News / Middle East

Who is ‘Caliph Ibrahim’ and How Dangerous is He?

FILE - The official website of Iraq's Interior Ministry claims to show Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of the so called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
FILE - The official website of Iraq's Interior Ministry claims to show Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of the so called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Cecily Hilleary

To the United States, 43-year-old Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is the leader of the jihadist Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and a “specially designated global terrorist” with a $10 million bounty on his head. 

To his followers, he is Caliph Ibrahim, the new leader of a global Muslim empire, the Islamic State.

In an unannounced statement released to the media July 1, Baghdadi widely condemned the West and summoned all Muslims, especially those with military, medical, administrative and public service experience, to emigrate to the caliphate to “take up arms … and fight, fight!”

Baghdadi leaves no doubt that he has big plans beyond Iraq and Syria: “For your brothers all over the world are waiting for your rescue, and are anticipating your brigades,” the statement reads.

The masked sheikh?

He is said to be so protective of his identity that when he consults with his commanders, he wears a mask, though it’s not clear whether this is fact or folklore.

Very little is known about Baghdadi, outside of what jihadists post on the Internet, and few of their claims can be verified. In announcing the new caliphate in an audio message [safe link] Sunday, ISIL spokesman Abu Mohamed Al-Adnani revealed what he claimed is Baghdadi’s real name: Ibrahim bin Awad bin Ibrahim al-Badri Al-Radawi Al-Husseini Al-Samarra.

“But names and titles can be made up or added on,” said Iraqi political analyst and commentator Omar Al-Nidawi.  “People can have tribal names, nicknames or other aliases that are even related to the town they live in, the town they come from or a former profession.  So one person can have more than one name.”

Baghdadi may or may not have been arrested and jailed by the U.S. in 2005.

“There have been at least two accounts,” said Nidawi. One suggests he was “in U.S. military custody and then transferred to Iraq authorities and released in 2009. But there is also another account that says there is no record that he was ever captured.”

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, newly-named Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, newly-named "Caliph" of the Islamic State, is shown in a U.S. State Department wanted poster handout image.REUTERS/Rewards For Justice/Handout via Reuters
x
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, newly-named
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, newly-named "Caliph" of the Islamic State, is shown in a U.S. State Department wanted poster handout image.REUTERS/Rewards For Justice/Handout via Reuters

The former commanding officer at Camp Bucca, the former U.S. detention facility near Umm Qasr, Iraq, recently told The Daily Beast that he recognized Baghdadi as the man in a photo released earlier this week by the Iraq government.

Climb to power

In April 2010, the U.S. military killed the leaders of al-Qaida in Iraq, Abu Ayyub al-Masri and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi.  The group named Abu Bakr as its new leader. 

In an online speech two years later, Baghdadi launched what he called a “Breaking the Walls” campaign in Iraq, according to the Institute for the Study of War aimed at freeing al-Qaida members imprisoned by U.S. forces and and expanding his territory in Iraq.  True to his word, over the next year, he orchestrated a series of well-coordinated military operations, including the deadly attack on Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison in July 2013 that freed hundreds of prisoners.

After the conflict in Syria broke out, Al Jazeera reports, Baghdadi sent a lieutenant over the border to form the extremist Jabhat al-Nusra Front to help topple President Bashar Al-Assad. Last year, Baghdadi created ISIL, which al-Qaida has since disavowed.

The 'perfect' candidate

To his followers, Baghdadi is perfect for the office of caliphate. 

Sunni tradition holds that a caliph must be an adult male Muslim, knowledgeable in military strategy and brave in conflict. Ideally, he should also be educated in Islamic theology and Shariah, or Islamic law.

Baghdadi’s Internet biography says he was born into a religious family in the city of Samarra and holds a Ph.D. from the Islamic University in Baghdad.  A former religious teacher, he is well-versed in Islamic theology, history, culture, science, genealogy, law and jurisprudence.

Biographers say he is a prominent Salafist looking to cleanse Islam of Shiites and convert all Muslims to the Sunni interpretation of Islam.

They credit him with military acumen, “eloquent speech and strong language, according to his biographers, as well as the calm, cleverness and courage of his predecessors, Abu Omar and Abu Ayyub. 

Perhaps most significantly, Baghdadi claims to be descended from the Arabian desert tribe of Quraysh, says Tawfik Hamid, senior fellow and chair for the Study of Islamic Radicalism at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies.

“Quraysh is the tribe of the Prophet Mohamed,” Hamid said, “and there is a custom that says that the Caliph must be a Qurayshi. This gives him not just political but religious legitimacy.”

Gauging his appeal

A militant Islamist fighter waving a flag, cheers as he takes part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province June 30, 2014. The fighters held the parade to celebrate their declaration of an Islamic A militant Islamist fighter waving a flag, cheers as he takes part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province June 30, 2014. The fighters held the parade to celebrate their declaration of an Islamic "caliphate" after the gro
x
A militant Islamist fighter waving a flag, cheers as he takes part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province June 30, 2014. The fighters held the parade to celebrate their declaration of an Islamic
A militant Islamist fighter waving a flag, cheers as he takes part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province June 30, 2014. The fighters held the parade to celebrate their declaration of an Islamic "caliphate" after the gro

The language Baghdadi uses draws on classical Islamic literary memes, invoking what Nidawi calls “an internal cleansing and an external fight.”

It’s a style that will resonate, especially to devout or disenfranchised youths, says Hamid, and he should know:  As a student in Egypt, he was attracted to jihad and briefly joined the radical group Jamaat al-Islamiyya.

“Even if you have one percent – or one in a thousand Muslims in the world -- who is willing to see the return of the Islamic Caliphate, then you are saying that a million people could join him,” Hamid said. “The most vulnerable are the young Muslims who have no access to modern communication or the internet.  They see the world only through the eyes of religion.”

Hamid believes ISIL poses a significant strategic threat to neighboring countries because of its military capabilities, an ideological following that’s attracting fighters from Europe and elsewhere, and cash looted during the campaign through Iraq.

In short, Hamid says ISIL could cause big trouble for Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and other neighbors.

Lebanon at particular risk

The threat is real, but not necessarily immediate, says Michael Eisenstadt, senior fellow and director of the military security studies program at Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Eisenstadt said he suspects the militants “made faster progress than they expected, and as a result, it’s quite possible that they are overstretched. And keep in mind as well that they have a base of operations that spans two countries – eastern Syria and northern and western Iraq.”

He believes that ISIL’s ultimate goal includes expanding into Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and the first target may be Lebanon.

“The name of ISIL refers to ‘the Levant,’ and that is traditionally Greater Syria, which includes Lebanon, which was part of the caliphate of old,” he said. 

ISIL regards Hezbollah as a major enemy because it actively supports the Assad regime in Syria and is backed by Iran.

“It makes sense for ISIL to try to attack Hezbollah in Lebanon, in order to lead to a security deterioration  there and make it much more difficult for Hezbollah, if they were so inclined, to send fighters into Syria to backfill for the Iraqi Shiite militia who’ve been sent back to Iraq—or to Iraq,” Eisenstadt said.

His comments coincided with reports that the Islamic State had appointed Al-Monther al-Hassan to head operations in Lebanon.

Wait and see

All of this places Washington in a bind:  If it intervenes militarily against ISIL, the U.S. risks being viewed by Sunnis as siding with Iran against a Sunni caliphate. 

Eisenstadt supports what he calls Washington’s current “detachment.”

“If we provide air cover for the regime while they are engaged in killing Sunnis on the ground, we are complicit in that,” he said, “and it will make it impossible for us to achieve our desired end-state, a unified Iraq in which moderate Sunnis feel they have a role to play and assist with the war against the extremist Sunnis.

Hamid agrees on a “wait and see” approach. 

And he sees some reason for hope.

There’s always the chance that Sunnis in Iraq are merely using ISIL to rid them of their prime minister, Hamid says.  Maybe they will ultimately discover – as did Egyptians under deposed leader Mohamed Morsi – that the fundamentalist Islamic lifestyle isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. 

You May Like

Afghan Government: Taliban Leader Mullah Omar Died in 2013

President Ashraf Ghani's office confirms reclusive Taliban leader died in 2013, but Taliban itself claim Omar is still alive More

Erdogan in China Amid Tensions on Uighurs, Missile System

Turkey's president has criticized China's heavy-handed policies toward Uighurs in violence-plagued Xinjiang region, where China says it is fighting foreign-backed separatists More

Critics: China’s President Using Law to Tighten Grip on Power

President Xi, who has stressed importance of 'rule of law' and law-based governance, has exerted increasingly tighter grip over society since coming to office More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: meanbill from: USA
July 02, 2014 9:55 PM
The US President Barack Obama "quote" promised; "Bin Laden is dead, and the world is a safer place" (and he also foolishly said), "Al-Qaeda was on the run, and it's leadership had been decimated" (and whatever fantasyland Obama lives in, somebody please tell him).... The guys that replace Bin Laden, and other decimated Al-Qaeda leaders, are a lot more intelligent than he, and his intelligent services are..... REALLY

MY OPINION? -- al-Baghdadi the Sunni Muslim (ISIL) "Emir of the Believers" and also "The Caliph of All Islam" who's now formed the "Caliphate of Islam" was caused by the US, EU, and NATO countries interference, into the Islamic countries politics, and killing Bin Laden.... IF ONLY they didn't interfere in the Sunni and Shia Muslim countries disputes?

by: meanbill from: USA
July 02, 2014 9:22 PM
TRUTH BE TOLD... The Russians told the US, EU, and NATO countries, (loud and clear), that their interference in arming and training Sunni Muslims in Jordan and Turkey to make war on the Assad Shia Muslim government of Syria, was stoking sectarian violence that would spread to the surrounding countries like Iraq, and turn the whole Middle East into an uncontrollable sectarian war.... But like always, the US, EU, and NATO countries interfered in the Sunni and Shia Muslim politics, (and brought sectarian violence, killings, destruction and wars), like their continual interference always does....

SOMEHOW the US, EU, and the NATO countries leaders, (can't see), how much violence, killings, and destruction and wars, that their continual interference in the politics of countries like Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, and now Ukraine brought on innocent people, that continues on to this day..... When will they open their eyes, (and see), that their interference, has caused millions of innocent people to be homeless and displaced, hundreds of thousands of innocent people injured or wounded, and hundreds of thousands of innocent people killed, and the innocent peoples homes, towns, cities, and countries destroyed in wars.... WHEN will the US, EU, and NATO countries open their eyes, to witness the carnage their interference always causes? ...... WHEN?

PS; "You be the Judge" did the US, EU, and NATO countries interference cause the rise to power of the Sunni Muslim (ISIL) "Emir of the Believers" and "The Caliph of all Islam" al-Baghdadi, and the wars now going on, and expanding and spreading to other countries?..... (They blame Assad and Maliki, for their ignorance, don't they?)
In Response

by: arlo_sleepyhead from: SW Florida
July 04, 2014 11:10 AM
Hey Meanbill, Chaos and destruction are the goals of our US President. His eyes are open, when will yours be?

by: Doug from: Canada
July 02, 2014 8:54 PM
Took almost 10yrs for the US to find and kill Osama Bin Laden after he made a mistake and sooner or later this murdering terrorist will also make a mistake and hopefully the last thing he will see before his life ends is the barrel of automatic weapons aimed at him from Navy Seal Team 6
In Response

by: meanbill from: USA
July 03, 2014 8:31 AM
Hey Doug, It took billions of dollars, (30) US Navy Seals armed to the teeth with full body armor, with (2) advance stealth attack helicopters, and with (2) more helicopters standing by, and a complete US navy carrier task force, with a full compliment of fixed wing, and rotary wing aircraft standing by, with (2) stealth fighter planes, and (2) killer drones flying overhead..... to kill (1) old man servant and his old wife, and a (14) year old teenage "unarmed" Bin Laden son, and a sick and dying old "unarmed" Bin Laden....

If the US had told the Pakistani police where Bin Laden was, they could've just knocked on the (1) door to the compound Bin Laden was hidden, and arrested him, or he would've committed suicide, isn't that true?.... (RUMOR has it?).... that Obama and Biden, compared the sick and dying old "unarmed" Bin Laden killing, with the bravery of the (300) Spartans famous battle with a million Persians at Thermopylae...

by: Shawn from: New Mexico
July 02, 2014 5:24 PM
" the new leader of a global Muslim empire" What how is this global? He barely controls parts of Syria and Iraq, that's no global empire. A global empires stretchs from one side of the world to another, like the Nazi empire or Alexanders Empire. And if it werent for the Syrian army fighting so many different groups they would just roll over ISIS, probably like Iraq will do here soon, if they can get their men to stop running away anyways.

by: ali baba from: new york
July 02, 2014 3:41 PM
He is sociopath ,Psychopath .,fanatic, ignorant and bloody person. the media should not pay attention to him because it will give him impression that he is important but he is a trash person



trash person
In Response

by: arlo_sleepyhead from: SW Florida
July 04, 2014 11:14 AM
I agree that he is a sociopath, but then so are many other world leaders. The man is crucifying people by the roadsides, how can the media not report on this?

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponentsi
X
Henry Ridgwell
July 28, 2015 9:53 PM
A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video Special Olympics Athletes Meet International Friends

The Special Olympics are underway in Los Angeles, California, with athletes from 165 countries participating in an event that gives people with intellectual disabilities the chance to take part in an international competition. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that for athletes and their families, it's also an opportunity to make new friends in an international setting.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Iran Nuclear Pact Wins Few New US Congressional Backers

Later this week, President Barack Obama returns from a trip to Africa to confront a U.S. Congress roiled by the nuclear accord with Iran, an agreement that has received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. Days of intensive lobbying and testimony by top administration officials have won few new congressional supporters of the pact. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Critics of Japan Defense Policy Focus on Okinawa

In Okinawa, many locals have long complained that Tokyo places an unfair burden on the tiny island by locating most of Japan's U.S. military bases there. As Japan's government moves toward strengthening and expanding the country's defense policies, opponents of those plans are joining local protesters in Okinawa, voicing concern about where the country is headed. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Okinawa.
Video

Video IS Uses Chemical Weapons in Syrian Attack

Islamic State militants have added a new weapon in their arsenal of fear: chemical weapons. VOA Kurdish service reporter Zana Omer was on the scene within hours of a recent attack in Hasakah, Syria, and has details of the subsequent investigation, in this report narrated by Miguel Amaya.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs