ISIS leader ‘died like a dog’ in US raid

Baghdadi: Evil mastermind behind 3,670 attacks worldwide last year. © AFP

Does this also spell the death of ISIS? The world’s most wanted man was a powerful figurehead for the terror group. His death is a blow, but experts say ISIS operations will continue unabated.

It was shortly after midnight, in the remote village of Barisha, that residents heard a familiar noise coming from above.

The whir of rotor blades in the darkness signalled a night raid. And, sure enough, within minutes, the sound of thousands of bullets ripped through the inky darkness.

This was no usual firefight. The guards on the ground, with their machine guns, were hugely outgunned by an enemy they had not been expecting.

They were caught by surprise by the crack American team descending upon their high-profile prize — Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the world’s most wanted man.

Five years after he had launched his self-styled “caliphate”, and brought a new wave of terror to the globe, the net was finally closing on the ISIS leader.

The fugitive leader of Islamic State blew himself up with three of his children after being cornered by US commandos in a raid in northwest Syria, Donald Trump announced yesterday.

Baghdadi, 48, fled down a tunnel “whimpering and crying and screaming all the way” as he was chased by military dogs before detonating a suicide vest, Trump said in a televised address from the White House.

“He was a sick and depraved man and now he’s gone,” Trump told the nation. “He died like a dog. He died like a coward. The world is a much safer place.”

From the Situation Room in the White House, Trump had watched as “brilliant fighters” ran out of eight helicopters and blasted through the walls of the building where Baghdadi was hiding. It was “as though we were watching a movie”.

“The thug who tried so hard to intimidate others spent his last moments in utter fear, panic and dread, terrified of the American forces coming down on him,” Trump said.

“He reached the end of the tunnel as our dogs chased him down. He ignited his vest, killing himself and his three children. His body was mutilated by the blasts. The tunnel had caved on him…He died after running into a dead-end tunnel, whimpering and crying and screaming.”

Baghdadi led the rapid and bloody expansion of ISIS across Syria and Iraq in 2014. Tens of thousands of foreign fighters flocked to the region after he proclaimed a “caliphate”.

He ruled over territory that was briefly the size of Britain, but his reign proved short-lived.

A coalition led by the US began to claw back significant territory in 2017 and overran the last of it in March this year.

Baghdadi evaded capture and had been thought to be hiding in the desert between Syria and Iraq, hundreds of miles from Idlib province where he was found.

Could his death this weekend spell the real end of ISIS?

Hydra’s head

For ISIS, the death of its founder and ideological figurehead is likely to be a crippling blow but not a fatal one, experts say this morning, because of the organisation’s flexible, decentralised leadership structure. Like the mythological monster Hydra, who grew two heads every time one was chopped off, ISIS has many commanders. Indeed one, Abdullah Qardash, had recently already taken over many of Baghdadi’s duties.

What a pedantic view, others say. This totally misses the point. The essential power of ISIS is its religious mystique. For its followers, it is the army of god that can never be defeated. Not only Baghdadi’s death — but the manner of his death — will shatter the faith of many devotees. It has already transformed from a serious force to a splinter group. Now, even that splinter will probably dissolve into the desert.

You Decide

  1. Is Donald Trump’s language (“he died like a dog”) inappropriate?
  2. Do you think a man such as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is psychologically sick or actually deeply evil?

Activities

  1. Imagine you were one of the US commandos on the secret mission to capture or kill Baghdadi. Write a letter home, describing your role and what it was like. Remember not to give away any security details!
  2. Using the Expert Links, research the history of ISIS. Draw a timeline of the key moments in its development.

Some People Say...

“Under his command, ISIS developed a special brand of cruelty, videotaping the murder of western hostages, throwing homosexuals from rooftops, creating a system of sex slavery and burning people alive.”

The Times anonymous editorial

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Baghdadi took command of ISIS in 2010 and declared himself the new caliph of the Sunni Arabs, four years later. The world’s most wanted man helped to transform motley jihadist groups into a terrorist army, the Islamic State, that trampled over Middle Eastern borders. At its peak, ISIS held sway over ten million people in Syria and Iraq.
What do we not know?
What happens next. ISIS retains the power to regroup. It has many affiliates across the globe that could become a springboard for a new style of jihad. As long as there are deep grievances in the Arab world, there will always be the potential for a different version of Baghdadi’s terror brand: an ISIS 3.0. Many fear that the escape of jihadist fighters and their families from Syrian internment, now that they are no longer closely guarded by the Kurdish members of the Syrian Democratic Forces, will accelerate this process.

Word Watch

Barisha
A village in northwestern Syria, administratively part of Harem District. It is situated in the A’la Mountain and is part of an area known as the “Dead Cities”.
Caliphate
A political-religious successor to the prophet Mohammed, and a leader of a Muslim community.
ISIS
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, officially known as the Islamic State and sometimes known by its Arabic-language acronym Daesh. It is a terrorist group and a former unrecognised proto-state that follows a fundamentalist, Salafi jihadist doctrine of Sunni Islam.
Situation Room
A permanent meeting place for sensitive information flowing into and out of the White House.
Idlib
Idlib is a city in northwestern Syria, that operates as the capital of the Idlib Governorate. It is about 50 miles southwest of Aleppo.
Pedantic
Overly concerned with minor details and rules.

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