On November 9, 2005 a Belgian woman in her late 30’s – Liliane Degauque –entered history as the first European woman to blow herself up in Iraq. Countless more from Europe, Asia or Africa have and will follow in Iraq and elsewhere, including in the heart of the Old continent.
If Liliane Degauque launched an attack against a military target, many followers are simply pulling the trigger amongst random civilians. Regardless of their age, gender or social class, some people decide to meet their creator taking along as many lives as possible. Are they criminals suffering from personality disorders as some suggest, or are they devout believers offering the ultimate sacrifice for their faith?
Self-sacrificing zealots: an enduring phenomenon across the ages
Most civilisations and religions have resorted to animal – and sometimes human – sacrifice as an expiatory tradition to appease or please God (-s). Many believers consciously inflict pain upon themselves to test their faith, to showcase the strength of their convictions or to reach a higher level of consciousness. For instance, the mortification of the flesh for Christians is at times translated into flagellation, in imitation of Jesus’ crucifixion. In Islam, Shiites remember the killing of imam Huseyn in Karbala during Ashura celebrations. Similarly, they beat themselves with chains and swords to express their guilt for this killing that marks the division between Shia and Sunni obedience.
These practices often track their roots in the Scriptures, such as when God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. Although Abraham accepted, God sent Gabriel who ordered Abraham not to do so. For Christians, the sacrificial lamb refers to Jesus’ sacrifice, the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God). Equally, Muslims sacrifice mutton during Eid al-Adha. In essence, Isaac’s sacrifice epitomises the moment when faith and devotion was put to its ultimate test.
Suicide attacks in the animal world
The tactic of suicide is not unknown to the animal world. Ants and termites resort to autothysis (self-sacrifice or altruistic suicide) to repel attackers. In the extremely organised eusocial ant colony, obedient workers, soldiers and male drones are programmed to serve their queen and achieve their tasks without questioning. The Malaysian ant, more specifically, has developed a unique system to defend its colony. Ant warriors have a unique gland on which they can exert internal pressure until it explodes. When an enemy draws near, the ant runs towards him, triggers the internal explosion killing itself and releasing a poison that, in turn, neutralises the assailant.
The defence strategy of some soldier termites is similar. Shall an enemy try to enter the tunnels, termites will blow themselves up.
The main defence objective of those self-organised societies is to preserve their highly regulated society.
What we witness today is far from the termites’ defence mechanism, one that is designed to protect its group. The termites never sought to change others and impose their way of life. On the contrary, human suicide killers launch planned attacks that are carried out after infiltrating a refugee camp or a tourist spot. These suicide attacks do not happen to prevent an enemy from entering, but are carried out against unknown people who simply happen to be at a particular place at a particular moment. To justify such atrocities, the border between attack and defence is blurred. Attacks are presented as acts of defence for survival against the evil or the enemy whose mere existence is a threat that must be annihilated everywhere. For supporters of faith-based suicide attacks, the concept of evil-enemy expands to anyone who is different (aka “all others”).
Abraham’s sacrifice or the self-inflicted pain by believers is also very different and bears no resemblance to the suicide attacks targeting innocent people. For individual believers, mortification of their own flesh is a voluntary act. By no means, has it been imposed by armed groups commanders or clerics. God has two hands: one to forgive and one to punish. Those calling for suicide bombing only refer to the use of the latter. And polytheisms, considered now as a vestige of by-gone eras, were the first victims of religious radicalism. Today’s religious extremists call upon God’s wrath to turn their violence against all those who veered even slightly from strict observance of their credo. This explains why intra-ISIL punishment is regularly practised.
At the polar opposite, God’s first hand is to forgive, to understand and show compassion. This non-violent hand does not enjoy much popularity in radical rhetoric stemming from very binary views.
An inferno circle: from indoctrination to suicide attacks
To attract new potential radicals, recruiters invite them to believe that they are different and have been elected for a holy mission. Recruiters easily anticipate the negative reaction of the close friends of a person on the path of radicalisation. At an early stage, not to antagonise the young recruit from their circle, recruiters will drive a wedge between the candidates and their inner circle, by claiming the candidate has see the “light”, whilst others remain in the dark and lack the faith to access higher levels of religious consciousness. ISIL has gone one step further with its online recruitment form, asking whether candidates were ready to kill their own “infidel” relatives. Gradually, young recruits accept the fact that their commitment is in the best interest of a cause higher than family ties. The inferno circle starts when candidates for suicide bombing gradually change their perspective and adhere to revisionist interpretations of God’s command. Acts, such as killing themselves and fellow human beings, acquire alternative meaning and are now an acceptable means to achieve ones’ end. Suicide bombers, convinced about the importance, the meaning and the honour of their holy mission, embrace the (ir-) rationality of their act. Human laws and codes that condemn such acts are now part of the very world they must destroy. Therefore, any effort to deter a suicide bomber not to act, merely reinforces his/her conviction about the need to end the unholy world so that a better one will emerge. Suicide bombers see themselves as the frontrunners of the necessary apocalypse to overturn the chaos and the moral corruption dominating today’s world.
There are today little signs that faith-based suicide attacks are fading away, especially with fighters returning to Europe. Calls for suicide attacks, random stabbing, vehicle-borne attacks or derailing trains are increasing. There is a plethora of individual stories that tells of fast-track induction of recruits who made the turn from sinner to radical convert. What will happen with those kids who have been taught during ISIL-run mathematics classes that one suicide bomber plus one suicide bomber equals two mass casualties?
Regardless of who they are, suicide bombers leave behind thousands of people in pain in what resembles a modern-day Massacre of Innocents. RIP.
Joshua Boyle Charged With Assault: Was He Re-Enacting the Traumas of Taliban Captivity?
Joshua Boyle, a 34-year-old Canadian man rescued last October with his American wife and three children after five years in Taliban captivity, has been arrested by Canadian authorities and charged with 15 criminal offenses, including sexual and physical assault, unlawful confinement, uttering death threats, and misleading police. All these charges relate to alleged behavior since his return from captivity Oct. 14.
A court order in Canada has prohibited publication of information that would identify any of the alleged victims. But it appears likely that Boyle’s alleged behavior is a result of the deep traumas he and his family endured during their hostage taking, some of which is now being re-enacted.
Boyle’s wife, Caitlan Coleman, said in a statement that “ultimately it is the strain and trauma he was forced to endure for so many years and the effects that had on his mental state that is most culpable for this.”
Their family clearly has been through hell. Boyle and Coleman, who was seven months pregnant at the time, were backpacking in Afghanistan’s Wardak province when they were abducted by the Taliban-linked Haqqani network. They were only freed after a shootout between the Pakistani security forces and their captors.
Upon their arrival back in Canada, Boyle spoke to journalists, reading from a statement, and blurting out that their infant daughter had been murdered and his wife raped “as retaliation for my repeated refusal to accept an offer that the criminal miscreants of the Haqqani network had made to me.”
According to Boyle, Coleman’s rape was not undertaken “as a lone action, but by one guard… assisted by the captain of the guard and supervised by the commandant.” Later, Coleman clarified that she was given a massive dose of estrogen against her will, which forced her to abort.
AS HOSTAGES, BOYLE AND COLEMAN were at times kept in cramped quarters as small as a bathtub, were drugged, forced into the trunk of a car to be transported from place to place, and abused. The son that Coleman was carrying when they were abducted was born in captivity. And then they made the decision after the loss of their unborn daughter to conceive and bear more children who were raised with them.
After the family’s release, those three surviving children showed dire signs of trauma, re-experiencing it in nightmares and flashbacks, as Boyle told Michelle Shephard of the Canadian newspaper the Toronto Star in October. He said that their 4-year-old son, Najaeshi Jonah, did not like to close his eyes because it reminded him of waking up at night to see masked men with Kalashnikovs picking him up after his parents already had been taken away while he was sleeping. Ever since, according to Boyle, their son tried to avoid closing his eyes, even to play the childhood game of peek-a-boo, in order to avoid re-experiencing the horror.
Najaeshi Jonah, according to Boyle, was also “terrified to leave the house [in Canada], even just to go on the porch… It’s as though he thinks if he ever exits this magical wonderland it will all end…”
Speaking for himself, Boyle also admitted in an interview he no longer trusted anyone after being held hostage for so long.
Speaking of his 2-year-old middle child, Dhakwoen Noah, Boyle told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Susan Ormiston that his son was experiencing traumatic flashbacks and is “nearly as distressed as he was in prison, it seems everything reminds him of the horrors of prison; cameras are equated to hostage videos, pens are equated to syringes used to drug his parents with ketamine by the guards, slamming doors is associated with cell searches or worse, it seems his healing process has barely begun—so we pray that God will hasten it.”
Even the Boyles’ months-old infant girl returned from captivity traumatized Boyle wrote in an email to the CBC: “Ma’idah Grace seems scared most of the time, but also to have discovered there are more decent people in the world than she knew; her world until last week consisted of two good brothers and two good parents and about 15 guards [who were sources of] increasing fear to her.”
THAT IT’S NOT ONLY the children who were traumatized, but also Boyle himself—who tried to appear strong and the leader of the family upon their release—now seems all too clear.
In a strange psychological twist, trauma survivors who don’t get the support and help they need to overcome the psychic pain they have endured often repeat their traumas in both symbolic and literal ways. It may be the brain trying to redo the story and get it right, or at a minimum understand, and come to grips with the past psychic pain endured.
Many wondered about the Boyle and Coleman decision to bear more children in captivity, but any psychologist knowing how the case unfolded could see that both spouses were deeply distraught over the forced abortion of their unborn daughter and Coleman’s rape. It is common after a forced or traumatic abortion to get pregnant repeatedly to try to heal that painful scar—a pattern to which the Boyle-Coleman marriage was no exception, even in captivity.
Boyle first appeared in court on New Year’s Day in Ottawa, and again on Wednesday. He will remain in custody at least until Monday. Among the charges issued against him is causing an unidentified person to ingest “a noxious thing, namely Trazodone,” an antidepressant drug.
In this case it seems that traumatic re-enactment is clearly occurring. Joshua Boyle, under deep distress, has now allegedly forced someone to take a serious medication against their will, and has allegedly sexually assaulted someone. He is even accused of keeping someone in unlawful confinement—perhaps repeating what was done to them in his own mixed-up way.
It’s not a small thing for any man, to be responsible for putting his wife in harm’s way and then being unable to save her from rape and a forced abortion. That he was clearly still deeply distressed by both, and that these traumas were first and foremost in his mind, was evident in his statement upon their release when he lashed out at his kidnappers, calling for the Afghan government to track down those members of the Haqqani network who raped his wife, and ordered “the murder of my infant daughter.”
UPON THEIR RELEASE in Pakistan and return to Canada, all of the Coleman/Boyle family were showing signs of distress and may or may not have been receiving—or accepted—the support they needed. Boyle may have rejected psychological assistance, or simply opted for prayers and medications that might ease the pain. But prayers and medications don’t quickly and completely erase traumatic memories that tend to intrude unbidden into one’s consciousness causing rage, terror, withdrawal and alienation—symptoms that trauma survivors need help in learning to manage.
Boyle perhaps too quickly stepped forward and took it upon himself to be the family spokesman talking to the press with whom he unceremoniously announced the family traumas. Meanwhile Caitlan Coleman remained veiled, in the shadows and silent—while her father, Jim Coleman, made angry statements to American media blaming Boyle. “Taking your pregnant wife to a very dangerous place, to me and the kind of person I am, is unconscionable.”
Coleman’s father was not the only one who questioned Coleman’s reasons for being in Afghanistan in the first place. Security and law enforcement also had their lingering questions about whether Boyle had tried to make contact with terrorists in the first place and why Boyle and his wife were in Afghanistan.
Boyle, who is a convert to Islam, was married for a time to Zaynab Khadr, one of the elder sisters of Omar Khadr, the Pakistani-Canadian who as a 15-year-old was arrested and charged with killing an American soldier in Afghanistan. Boyle, among others, was outraged that Khadr spent ten years in Guantanamo despite claiming his confession to the killing had been coerced.
The patriarch of the Khadr family was killed in 2003, along with al Qaeda and Taliban members, in a shootout with Pakistani security forces near the Afghanistan border. Omar Khadr, who was repatriated to Canada in 2012, subsequently won a settlement of 10.5 million Canadian dollars ($8.4 million) and a government apology from the Canadian government for breaching his constitutional rights.
Security experts wondered if Boyle’s zeal for Islam and his anger over the West’s action toward individuals like Omar Khadr were part of his reason for going to Afghanistan. Was he looking for contacts that ultimately disappointed him by taking him and his family hostage and demanding he join them?
Boyle’s associations with the family led some U.S. intelligence officials to speculate that his visit to Afghanistan may have been part of a larger effort to link up with Taliban-affiliated militants. “I can’t say that [he was ever al Qaeda],” one former intelligence official told The Independent in the U.K. “He was never a fighter on the battlefield. But my belief is that he clearly was interested in getting into it.”
These questions still remain unanswered, but certainly would cause Boyle distress.
Within a week of their release in October 2017, Boyle, who tried to present himself as the strong protector, reportedly was rushed to the hospital with an unspecified ailment. Boyle’s family made a statement at the time that both their son and his wife were “deeply traumatized and Josh is not of clear thought as he speaks at times.”
This week Caitlan Coleman defended Boyle, without offering specifics, in her statement to the Toronto Star where she blamed the trauma they had been through. “Obviously, he is responsible for his own actions,” Coleman wrote, “but it is with compassion and forgiveness that I say I hope help and healing can be found for him. As to the rest of us, myself and the children, we are healthy and holding up as well as we can.” Boyle’s defense lawyer, Eric Granger, wrote in an e-mail to the Star, “Mr. Boyle is a young man who we all know has been through a lot. He has never been in trouble with the law.”
Indeed, and now that we see evidence that the deep traumas of their five-year-ordeal are being replayed, it is time for Caitlan, Joshua, and their children to get the psychological, spiritual, medical, and community support they need. Only then can they rage and grieve and finally come to terms with the losses harsh captivity has left imprinted on their bodies, minds, and souls.
Wanted Dead or Alive: The Frustrating, Failing Hunt for ISIS Leader Baghdadi
Authors: Anne Speckhard, Ph.D. & Ardian Shajkovci, Ph.D.
Last month Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi declared the territorial defeat of ISIS in Iraq. Yet a pressing question remains—where is Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the head of the terrorist group that took over a third of Iraq’s territory in 2014 to establish the so-called caliphate, which terrorized millions in the region, horrified people all over the world, and inspired gruesome attacks in Europe and the United States?
Despite a $25 million U.S. State Department bounty on his head, al Baghdadi has managed to evade capture and death repeatedly. This, even with the fury of the U.S., Russian, Syrian, and Iraqi militaries focused on killing him.
While we were in Baghdad as researchers from the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) last month interviewing cadres from the so-called Islamic State who, unlike their leader, were caught and brought to justice, an Iraqi prison interrogator asked, “With all of your country’s military might why is it that the U.S. can’t find al Baghdadi?”
It’s a good question.
Intelligence is best informed from on-the-ground sources, which, in the case of ISIS, the Americans lack. Western intelligence services have found it nearly impossible to insert spies into the terrorist organization. Jordanian sources claimed to us to have done so, and in Jordan’s case there is also a corroborating news story of an agent who had infiltrated and served as a commander in ISIS being airlifted out before the coalition’s final assault on the ISIS capital Raqqa.
Several Kosovar government officials also have told ICSVE researchers about their attempts to infiltrate the organization, but admit they failed. One of them was discovered and killed. And while the Israeli Mossad and Russia may have succeeded (that is certainly what they would like us to believe), it’s not clear that the intelligence received from any of these actors is, or was, coming out of the organization in real time.
Clearly no government or intelligence service has enough information to kill al Baghdadi.
During interviews with 66 ISIS defectors, returnees and prisoners to date, ICSVE researchers have learned that all cadres are highly controlled. Mobile phones are often taken from them. Those allowed to keep them often have their messages checked. Surveillance of communications is extremely tight. The fate of anyone accused of betraying ISIS is likely to be beheading. In our interviews we often heard of Russians, especially, decapitated after having been accused as spies—claims often made only out of suspicion and with little to no evidence backing them up.
The ISIS Emni (also written Amn or Amni, the intelligence arm of ISIS) was constantly on the alert for enemies within its own ranks, overseeing any external communications and carefully vetting those who joined. Recruits who appeared in Syria and Iraq without personal references spent time under Emni investigation, and often were sent directly to the front lines. The thinking was that if they took up arms, fought valiantly on behalf of the group and managed to survive, they were allowed in. If they died, “martyrdom” was their fate, and if they were true believers, they went to Paradise. Otherwise, to Hell.
Keep in mind as well, that ISIS is not just an agglomeration of fanatical volunteers, as it is sometimes portrayed. Its core structure was formed by a group of highly trained Iraqi former military and intelligence officers from Saddam Hussein’s government who were angry when they were dismissed and sent home following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Ultimately they allied with the short-lived but utterly savage group of jihadists that formed around the Jordanian firebrand Abu Musab al Zarqawi, who had won grudging recognition from Osama bin Laden as the leader of what became known as al Qaeda in Iraq.
The search for Zarqawi from 2003 until the Americans killed him in 2006 gives a glimpse of what’s going on now in the hunt for al Baghdadi.
Nada Bakos was one of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s “targeting officers” on Zarqawi’s trail. Now no longer with the CIA, she explained in a recent interview with the History Channel for a series about the ultimate demise of Adolf Hitler, “a targeting officer is a person who is analyzing information for the purposes of making it actionable—whether it’s working with the military or something the Agency itself could do.”
One sifts through “mountains and mountains” of information, said Bakos. “Everybody leaves a trace. … Everybody leaves some kind of footprint and some kind of pattern that you can find. Every human being is driven to seek out certain things: food, water, shelter, connection with other people. There are very basic instincts that drive a person to exist. And those leave a pattern.”
One also looks for weaknesses, and characteristics that set the prey apart: “Vulnerabilities of people on the run would include if they had a medical issue—understanding what that medical issue is and what they needed to treat that—family members, close friends, if they were interested in a particular area of the world, what they’d considered home,” said Bakos. “You’re trying to paint a picture of where someone might end up going—and what their strategy was and what their intent was.”
Zarqawi was “an evil maniac,” Bakos said. Indeed, more than a dozen years ago, he was drawing world attention to himself by beheading hostages, setting a gruesome precedent embraced enthusiastically by his ideological heirs. As he was pursued, “It was really all about trying to figure out where within the network would he feel safest,” said Bakos. “Where does he want to communicate from? How does he want to live and exist in day-to-day life? We knew he had family members who are around him once in a while. Trying to envision what it was that drove him to exist in the way he wanted to. What did he want his life to look like?”
Eventually the Special Operations task force pursuing Zarqawi learned that an imam and learned Islamic scholar he considered his spiritual advisor would be meeting him at a house outside the Iraqi city of Baquba in June 2006. Drones followed the imam’s car, and when the cleric entered the building, an American F16 flattened it with two 500-pound bombs.
But, Bakos notes something else we might want to remember as we look at the hunt for Baghdadi. Zarqawi’s organization “was literally a network of nodes and power centers,” and not very hierarchical, according to Bakos. Which meant that even after his death and even after what appeared to be a near-complete defeat in Iraq, the group was able to scatter, regroup, and reorganize in Syria, eventually re-emerging as the so-called Islamic State under the leadership, whether real or titular, of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi.
WE NOTICED THAT in our interviews very few of the former ISIS cadres we’ve spoken with, even those serving in the high ranks of ISIS, report having seen al Baghdadi in person. Since his infamous 2014 video recording from a mosque in Mosul where he declared the establishment of the ISIS “caliphate,” al Baghdadi has lived a reclusive life, only occasionally posting statements online. Despite being the leader of one of the most virulent terrorist organizations to date, the intelligence officers surrounding him have kept his location and movements a closely guarded secret.
That ISIS learned from its predecessor and sister terrorist organizations how to protect its leader should not be a surprise. Those from the intelligence world of Saddam Hussein knew what to do to avoid repetition of the attempted and actual executions of Chechen terrorist leaders Basayev and al Khattab by the Russians, and Abu Musab al Zarqawi and Osama bin Laden by the United States, respectively. From the first moments of the formation of the ISIS caliphate the ISIS intelligence operatives took steps to minimize the possibility that al Baghdadi would meet the same fate and the organization would be prematurely decapitated.
So, finding al Baghdadi is not as simple as relying on the technical prowess of the American military, as our Iraqi interrogator believed. The highly precise and round-the-clock satellite surveillance that the United States employs and the sophisticated drones that can zoom in to search the ground in the greatest detail do very little to inform when the likes of al Baghdadi can scurry through the labyrinth of tunnels in Mosul and elsewhere that were built by ISIS. And when those tunnels are no longer available to him, al Baghdadi has the additional advantage of transforming his appearance, perhaps even disguising himself as an Arab woman hiding under a niqab to evade surveillance, as other ISIS cadres have attempted to do. While the U.S. troops and the U.S. supported Kurdish forces scour telephone intercepts, al Baghdadi almost certainly learned, as Osama bin Laden did, that he could only communicate with relative safety via couriers.
FOLLOWING THE 2003 U.S.-LED invasion of Iraq, Saddam Hussein was found hiding in a hole in the ground. This was not the result of the $25 million bounty that also was put on his head. It took the Americans many months to catch Saddam after mounting a massive hunt for him. The capture was finally accomplished by pulling in his former bodyguards who, under interrogation, gave bits and pieces that finally led to the discovery of Saddam’s whereabouts. At the time of his capture, Saddam may also have lacked the kind of devoted network that al Baghdadi can still rely on, with as many as 20,000 ISIS cadres that have melted back into society, according to Iraqi officials. It’s also apparent that the ISIS Emni knows how to spirit its members across international borders.
Like the proverbial cat with nine lives, al Baghdadi has been reported killed, yet resurfaced multiple times.
Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, chief of the U.S.-led coalition battling ISIS in Iraq and Syria told a conference call with journalists at the end of August, as he was about to rotate out of his assignment, that he thought al Baghdadi was still at large, but the question of where was left vague, to say the least.
“I don’t have a clue. He could be anywhere in the world for all I know,” said Townsend.
“Here’s what I think. I think he’s somewhere in Iraq and Syria. I think he’s probably somewhere in the Middle Euphrates River Valley.”
This is an area, often referred to by the acronym MERV, that runs about 250 kilometers from around Deir ez-Zour in Syria to Rawah in Iraq. “That’s where they believe their last sanctuary is,” said Townsend. “So I think he’s probably somewhere down there.”
But Townsend noted that fighting in MERV would not be like the siege of a city or a neighborhood. “You can’t really just contain the whole Euphrates River valley and starve them out. It’s too big. It’s too complex,” he said. And there is the added complication that rival forces—the Russians and the Syrian army of Bashar Assad with its allied Iran-backed militias—have converged on the area at the same time as the U.S.-led coalition and its allies, which have approached from the opposite side of the river. Obviously, time that might be spent hunting for al Baghdadi is spent avoiding clashes between the forces converging to kill or capture him.
“We’re looking for him every day,” said Townsend. “When we find him, I think we’ll just try to kill him first. It’s probably not worth all the trouble to try and capture him.”
That was more than four months ago, and the fighting, and the hunting, continues—along with the deconfliction issues. “We’re piling up a lot of airplanes in a very small piece of sky,” a senior U.S. Air Force officer in the operation told The New York Times at the end of December. Two senior figures, Abu Faysal and his deputy Abu Qudamah al Iraqi, were taken out by an airstrike on Dec. 1.
According to Daily Beast contributor Wladimir van Wilgenburg, who has followed the Syrian combat closely on the ground, “There are some remaining pockets of ISIS militants along the east bank of the Euphrates River [in Syria] and in the desert along the border with Iraq. Earlier this week 70 ISIS fighters and their families reportedly handed themselves over to the U.S. backed Syrian Democratic Forces. So it’s possible Abu Bakr al Baghdadi is either in those pockets or in the desert. Most likely in the desert.”
Several Iraqi security officials that we spoke to last month said they strongly believe al Baghdadi is still around. Kurdish intelligence chief Lahur Talabany figured “99 percent he is alive.” Talabany cited the history of ISIS and its roots as al Qaeda in Iraq, which dispersed like bees when the hive was destroyed, then came back together in a swarm.
The man is wanted “dead or alive” but nobody seems to be sure which he is just now, which probably is just they way he’d like it.
“ABU BAKR AL BAGHDADI” is a kunya, a pseudonym similar to names many ISIS members give themselves indicating where they come from. In his case it means the father of Bakr, from Baghdad. In fact he was born in Samarra, north of Baghdad, in 1971, and his real name is Awwad Ibrahim Ali al Badri al Samarrai.
As head of the so-called Islamic State, Baghdadi sought to legitimize his claim as “caliph” with claims that his family ancestry traces back to the Prophet Muhammad, and because he had post-graduate training in Islamic studies.
But in operational terms a more important figure may have been Abu Muhammad al Adnani, often described as al Baghdadi’s right-hand man and the voice of the organization. He was the powerful head of the ISIS Emni who served as the “emir” of the Syrian territories and director of overseas operations, including horrific attacks in Europe. Unlike Baghdadi, Adnani was known for his battlefield strategy, prolific propaganda, and international plotting. He was killed by a coalition airstrike in 2016.
In the Zarqawi days, al Baghdadi was reported to have fallen out with Zarqawi, condemning his brutal bombings of Shiites. Yet when al Baghdadi came to head ISIS—and broke with al Qaeda’s core leadership—his terror organization became the most brutal seen to date, continuing the indiscriminate slaughter of Shia Muslims. And what is known of al Baghdadi’s personal heartlessness is no different than that of Zarqawi.
American hostage Kayla Mueller was held for a time with a half-dozen Yazidi girls as sex slaves for al Baghdadi in the home of Abu Sayyaf, a Tunisian working as the ISIS oil and gas emir. Hostages held with Mueller, reported that she frequently was called for by al Baghdadi who raped her mercilessly. She was killed in 2014.
Al Baghdadi harbored a deep hatred for the U.S. after his capture by the Americans in 2004 and the 10 months he spent in Camp Bucca and Abu Ghraib. Some credit his time in the U.S.-run prison as connecting him to other jihadis, although his ties to Zarqawi mean he was already well connected, and others wonder what effect the abuses in Abu Ghraib had on shaping his own subsequent actions.
In 2013, al Baghdadi released an audio statement in which he announced that AQI and Jabhat al-Nusra terror groups were merging under the name “Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham” and later as the Islamic State. In 2014 he declared the ISIS Caliphate from Mosul and himself the Caliph—his only video performance to date. His latest public missive in September 2017, following an 11-month silence, was an audio recording urging his forces to resist the American supported Iraqi incursion into Mosul and to mount attacks worldwide. American forces judged it as authentic and current.
Iraqi Sunnis in Baghdad told us that he still sends messages to his followers, although they are likely relying on rumors. American intelligence sources have told CNN that they have failed to intercept any ISIS communications confirming his death and that given his stature in the organization, the U.S. expects to see significant chatter discussing his demise should he be killed.
In December 2017 an Iraqi Ministry of Intelligence officials told us, “Iraqis may turn up the heat on trying to catch him in the next three months, as it will be good propaganda for the Prime Minister to do so while facing his bid for reelection.” That said, another MOI officer shrugged off questions about the hunt for al Baghdadi, asking in return, “Does it matter anymore? ISIS is defeated.”
In Iraq, officials estimate from 6,000 to 20,000 ISIS cadres have melted back into the landscape, which means the group may still harbor the capabilities and manpower to carry out guerrilla warfare with smaller scale suicide attacks and bombings, particularly if there is a leader to order it. But at this point, even without their leaders, ISIS and al Qaeda have spawned a social movement of small actors who attack on their own.
Likewise, for all that ISIS has lost—the territory that it once claimed as the caliphate, the oil fields from which it derived the wealth and revenues to enable it to finance weapons supplies and salaries for its fighters, its ability to enslave and sell captured women, its clandestine theft and sale of antiquities and other valuables, and its ability to impose taxes on those who lived under it—the ISIS dream still remains.
Even ISIS defectors and prisoners, while expressing their disillusionment with the group and its tactics, often show evidence of remaining loyalty to the ISIS dream they were sold. The Islamic State’s offer to young men and women the world over who are frustrated with injustices, political inequalities, and lack of opportunities still remains. The ISIS promise to join in building a new form of governance that they falsely claim will uphold Islamic ideals, be inclusive and offer justice and opportunities to all Muslims is a heady one. This utopian dream of the true Islamic Caliphate peddled throughout the world by ISIS has not been destroyed.
The fact that al Baghdadi is at large may make it seem to those true believes even more possible to resurrect the defeated empire.
As Gen. Townsend put it last August, “In 2014, the world watched in horror as ISIS seized more than 100,000 square kilometers of Syria and Iraq and brought more than 7 million people under its barbaric control. ISIS was something the world had rarely seen before. ISIS is the most evil entity I have encountered in my lifetime.”
Not only must we break the ISIS brand totally, discrediting entirely the dream they have sold as possible to achieve through violence and brutality, we must also do all we can to continue the hunt for the 25 Million Dollar Man, so that, one way or another, those who supported him and those he victimized can see he has been made to pay for all the crimes against humanity carried out under his leadership.
—with additional reporting by Christopher Dickey
Reference for this Article: Speckhard, Anne & Shajkovci, Ardian (1-6-2018) Wanted Dead or Alive: The Frustrating, Failing Hunt for ISIS Leader Baghdadi, Daily Beast
Is MEK/Jundullah The ISIS Of Tomorrow?
One would think that the United States would have learned by now, that it is never a good idea to arm terrorist groups in different parts of the world, due to the inevitable “blowback” which eventually ensues after these violent groups determine that the USA is no longer in support of them, or when the USA wants to deny that they have any relationship with them.
We have seen this paradigm unfold countless times before, over the past few decades, with groups like Al Qaeda, Al Nusra, La Fenice, Avanguardia Nazionale, Ordine Nuovo, the Contras, Cuban Exiles, Colombian Paramilitary Organizations, Los Pepes, Kosovo Liberation Army, Jundullah, Mujahedin-e Khalq (“MEK”), and countless others designed to engage in United States sponsored terrorist activities against sovereign governments and nations that the US doesn’t like for whatever reason.
In the wake of the abject failure of the US using ISIS to destabilize, disrupt and disorient various governments throughout the Middle East, such as Syria, Iraq, Lybia, Yemen and others, followed quickly by various ISIS-attributed terrorist attacks against the US and Europe by ISIS, President Donald Trump was swept into office in large part because the American and European people discovered this via the veritable “sieve” known as social media and the internet.
But rather than change US foreign policy to ban or cease using violent thugs to carry out US policy overseas, instead it appears that the US Government through the CIA have now adopted a smaller more surgically precise approach by supporting, through its proxy nations Israel and Saudi Arabia, smaller groups such as MEK and Jundullah, who operate primarily in tiny regions of the world, such as in and around Iran, without much of a global presence.
But like cancer, these groups have a tendency to grow uncontrollably, and then later turn on the US and Europe, when and if the latter starts to pull funding or divorce themselves from the court of public opinion through plausible denial.
This is exactly how ISIS grew into a formidable fighting force, and eventually turned on its creators, much like the Frankenstein monster in the Mary Shelley novels.
All of this must be an abject nightmare for the US FBI, DHS, ICE and DEA pull their proverbial hair out, because they must often clean up/explain the horrific domestic messes of terrorist blowback occurring on US soil when these groups inevitably turn on their paymasters, just like they are the chief law enforcement/preventative bodies that deal with the drug war, also in large part caused by the CIA’s open and clandestine support of massive drug producing/trafficking regimes in Afghanistan, Colombia, Venezuela and Mexico.
The news lately has revealed that the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia are openly funding, supporting, arming, training and providing logistical support to Jundullah and MEK in order to take down the current sovereign government of Iran.
Even though the USA, Saudi Arabia and Israel may not like the current government there, what right do they have to engage in this type of state sponsored terrorist behavior?
There is a reason why various governments throughout the world have stood the test of time, and exist in their present states.
Perhaps their people wanted it, or perhaps there was need for that specific type of ideology or mode of governance, but unless and until those governments actively target or harm Americans, the US has absolutely no business getting involved with those groups, and indeed, has invariably and inevitably lived to regret it countless times, in nearly 100% of all cases.
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