In the final weeks leading up to his death, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had grown increasingly nervous about betrayal and trusted a shrinking circle of advisors.
The terror group’s leader was described as agitated and so fearful for his own life that he wore disguises and at times hid underground to stay alive, according to the Associated Press. Associates close to Baghdadi said he feared for the collapse of ISIS territory and even crossed over into rival al-Qaeda controlled territory before he killed himself during an Oct. 26 U.S. special operations raid.
A teenaged Yazidi girl held as a captive and slave to Baghdadi told Associated Press reporters about the terror group leader’s final days. Baghdadi brought her along with him and a personal entourage of seven close associates.
The captive teen described Baghdadi’s efforts near the end of 2017 to escape to the Syrian province of Idlib. She said she was placed on a three-vehicle convoy with the ISIS leader’s wives and security team, but that the drivers ultimately turned around out of fear they would be ambushed.
Later she said Baghdadi kept her at his father-in-law’s home, where he would frequently return to rape and beat her.
She said Baghdadi often traveled at night, wearing sneakers and with his face covered. She said he kept at least five guards with him as he travelled and they would only refer to him as “hajji” or “sheikh,” so as to conceal his identity.
The captive teen was passed off to another man in the spring of 2018 and never saw Baghdadi again. She was ultimately rescued in May during a U.S.-led raid.
Mohamad Ali Sajit, Baghdadi’s brother-in-law, also spoke to Baghdadi’s nervous nature near the end of his life. In an interview with Al-Arabiya TV, Sajit said Baghdadi spoke of betrayals among his territorial governors, known as “walis.”
Various unnamed U.S. and Middle Eastern intelligence officials have advanced claims of an ISIS defector turned informant close to Baghdadi.
Sajit himself was arrested by Iraqi authorities in June. Sajit said he saw Baghdadi several times over an 18-month period and had even been with Baghdadi soon before he was arrested. Sajit was one of Baghdadi’s message runners, carrying messages stored in flash drives to ISIS lieutenants in Iraq.
Sajit said Baghdadi disguised himself as a shepherd. If Baghdadi caught word of a potential raid, his security team would bury him in a pit and allowed sheep to graze over top, so as to conceal the ISIS leader until the raid passed.
Sajit also said Baghdadi had to constantly monitor his blood sugar and insulin due to his diabetes, and strained to maintain his health.
According to Sajit, Baghdadi’s movements became more confined as his territory shrank and said Baghdadi and his security team wore suicide vests whenever they traveled. Sajit said Baghdadi even slept with one nearby. Baghdadi ultimately took his own life with a suicide vest and Delta Force members reportedly killed five other ISIS fighters wearing suicide vests during the raid on his compound.
One of the regular members of Baghdadi’s group, Abu Hassan al-Muhajir. Muhajir was killed by a separate U.S. airstrike within hours of the raid to take down Baghdadi.
Amid efforts to determine the terror group’s successor, Sajit disputed claims Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Qurayshi would take over. Sajit instead suggested leadership would go to Hajji Abdullah, who was one of Baghdadi’s top deputies.
Residents of the village of Barisha, the town where Baghdadi died, told the Associated Press they had no idea the ISIS leader was in their midst. Barisha reportedly remains under control of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a group connected to al-Qaeda. The villages spoke anonymously for fear of reprisal.