Muslim women in ISIS, a clever tactic of involving women was also propounded by Baghdadi.

By injecting Islamic extremism with doses of novel tactics and strategies, Baghdadi had indeed brought in a tectonic shift in the working of ISIS. He ensured that the terror outfit stays alive, functioning as a well-oiled group, long after he perished to jihad.

 

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We Will make you Zero To Hero: This is how Jihadist ISIS Lures Western potential Recruits

The Chicago Project on Security and Threats has concluded that ISIS often targets Western recruits with heroic outcomes

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ISIS actively Lures Recruits from the West for its Jihadi Agenda
FILE - Fighters from the Islamic State group parade in Raqqa, north Syria, June 30, 2014. VOA

Beyond the slick, Hollywood-style cinematics, the Islamic State is targeting Western recruits with videos suggesting they, too, can be heroes like Bruce Willis’ character in Die Hard.

That’s the conclusion of The Chicago Project on Security and Threats, which analyzed some 1,400 videos released by IS between 2013 and 2016. Researchers who watched and catalogued them all said there is more to the recruitment effort than just sophisticated videography, and it’s not necessarily all about Islam.

Instead, Robert Pape, who directs the security center, said the extremist group is targeting Westerners — especially recent Muslim converts — with videos that follow, nearly step-by-step, a screenwriter’s standard blueprint for heroic storytelling.

ISIS targets Western recruits with Hollywood style heroism
Islamic State is recruiting Westerns by using Hollywood-style cinematics, like that seen in the story of “Wonder Woman,” in which a character learns his or her own powers through the course of their reluctant journey to be hero. VOA

“It’s the heroic screenplay journey, the same thing that’s in Wonder Woman, where you have someone who is learning his or her own powers through the course of their reluctant journey to be hero,” Pape said.

Heroic storytelling

The project at the University of Chicago separately has assembled a database of people who have been indicted in the United States for activities related to IS. Thirty-six percent were recent converts to Islam and did not come from established Muslim communities, according to the project. Eighty-three percent watched IS videos, the project said.

Bruce Willis in movie Die Hard 4.0
FILE – U.S. actor Bruce Willis poses for the photographers during a photo call for his new movie “Die Hard 4.0” in Berlin, Germany, June 18, 2007. VOA

The group’s success in using heroic storytelling is prompting copycats, Pape said. The research shows al-Qaida’s Syria affiliate has been mimicking IS’ heroic narrative approach in its own recruitment films. “We have a pattern that’s emerging,” Pape said.

Intelligence and law enforcement officials aren’t sure the approach is all that new. They say IS has been using any method that works to recruit Westerners. Other terrorism researchers think IS’ message is still firmly rooted in religious extremism.

Rita Katz, director of SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks messaging by militant groups, agrees that IS makes strong, visual appeals resembling Hollywood movies and video games, making its media operation more successful than al-Qaida’s. And IS videos can attract hero wannabes, she said.

“However, these features of IS media are only assets to a core message it uses to recruit,” Katz said. “At the foundation of IS recruitment propaganda is not so much the promise to be a Hollywood-esque hero, but a religious hero. There is a big difference between the two.”

Promise of martyrdom

When a fighter sits in front of a camera and calls for attacks, Katz said, he will likely frame it as revenge for Muslims killed or oppressed somewhere in the world. The message is designed to depict any terror attack in that nation as justified and allow the attacker to die as a martyr, she said.

The promise of religious martyrdom is powerful to anybody regardless of whether they are rich or poor, happy or unhappy, steeped in religion or not at all, she said.

Pape said he knows he’s challenging conventional wisdom when he says Westerners are being coaxed to join IS ranks not because of religious beliefs, but because of the group’s message of personal empowerment and Western concepts of individualism.

How else can one explain Western attackers’ loose connections to Islam, or their scarce knowledge of IS’s strict, conservative Sharia law, he asked. IS is embracing, not rejecting, Western culture and ideals, to mobilize Americans, he said.

“This is a journey like Clint Eastwood,” Pape said, recalling Eastwood’s 1970s performance in High Plains Drifter about a stranger who doles out justice in a corrupt mining town. “When Clint Eastwood goes in to save the town, he’s not doing it because he loves them. He even has contempt for the people he’s saving. He’s saving it because he’s superior,” Pape said.

“That’s Bruce Willis in Die Hard. That’s Wonder Woman. … Hollywood has figured out that’s what puts hundreds of millions in theater seats,” Pape said. “IS has figured out that’s how to get Westerners.”

12-step guide

Pape said the narrative in the recruitment videos targeting westerners closely tracks Chris Vogler’s 12-step guide titled “The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers.” The book is based on a narrative identified by scholar Joseph Campbell that appears in drama and other storytelling.

Step No. 1 in Vogler’s guide is portraying a character in his “ordinary world.”

An example is a March 25, 2016, video released by al-Qaida’s Syria branch about a young British man with roots in the Indian community. It starts: “Let us tell you the story of a real man … Abu Basir, as we knew him, came from central London. He was a graduate of law and a teacher by profession.”

Vogler’s ninth step is about how the hero survives death, emerging from battle to begin a transformation, sometimes with a prize.

In the al-Qaida video, the Brit runs through sniper fire in battle. He then lays down his weapon and picks up a pen to start his new vocation blogging and posting Twitter messages for the cause.

‘Zero to hero’

Matthew Levitt, a terrorism expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, says it doesn’t surprise him that IS would capitalize on what he dubs the “zero to hero” strategy because the organization is very pragmatic and accepts recruits regardless of their commitment to Islamic extremism.

Heroic aspirations are only one reason for joining the ranks of IS, he said. Criminals also seek the cover of IS to commit crimes. Others sign up because they want to belong to something.

“I’ve never seen a case of radicalization that was 100 percent one way or the other,” Levitt said. (VOA)

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Syrian Militia: End Is Near for Islamic State in Raqqa

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Syria ISIS
Smoke rises near the stadium where the Islamic State militants are holed up after an airstrike by coalition forces at the frontline, in Raqqa, Syria. voa

Islamic State is on the verge of defeat in Syria’s Raqqa and the city may finally be cleared of the jihadists Saturday or Sunday, the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia told Reuters Saturday.

The U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State said around 100 of the jihadist group’s fighters had surrendered in Raqqa in the last 24 hours and had been “removed from the city,” but it still expected difficult fighting “in the days ahead.”

It did not say how the fighters had been removed or where the fighters had been taken.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said remaining Islamic State fighters were being transported out of Raqqa by bus under a deal between Islamic State, the U.S.-led coalition and the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is dominated by the YPG. There was no immediate comment on that report from the coalition or the SDF.

Fighting since June

Civilians who escaped from Islamic State
Civilians who escaped from Islamic State militants rest at a mosque in Raqqa, Syria. voa

The SDF, backed by coalition airstrikes and special forces, has been battling since June to oust Islamic State from Raqqa city, formerly its de facto capital in Syria and a base of operations where it planned attacks against the West.

The final defeat of Islamic State at Raqqa will be a major milestone in efforts to roll back the group’s self-declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq, where earlier this year the group was driven from the city of Mosul.

“The battles are continuing in Raqqa city. Daesh (Islamic State) is on the verge of being finished. Today or tomorrow the city may be liberated,” YPG spokesman Nouri Mahmoud told Reuters by telephone.

In emailed comments to Reuters, coalition spokesman Ryan Dillon said about 100 Islamic State fighters had surrendered in Raqqa in the last 24 hours and were “removed from the city,” without giving further details.

“We still expect difficult fighting in the days ahead and will not set a time for when we think (Islamic State) will be completely defeated in Raqqa,” he said, adding that around 85 percent of Raqqa had been liberated as of Oct. 13.

Some civilians escape

Around 1,500 civilians had been able to safely make it to SDF lines within the last week, he added.

Omar Alloush, a member of a civilian council set up to run Raqqa, told Reuters late Friday that efforts were under way to secure the release of civilians and “a possible way to expel terrorist elements from Raqqa province,” without giving further details.

An activist group that reports on Raqqa, Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, said on its Facebook page Saturday that dozens of buses had entered Raqqa city overnight, having traveled from the northern Raqqa countryside.

The Observatory said Syrian Islamic State fighters and their families had left the city, and buses had arrived to evacuate remaining foreign fighters and their families. It did not say where they would be taken.

During the more than six-year Syrian war, the arrival of buses in a conflict zone has often signaled an evacuation of combatants and civilians.

The campaign against Islamic State in Syria is now focused on its last major foothold in the country, the eastern province of Deir el-Zour, which neighbors Iraq.
Islamic State is facing separate offensives in Deir el-Zour by the SDF on one hand, and Syrian government forces supported by Iranian-backed militia and Russian airstrikes on the other. (VOA)

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Al-Qaida Releases Call for Jihadist Unity, Purportedly From Leader

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Al-Qaida's Ayman al-Zawahiri
Al-Qaida's Ayman al-Zawahiri is seen in this still image taken from a video released in September 2011.voa

Al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is urging followers for Jihadist Unity, around the world against what he calls the “international satanic alliance.”

In a 28-minute undated audio-video message that surfaced Wednesday, Al-Qaida leader al-Zawahiri said, “We are facing the fiercest attack in the history of Muslims. The Crusaders, atheist Russia, China, Rawafidh [rejectionists], secularists and the treacherous rulers have all joined hands against us.”

VOA could not independently verify the authenticity of the message.

Al-Zawahiri took charge of the al-Qaida terror organization after his predecessor, Osama bin Laden, was killed in a U.S. Navy SEAL raid in 2011 in Pakistan’s Abbottabad. His precise whereabouts are unknown, but security analysts think he most likely is hiding in the Afghan-Pakistan border region.

The message, released less than a month after the 16th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S., came as the terror organization is facing a series of defeats around the world, particularly in Syria, where its offshoot groups are being squeezed by the Russian-backed Syria government. (VOA)