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 "Caliph" of the Islamic State, is shown in a U.S. State Department wanted poster handout image.REUTERS/Rewards For Justice/Handout via ReutersAbu 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 "Caliph" of the Islamic State, is shown in a U.S. State Department wanted poster handout image.REUTERS/Rewards For Justice/Handout via Reuters
    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 "caliphate" after the groA 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 "caliphate" after the gro
    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

    US Lawmakers Vow to Continue Immigrant Program for Afghan Interpreters

    Congressional inaction threatens funding for effort which began in 2008 and has allowed more than 20,000 interpreters, their family members to immigrate to US

    Brexit's Impact on Russia Stirs Concern

    Some analysts see Brexit aiding Putin's plans to destabilize European politics; others note that an economically unstable Europe is not in Moscow's interests

    US to Train Cambodian Government on Combating Cybercrime

    Concerns raised over drafting of law, as critics fear cybercrime regulations could be used to restrict freedom of expression and stifle political dissent

    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.
    Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roari
    X
    June 28, 2016 10:33 AM
    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video New York Pride March A Celebration of Life, Mourning of Loss

    At this year’s march in New York marking the end of pride week, a record-breaking crowd of LGBT activists and allies marched down Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, in what will be long remembered as a powerful display of solidarity and remembrance for the 49 victims killed two weeks ago in an Orlando gay nightclub.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora