MS Risk Blog

Questions Arise Again About Whereabouts of IS Leader

Posted on in Uncategorized title_rule

On Monday 17 July, a top Kurdish counter-terrorism official disclosed that he was 99 percent sure that Islamic State (IS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was alive and located south of the Syrian city of Raqqa, despite numerous reports that he had been killed last month.

In an interview with Reuters, Lahur Talabany disclosed, “Baghdadi is definitely alive. He is not dead. We have information that he is alive. We believe 99 percent he is alive,” adding “don’t forget his roots go back to al-Qaeda days in Iraq. He was hiding from security services. He knows what he is doing.”

IS’s secretive leaders has frequently been reported killed or wounded since he climbed up to the pulpit of a mosque in Mosul in 2014 and declared a caliphate with himself the leader of all Muslims. After leading his fighters on a sweep through northern Iraq, Baghdadi attempted to create a self-sustaining modern-day caliphate in parts of Iraq and neighbouring Syria. Talabany notes that “he is not an easy figure. He has years of experience in hiding and getting away from the security services,” adding “the territory they control right now, still to this day, is very tough territory. It is still not the end of the game for ISIL. Even though they have lost almost all of Mosul and they are getting ready to lose Raqqa as well.”

Iraqi security forces have effectively ended three years of IS ruling the Iraqi city of Mosul, and the group is now under increasing pressure in Raqqa – both of which are former strongholds in the militant’s rapidly crumbling caliphate. Talabany notes however that IS is now in the process of shifting tactics, despite low morale, noting that it would take three or four years in order to eliminate the group as it takes to the mountains and deserts to stage hit and run attacks unleash suicide bombers. According to Talabany, “they are getting ready for a different fight I think. We have a lot tougher days ahead of us than people think,” adding “we saw why they were smarter. Al-Qaeda never controlled any territory. They will be smarter.”

In the wake of numerous reports that Baghdadi has been killed, questions have been raised about who might replace him as head of a diverse group that is comprised of Iraqis and other Arabs as well as hard-core foreign fighters. Iraqi intelligence officers, who served under Saddam Hussein, have been described as the military strategists instruments in recreating an IS reign of terror.   Talabany has disclosed that it was hard to know which top Baghdadi aides were alive or dead, noting however that he believes most of the leadership remains in Syria, in an area south of Raqq. Sources have disclosed that a younger generation of Saddams’ former allies are expected to take key positions. What is evident is that security services will now face the daunting challenge of breaking up sleeper cells, typically made up of two facilitators and two operators.