Who is the 'Islamic State' leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi?

From domestic insurgent group to global terror organization, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has transformed the "Islamic State" into what it is known as today. DW examines the life of the world's most wanted man.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, born Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim Ali Mohammed al-Badri, rose to international notoriety in 2014 as the leader of the self-styled "Islamic State" (IS) militant group ravaging parts of Syria and Iraq.

While his adolescence is shrouded in narratives of piety and reticence, the rise of al-Baghdadi as one of the world's most recognizable criminals has its notable beginning in the wake of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Before the 'Islamic State'

In response to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, al-Baghdadi formed a militant group to join a growing insurgency against occupation.

In 2004, al-Baghdadi was detained by US forces and held in both the controversial Abu Ghraib and Camp Bucca detention centers. He reportedly spent more time in Abu Ghraib, an infamous facility known for torture committed by American forces in Iraq.

Al-Baghdadi was released later that year with a large group of low-level prisoners. Several media outlets have claimed that the militant leader had been held by US forces for much longer; however, these allegations have not been substantiated by government records.

In 2006, al-Baghdadi's troop of insurgents joined others to form the Mujahideen Shura Council. The alliance of several Islamist militant groups later disbanded and formed an organization calling itself the Islamic State in Iraq, commonly referred to at the time as al-Qaida in Iraq.

Bildergalerie zum ARD Special über Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi IS Anführer

People who knew al-Baghdadi have described him as an individual who clung to religious teachings in his youth

'Global terrorist'

It is unclear how al-Baghdadi rose through the ranks of al-Qaida's Iraqi division, but in 2010 he was declared the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq following the assassination of Abu Omar al-Baghdadi (no relation), who led the group since its formation in 2006.

As the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, al-Baghdadi was responsible for the group's attacks in Baghdad and surrounding areas, which included high-profile suicide bombings targeting Iraqi security services and Shiites.

Following the death of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in May 2011, al-Baghdadi vowed reprisal attacks against the US and its allies in Iraq.

Read more: 'Islamic State' gold remains hard to trace

Related Subjects

In October 2011, the US state department announced that al-Baghdadi, referring to him by his birth name al-Badri, had been deemed a "specially designated global terrorist."

Since then, the US has maintained sanctions against him along with a multi-million-dollar reward for information leading to his capture or death.

Conflicts

Where did it come from?

The "Islamic State" (IS) — also known as ISIL, ISIS and Daesh — is an al-Qaida splinter group with a militant Sunni Islamist ideology. It emerged in the aftermath of the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and is led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Their goal is to create a worldwide "caliphate." It gained worldwide notoriety in 2014 after a blitzkrieg military campaign that resulted in the capture of Mosul.

Conflicts

Where does it operate?

IS is believed to be operational in more than a dozen countries across the world. It controls territories in Iraq and Syria. However, the group has lost much of the territory it controlled in Iraq and Syria at the height of its expansion in 2014.

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Who is fighting back?

The US leads an international coalition of more than 50 countries, including several Arab nations. Russia, Iran and its Lebanese Shiite ally Hezbollah, which all support the Syrian government, also fight IS. Regional forces such as the Kurdish peshmerga (above) and US-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters, fight IS on the ground. The Iraqi army and militia have pushed IS from large parts of the country.

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How does it fund itself?

One of IS' main sources of income has been oil and gas. At one point, it controlled an estimated one-third of Syria's oil production. However, US-led airstrikes deliberately targeted oil resources and the Syrian government as well as US-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters have retaken most oil wells. Other means of income include taxes, ransom, selling looted antiquities and extortion.

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Where does it carry out attacks?

IS has claimed responsibility for numerous terrorist attacks across the globe. The militant group has targeted capitals across the EU, including Berlin, Brussels and Paris. IS leaders have encouraged so-called "lone wolf" attacks, whereby individuals who support IS carry out terrorist acts without the direct involvement of the group.

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What other tactics does it use?

The group uses various tactics to expand its power. IS fighters have looted and destroyed historical artifacts in Syria and Iraq in an attempt at "cultural cleansing." The group has also enslaved thousands of women from religious minority groups, including Yazidis. IS also uses a sophisticated social network to distribute propaganda and recruit sympathizers.

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How has it impacted the region?

IS has further exacerbated the ongoing Syrian conflict. Millions of Syrians and Iraqis have fled their homes, many traveling to Europe in pursuit of refuge. Although it has lost all of its strongholds, the militant group has left extraordinary destruction in its wake. Areas affected by the militant group's rule will likely take years to rebuild.

Break with al-Qaida

In 2013, al-Baghdadi announced the Islamic State in Iraq's expansion into Syria. He claimed that the Nusra Front, al-Qaida's affiliate in Syria, had joined forces with his group, and as such, announced the creation of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (known variously as IS, ISIL, ISIS).

Read more: Raqqa: The human cost of degrading the 'Islamic State'

Al-Baghdadi's announcement that the Nusra Front had joined his group was contested by the organization's leader, who appealed to al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. Al-Zawahiri decreed that al-Baghdadi should remain in Iraq and not pursue activities in Syria, a decision that al-Baghdadi effectively ignored and that spelled the end of the Islamic State in Iraq's allegiance to al-Qaida.

In January 2014, IS took control of Raqqa and expelled the Nusra Front from the Syrian city. The capture of Raqqa pushed al-Qaida to disavow IS in February, saying it "is not a brand of the al-Qaida group."

From caliph to shadows

IS rose to notoriety in June 2014, when it launched a blitzkrieg campaign and captured large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria, culminating in the ransacking and occupation of Mosul.

On June 29, speaking from a pulpit in the historic Great Mosque of Mosul, al-Baghdadi announced the creation of a worldwide caliphate and shortened the group's name to Islamic State.

Read more: Mosul: the last stand for 'Islamic State' in Iraq

However, religious leaders, mainstream scholars of Islam and the wider Muslim community have repudiated the re-establishment of the Islamic institution and al-Baghdadi's claim to be caliph.

Since the public announcement, al-Baghdadi has effectively drifted into the shadows of the so-called caliphate, where he continues to orchestrate the development and expansion of the militant group as a terror phenomenon that spans the globe.

Irak - IS Führer Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

Al-Baghdadi announced the creation of a worldwide caliphate from a historic mosque in Mosul