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

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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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Facebook Asked to Take Down Auto-Generated Al-Qaida Pages

Facebook likes to say that its automated systems remove the vast majority of prohibited content glorifying the Islamic State group and al-Qaida before it's reported

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Monika Bickert, head of global policy management at Facebook, joined at right by Nick Pickles, public policy director for Twitter, testifies before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, Sept. 18, 2019. VOA

In the face of criticism that Facebook is not doing enough to combat extremist messaging, the company likes to say that its automated systems remove the vast majority of prohibited content glorifying the Islamic State group and al-Qaida before it’s reported.

But a whistleblower’s complaint shows that Facebook itself has inadvertently provided the two extremist groups with a networking and recruitment tool by producing dozens of pages in their names.

The social networking company appears to have made little progress on the issue in the four months since The Associated Press detailed how pages that Facebook auto-generates for businesses are aiding Middle East extremists and white supremacists in the United States.

On Wednesday, U.S. senators on the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation will be questioning representatives from social media companies, including Monika Bickert, who heads Facebooks efforts to stem extremist messaging.

The new details come from an update of a complaint to the Securities and Exchange Commission that the National Whistleblower Center plans to file this week. The filing obtained by the AP identifies almost 200 auto-generated pages, some for businesses, others for schools or other categories, that directly reference the Islamic State group and dozens more representing al-Qaida and other known groups. One page listed as a “political ideology” is titled “I love Islamic state.” It features an IS logo inside the outlines of Facebook’s famous thumbs-up icon.

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Facebook auto-generating Al-Qaida, terror group, pages. Pixabay

In response to a request for comment, a Facebook spokesperson told the AP: “Our priority is detecting and removing content posted by people that violates our policy against dangerous individuals and organizations to stay ahead of bad actors. Auto-generated pages are not like normal Facebook pages as people can’t comment or post on them and we remove any that violate our policies. While we cannot catch every one, we remain vigilant in this effort.”

Facebook has a number of functions that auto-generate pages from content posted by users. The updated complaint scrutinizes one function that is meant to help business networking. It scrapes employment information from users’ pages to create pages for businesses. In this case, it may be helping the extremist groups because it allows users to like the pages, potentially providing a list of sympathizers for recruiters.

The new filing also found that users’ pages promoting extremist groups remain easy to find with simple searches using their names. They uncovered one page for “Mohammed Atta” with an iconic photo of one of the al-Qaida adherents, who was a hijacker in the Sept. 11 attacks. The page lists the user’s work as “Al Qaidah” and education as “University Master Bin Laden” and “School Terrorist Afghanistan.”

Facebook has been working to limit the spread of extremist material on its service, so far with mixed success. In March, it expanded its definition of prohibited content to include U.S. white nationalist and white separatist material as well as that from international extremist groups. It says it has banned 200 white supremacist organizations and 26 million pieces of content related to global extremist groups like IS and al-Qaida.

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An Islamic State flag is captured in this photo illustration. VOA

It also expanded its definition of terrorism to include not just acts of violence attended to achieve a political or ideological aim, but also attempts at violence, especially when aimed at civilians with the intent to coerce and intimidate. It’s unclear, though, how well enforcement works if the company is still having trouble ridding its platform of well-known extremist organizations’ supporters.

But as the report shows, plenty of material gets through the cracks and gets auto-generated.

The AP story in May highlighted the auto-generation problem, but the new content identified in the report suggests that Facebook has not solved it.

ALSO READ: U.S. Media Industry Going Through A Bad Phase

The report also says that researchers found that many of the pages referenced in the AP report were removed more than six weeks later on June 25, the day before Bickert was questioned for another congressional hearing.

The issue was flagged in the initial SEC complaint filed by the center’s executive director, John Kostyack, that alleges the social media company has exaggerated its success combatting extremist messaging.

“Facebook would like us to believe that its magical algorithms are somehow scrubbing its website of extremist content,” Kostyack said. “Yet those very same algorithms are auto-generating pages with titles like `I Love Islamic State,’ which are ideal for terrorists to use for networking and recruiting.” (VOA)