Does the death of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi sound the end of violent jihadist groups as was so triumphantly announced by US President Donald Trump? It does not appear so if the history of such violent groups is seen. Al Qaeda which took responsibility for the destruction of twin towers of World Trade Centre in New York and whose leader Osama Bin Laden was hunted down by American forces taking almost 10 years before he was shot dead by US at Abbottabad in Pakistan on May 2, 2011 took shape in a different form and continued to be a source of inspiration of the various other groups that have sprung up.
Now the mantel has been taken by ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) or ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and Levant) whose head Al-Baghdadi was killed by US forces.
US President Donald Trump triumphantly proclaimed that the violent jihadist group ISIS’s head had been killed during an American operation in Iraq and that Al-Baghdadi’s body had been buried in the sea similar to what was done to Bin Laden. Even as the ISIS confirmed the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a US raid in Syria, it named the new leader as Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi while also confirming the death of Abu Hassan al-Muhajir, a close aide of al-Baghdadi.
ISIS is a militant group and a former unrecognised proto-state that follows a fundamentalist, Salafi jihadist doctrine of Sunni Islam. It gained global prominence in early 2014 when it drove Iraqi government forces out of key cities in its Western Iraq offensive followed by its capture of Mosul and the Sinjar massacre.
The group is widely known for its videos of beheadings and other types of executions of soldiers and civilians, including journalists and aid workers, and its destruction of cultural heritage sites.
The United Nations holds ISIS responsible for committing human rights abuses, crimes against peace, genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. It also committed ethnic cleansing on a historic and unprecedented scale in northern Iraq.
But, the organization has given birth to an idea which it would take time to erase since its tentacles have spread worldwide and people following a particular idea have always seen to be fanatical cutting across religions.
ISIS or also known as ISIL started as Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad in 1999, which pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda and participated in the Iraqi insurgency following the 2003 invasion of Iraq by Western forces at the behest of the United States.
In June 2014, the group proclaimed it a worldwide caliphate and began referring to itself as the Islamic State. As a caliphate, it claimed religious, political and military authority over all Muslims worldwide.
Like Osama bin Laden, the self-proclaimed caliph had made only occasional public appearances and took extraordinary steps to try to avoid being killed by US forces like him. Most surprisingly, the world’s most wanted terrorist was hiding in Idlib province in northwestern Syria, a region held mainly by affiliates of al Qaeda with which ISIS fell out back in 2014.
ISIS is known worldwide for its sheer brutality and the wanton killing of anyone it got its hands on. Also, Al Baghdadi argued slavery was a natural condition and it was perfectly acceptable to use captured women from ethnic groups such as the Yazdis as sexual slaves. Beyond that, ISIS started at one stage operating like a franchise, claiming responsibility for any terrorist act in Europe and elsewhere.
What is of significance is that the ISIS fought set-piece battles to conquer cities like Kobane and Raqqa. It had huge oil and tax revenues from the regions it controlled. Towards the end of 2014, it was battling a heavily outnumbered Kurdish force to take control of Kobane. It was a one-sided battle till the Americans began heavy aerial attacks on ISIS forces and started pounding the caliphate.
ISIS couldn’t match the combined might of the US, the Turks, Iranian-sponsored Shia militias, the Syrian state and various other fighting forces like the Kurdish YPG which was the fighting arm of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD).
In its audio release by the ISIS central media arm, al-Furqan Foundation, a new spokesman for ISIS identified the successor as Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi tracing his lineage, like al-Baghdadi, to the Prophet Muhammad’s Quraysh tribe.
It provided no other details about al-Qurayshi and it was not immediately clear who the name was in reference to. The group typically identifies its leaders using noms de guerre that refer to their tribal affiliation and lineage. Those names often change.
The new Caliph is identified as a scholar, a well-known warrior and “emir of war” who has battled American forces and knows “its wars.”
“So don’t rejoice America for the death of Sheik al-Baghdadi,” the speaker said. “Don’t you know America that the state (IS) today is at the doorstep of Europe and is in Central Africa? It is also expanding and remaining from east to west.” The speaker was referencing the slogan ISIS used at the height of its successes: “Remaining and expanding.”
– The author is a senior journalist and media consultant.