ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi killed himself by detonating a suicide vest when cornered in Northwestern Syria during a U.S. raid on the compound believed to be his residence. President Trump has stated that he “died like a dog” and was “trembling” and “crying” in his final moments, though this has yet to be corroborated. He also declared that “the world is a much safer place” now that al-Baghdadi is dead.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was the world’s former most wanted man, with a $25 million bounty on his head.
Al-Baghdadi assumed ISIS leadership in 2010, and was rumoured to have been radicalized following the start of the U.S. War on Terror in 2003. Under his leadership, ISIS ran their campaign to establish a caliphate, which at its height spanned territory in Iraq and Syria roughly the size of Ohio, but has been on the decline since 2017 and fell in March of this year.
ISIS soon confirmed the death of al-Baghdadi along with his close aid, Abu Hassan al-Muhajir. Al-Muhajir was killed in a joint U.S. and Kurdish forces operation just hours after al-Baghdadi’s death, only a few weeks after many in the U.S. accused the administration of abandoning those allies.
The list of successors to al-Baghdadi was likely to be short, given that the leader of a caliph must have several attributes, including to be descended from the prophet Mohammed’s tribe and to possess significant knowledge of Islamic jurisprudence. ISIS soon revealed this newest leader to be Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi, of whom very little is known.
Top terrorism analysts also have commented that now is not the time to let the guard down. General Kenneth McKenzie from U.S. Central Command has stated that ISIS is likely to “try some form of retribution attack.”
It is reported that British intelligence has increased monitoring on subjects of interest, some 3,000 individuals around the world, to protect against possible revenge attacks in the UK. A director at the Royal United Services Institute thinktank, Raffaello Pantucci, has gone on the record warning of terrorist actions by copycats of ISIS or in revenge for the death of its leader.
According to some, there is also a possibility that ISIS may splinter due to internal strife caused by al-Baghdadi’s death. The unknown nature of their newest leader, al-Hashimi, is theoretically to contribute to this, as it is difficult to inspire a cult of personality like ISIS without a charismatic leader.
Though glad for al-Baghdadi’s death, activists and refugees are still looking towards the future. Yasmin Mashaan, a refugee in Germany, said he “is happy when every tyrant receives such a fate” but does not think ISIS is defeated with the death of a single man. Hussam Hammoud, an activist from Raqqa, agreed. “We are happy that he was killed, but we do not think our misery will end because of that.”