Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, could still be alive and cultivating a new group of terrorists.
Following the revelation that top ISIS leaders convened in mid-2017 to discuss preserving the organization’s ideological core, U.S. counterterrorism officials speculate that Baghdadi is not only alive, but is also helping direct long-term strategies, the Washington Post recently reported.
While Baghdadi has remained relatively hidden, he is allegedly hard at work securing ISIS’s future in the region. Intercepts and reports suggest that Baghdadi is crafting an ideological framework that will survive the physical destruction to the Islamic state. Not only has he revamped the group’s school curriculum, but he has also settled ideological disputes between factions of ISIS fighters.
“The leadership is convinced that, even if the State has disappeared, as long as they can influence the next generation through education, the idea of the caliphate will endure,” an anonymous operative told the Washington Post.
Under Baghdadi’s direction, “the values of the caliphate would be seeded in the Umma [Islamic community], and not disappear,” the operative said, “even if the caliphate would.”
According to an Islamic State official who was arrested earlier this year, top ISIS leaders, including Baghdadi, met in the city of Deir al-Zour in Syria to personally discuss rewriting the terrorist group’s education curriculum.
The leaders allegedly are prioritizing the indoctrination of children and recruits, both inside Iraq and Syria and also abroad, through the Internet.
“Several top leaders were present, as well as the curricula committee, which I headed,” the captured officer, known as Abu Zaid al-Iraqi, said in a videotaped statement aired on Iraqi television, the Washington Post reported.
The meeting was the third of its kind and had been “established by caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,” according to the officer.
Details of the meeting provided counterintelligence officials a rare glimpse into the secluded lifestyle of Baghdadi, who has only been photographed once and has spoken publicly only a few times. His noticeable absence has allowed false reports of his death to spread for more than four years. He is also continually reported as being wounded or incapacitated, but intelligence officials are nearly certain that Baghdadi is alive and well.
“By all indications, he’s alive,” a U.S. counterterrorism official told the Washington Post, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence assessments. “We think he’s still coordinating, still helping to run the organization.”
The United States’ view on Baghdadi’s current involvement in ISIS is supported by intelligence intercepts and detainee interrogations, as well as various writings and statements by operatives inside the terrorist network. However, the evidence remains difficult to official confirm for the U.S.
The same can also be said for Baghdadi’s followers who retain an almost invisible leader. This in turn draws complaints from his network and undercuts his ability to influence forces, according to terrorism experts.