The jihadi leader has styled himself the new "Caliph," but what does that mean?by Iravati Guha / July 2, 2014 / Leave a comment
So few photos of al-Baghdadi exist that he is known as “the invisible sheikh.”
Who is al-Baghdadi?
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, also known as Abu Dua, is an Iraqi-born jihadist. With only two authenticated photos of him and no known video-taped pronouncements, he has earned the nickname “the Invisible Sheikh.” Al-Baghdadi is credited with transforming a few Iraqi terror cells into the Islamic State (IS), a militant jihadist group which aims to establish an Islamic state, or a unified global community following Sharia law. Formerly known as ISIS, IS’s name change reflects a widening of their ambition to create an Islamic State across not only Syria and the Levant, but the vast region between the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. In October 2011, the US State Department officially designated al-Baghdadi as a “terrorist,” offering a $10m reward for information leading to his capture or death.
Where did he emerge from?
Al-Baghdadi is a “mysterious figure” says Seyed Ali Alavi, a Middle East expert at SOAS. We know little about Baghdadi’s past. Born to a religious family in the largely Sunni city of Samarra in Iraq in the early 1970s, al-Baghdadi is said by his followers to have gained a PhD in Islamic Studies in Baghdad before becoming a cleric. Enraged by the US invasion in 2003, he created an armed group, but was subsequently arrested by US forces and held in the military prison of Camp Bucca from 2005 to 2009. During this time he became increasingly radicalised, deepening his links with al Qaeda fighters held at the same camp. Following his release and the death of Iraqi al Qaeda leader Abu Omar al-Qurashi al-Baghdadi in 2010, Bakr al-Baghdadi emerged as the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).
Why did he split with al Qaeda?
The IS leader’s refusal to listen to demands from al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri that his group stay out of Syria has led to a schism between IS and its former parent network. Al-Zawahiri denounced al-Baghdadi’s 2013 takeover of al Nusra (al Qaeda’s Syrian branch) as invalid and has formally disowned IS. He has also reprimanded IS for its extreme brutality, including the killing of Sunni muslims regarded as traitors of Islam. IS violence has intensified since its split with al Qaeda: it has been blamed for atrocities including the crucifixion of…