Article published in The Daily Express, 28 October 2019. © Richard Kemp
Some experts claim the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is only a symbolic success against the Islamic State. That’s wrong. It’s a major blow to IS and Islamic jihadists around the world, at least as important as the killing of his former leader Osama Bin Laden in 2011.
Al-Baghdadi was a hugely influential and inspirational figure for radical Muslims everywhere, his claim to be directly descended from the prophet Muhammad’s grandson widely accepted. A Koranic scholar at the University of Baghdad, he had a religious authority that armed his followers to counter claims that IS was a distortion of Islam.
Al-Baghdadi had been on the run and his Islamic State in retreat for many months following intensive coalition attacks against them. His death signals their final defeat but only in its current form. It does not mean the end of al-Baghdadi’s brutal vision any more than Bin Laden’s death was the end of Al Qaida, which has since increased its strength in various parts of the world.
Two months ago he named his successor but experience shows that terrorist groups evolve like the hydra, sprouting multiple heads, with subordinate leaders freed to carry out their own malevolent and sometimes more effective plans. Al-Baghdadi himself gained power after the killing of his former boss Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of Islamic State in Iraq.
As well as the Middle East, around the world from Afghanistan to the US and from the Philippines to Europe, many of those he led and inspired remain active. More than 50,000 jihadists flocked from 80 countries to join IS in Syria and Iraq. Many times that have joined the cause in their own countries, inspired by IS’s skilled social media campaign, with orders to attack where they are using whatever weapons are to hand. Continue reading