The news of the death of the world’s most notorious terrorist and self-proclaimed “caliph” of the Islamic State (IS) group, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, could not be more welcome. It was an inevitable end to a vile terrorist and mass-murderer. That said, the news arrived years too late and after millions of innocents had been displaced or forced to flee the areas he and his group controlled. Hundreds of thousands of people have been left dead or injured since his caliphate of delusion was declared in 2014.
Al-Baghdadi did not follow the same path as another notorious terrorist, Osama Bin Laden, who met the same fate in 2011 a decade after his horrific terrorist attacks of 9/11 on New York and Washington that resulted in the deaths of over 3,000 innocent people.
These attacks led to the destruction of the World Trade Centre in New York, and they marked the end of an era and the beginning of a dark chapter in modern history characterised by global violence, terrorist attacks and a rise in radicalism of all sorts.
Al-Baghdadi’s surfacing on the political scene was prior to his becoming the world’s most-wanted terrorist. Iraqi-born Ibrahim Al-Badri, aka Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, used to work as an Islamic Studies teacher, when he was known for his radicalism and controversial views.
He joined the terrorist group Al-Qaeda upon his release in 2004 from a US prison in Iraq after the US-led invasion of the country. Later, he formed his own terrorist network by the name of the Army of the Sunnis. By 2014, he had garnered enough power to seize control of the Iraqi city of Mosul and declare the establishment of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (ISIS), calling upon “believers” from across the world to join him in a jihadist dream.
The humanitarian disasters caused by Al-Baghdadi will not be easily erased from human memory. The insurmountable evil committed by Al-Baghdadi would be found almost unbelievable if read about in books, but alas it was seen on camera.
Children as young as five years old were taught to carry guns and execute prisoners or decapitate them with knives. Women of Yazidi and other ethnicities were raped, murdered or sold into slavery. People were crucified, burned or otherwise executed based on their ethnicity or religious affiliations. These atrocities were accompanied by a range of terrorist attacks across the globe by terrorists who pledged allegiance to this mad “caliph” who shared his lust for blood in the name of religion.
Al-Baghdadi and his marauding group brought back scenes of slave markets that were believed to be part of a dark past but re-emerged to form some of the worst moments in human history since the Second World War. When US President Donald Trump announced the successful operation that took down this terrorist leader late last month, he described Al-Baghdadi’s death by saying that “he died like a dog,” despite the involvement of trained war dogs in the operation.
Trump’s comparison is a bad one, since dogs are noble creatures that have been humans’ best and most loyal friends since men first walked the earth.
With Al-Baghdadi’s death, IS and similar jihadist groups may have received a critical blow, but its ideology lives on. While the organisation’s structure has been dismantled, it is not entirely dead. The IS ideology still lives among lone-wolf terrorists in the West and the Middle East. According to an announcement by a lesser-known pseudo-caliph, Abu Ibrahim Al-Quraishi, the group is not dead, and it may make attempts to regain some of its power.
The initial expansion of IS was a product of the chaos that has tainted the Middle East region over the past decade following the Arab Spring, particularly in Iraq and Syria, and it was not due to the group’s strategic planning. It capitalised on betrayals by local army and police units in both Iraq and Syria in order to capture villages, towns and cities that had been abandoned by these forces. This helped the group to appear formidable for a certain period of time, allowing it to capture military equipment left behind by these local forces and use it in their stead.
Moreover, a period of complacency by Western leaders like former US president Barack Obama and former British prime minister David Cameron towards the group’s initial gains helped it to cement its presence in the region. This helped the group to take control of an area bigger than the United Kingdom in record time, even if the majority of that area was arid desert, and quick military losses followed.
The group may have possessed some battle-hardened terrorists who had fought in Iraq and been joined by Syrians and reinforcements from dozens of other countries, all of which added to its initial feel of invincibility, but ground gains are useless unless they are protected by aerial power. The group did not control the air and had hardly any air defences.
The Russian involvement in 2015 to protect the Syrian state led by President Bashar Al-Assad marked the turning point in the war on IS. A massive aerial bombardment campaign and critical hits on its occupied areas turned the tables on the group’s initial advances.
The Russian air force and Syrian ground troops managed in a few months to encircle and liberate many of the villages and towns once held by IS, and the Russian campaign spelled the beginning of the end of the terrorist group. Similarly, the International Coalition against IS led by the United States and a number of its NATO and regional allies managed to finish off what was left of it.
At one point, IS fighters could walk freely in Syrian and Iraqi towns, but thanks to the extensive military campaigns they had to move from one hideout to another. Even the now dead self-proclaimed caliph Al-Baghdadi was never seen in public after his infamous initial speech from a mosque in Mosul.
Yet, while the international media has celebrated the death of this terrorist, the US newspaper the Washington Post may have lost its compass. It became infested with pro-Islamist and leftist ideologues some years ago who report the news in their own fashion. The newspaper managed to find a new low and a complete lack of journalistic integrity when it printed a bizarre obituary for Al-Baghdadi recently entitled “Austere Religious Scholar at the helm of Islamic State dies at 48.”
The lack of human compassion towards the victims of this mass-murderer seeps out from this shameful obituary, which the Washington Post was forced to change hours after its publication after protests around the world.
At times of war, such behaviour by a newspaper could amount to treason. Imagine if this newspaper’s journalists had printed an obituary for Nazi Party leader and mass-murderer Adolf Hitler in 1945 along the lines of “Austere Austrian Painter commits suicide and dies at 56.”
Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi is not the last of his vile breed, as there will likely be more of his ilk surfacing in different areas of the globe where radical Islamist and jihadist ideologies propagated by the likes of the Muslim Brotherhood have found a base and spread into the population.
*The writer is a political analyst and author of Egypt’s Arab Spring and the Winding Road to Democracy.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 7 November, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.