20 Facts About Baghdadi, the Elusive ISIS Leader
Policy + Politics

20 Facts About Baghdadi, the Elusive ISIS Leader

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has emerged from the shadows of the Middle East to run ISIS, the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq. Yet this elusive 43-year-old man, “the most wanted man in the Middle East” as The Guardian calls him remains “an evanescent figure behind the Islamic insurrection sweeping the Syrian and Iraqi interior.”

The jihadist terror group that is on a vicious and nonstop rampage has now overtaken virtually all other priorities of the Obama administration – and will be the subject of a speech by the president to the American people on Wednesday.    

Related: ISIS Has Pushed Obama’s Key Issue of Income Inequality to the Back of the Line 

Just who is the masked man behind ISIS? Who is Baghdadi, formerly known as Abu Du’a, who now wants to be known as Caliph Ibrahim ever since his announcement this summer that a new fundamentalist Sunni state without borders now exists? Who is this man who few people know, even fewer have actually seen, and against whose group the United States is forming a global coalition in order to “degrade and defeat”? 

Here are a few facts about Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi: 

  • He was born Ibrahim al-Badari in 1971 near Samarra, 50 miles north of Baghdad.

  • He earned a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree and a PhD in Islamic Studies from the Islamic University of Baghdad in Adhamiya, a Baghdad suburb. 

Related: Why Taking on ISIS Could Be a Fiscal Fiasco 

  • In March 2003, when the United States invaded Iraq, Baghdadi was still a student and “was not thought to be connected to either al Qaeda or its local offshoot in the early years of resistance,” said The Guardian.

  • Within a couple of years, Baghdadi “had been captured as a suspected mid-ranking figure in the anti-U.S. Sunni insurgency,” The Guardian reported, and was imprisoned at Camp Bucca, the U.S.-run detainment center in southern Iraq. 

  • It’s not clear exactly how or why he was rounded up with others and held there. “Some media reports note that he was held as a ‘civilian internee’ at the prison for 10 months in 2004,” Mother Jones said. That period of time is the position of the U.S. Department of Defense.

  • Others claim he was incarcerated at Camp Bucca after being captured by U.S. forces in 2005. This latter information, though not substantiated by DOD, seems to be the prevailing wisdom.

  • While detained by the U.S., he was not assigned to Compound 14 where extremist Sunnis were kept. He was considered largely “unremarkable.”

  • “A lot of times, the really bad guys tended to operate behind the scenes because they wanted to be invisible,” an officer at Camp Bucca told The Daily Beast.

  • When he finally walked out of the U.S. detention camp in 2009, Baghdadi told his captors, “I’ll see you guys in New York,” Army Colonel Kenneth King, the commanding officer of Camp Bucca at the time, told The Daily Beast.

  • He left the camp with a group of others and was taken to “a smaller facility near Baghdad,” The Daily Beast reported. 

  • His internment at the prison “contributed to his radicalization – or at least bolstered his extremism,” according to James Skylar Gerrond, a former compound commander at Camp Bucca.

  • Some former inmates of Camp Bucca said the center was an “Al Qaeda school,” according to Al Jazeera

  • Baghdadi was later named the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq – then known as the Iraqi division of al Qaeda – in May 2010, after the death of Abu Omar al Baghdadi.

  • Over the next several years the terrorist group claimed responsibility for a number of attacks south of Baghdad, commandeering large swaths of land. 

Related: Here’s the Real Key to Defeating ISIS 

  • The group formally expanded into Syria in 2013 and on April 8, 2013 Baghdadi announced the creation of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).  

  • ISIS announced the formation of the caliphate on June 29, 2014 – heavily criticized by many rivals and authorities in the Middle East – and renamed the group the Islamic State (IS). 

  • After Baghdadi proclaimed himself the leader of the new nation-state, Gerrond, now a civilian with the DOD, tweeted, “Many of us at Camp Bucca were concerned that instead of just holding detainees, we had created a pressure cooker for extremism,” reported Mother Jones, though there were efforts to “curtail extremism.”

  • ISIS is said to be rolling in the dough. The group’s key source of revenue “is the smuggling of oil from the oil fields it controls in Syria and Iraq,” says The (NY) Daily News. ISIS controls “about a dozen oil fields along with several refineries. Estimates of revenue vary, but a range of $1million to more than $2 million a day is reasonable.”

  • Currently there is a $10 million bounty on Baghdadi’s head by the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center.

  • Baghdadi has been called the “‘invisible sheikh’ because he appears so rarely,” The Wire reports. There are just two known photos of him and a video sermon – and he almost always wears a veil over his face. 

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