(New York, NY) - On October 26, 2019, U.S. forces carried out an operation in Syria’s Idlib province that resulted in the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who had served as ISIS’s self-proclaimed caliph since June 2014. U.S. officials confirmed Baghdadi’s identity using DNA tests of his remains after he detonated an explosive vest. Baghdadi’s likely successor, ISIS spokesman Abu Hassan al-Muhajir, was reportedly killed in a U.S. strike in Syria the day after Baghdadi’s death. ISIS did not immediately acknowledge Baghdadi’s death. Baghdadi had been declared dead or seriously wounded on several previous occasions and until this year, his health, whereabouts, and level of control over the organization had been the subject of a great deal of speculation.
In April, ISIS’s al-Furqan Media Foundation released a video titled “In the Hospitality of the Leader of the Faithful,” featuring Baghdadi. The last time Baghdadi appeared in an ISIS propaganda video was in July 2014, when he proclaimed the existence of the caliphate. The April video was posted online one week after the horrific Easter Sunday terrorist attacks targeting churches and hotels in Sri Lanka and was found on more than 30 different websites. Baghdadi congratulated the attackers and claimed the attacks were carried out to avenge ISIS’s loss in Baghouz, Syria. On September 16, 2019, Baghdadi appeared in a second release named “And Say, Act” by al-Furqan Media Foundation, where he urged his fighters to be patient and that the ultimate victory would eventually come. He also stated that the group is growing around the world and winning battles, which in turn would stretch the capabilities of the U.S.
Despite the loss of Baghdadi, ISIS remains active in the Middle East and beyond. U.S. intelligence reports claimed ISIS still had up to 18,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria at the time of Baghdadi’s death. The group has declared wilayat (provinces, governorates) in Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Afghanistan, and the North Caucasus. Within the first seven months of 2019, ISIS announced new provinces in India, Pakistan, Turkey, and Central Africa as it sought to reassert itself after the loss of its territory in Iraq and Syria. Beyond this, the terror group attracts considerable sympathy or has waged attacks in Turkey, Morocco, Tunisia, the Philippines, Lebanon, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and the Palestinian territories. ISIS sympathizers have also carried out lone-wolf attacks in a variety of Western countries such as France and Belgium.
To read CEP’s report on Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, please click here.
To read CEP’s report on ISIS, please click here.
To read CEP’s Extremist Content Online release “ISIS Leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi Re-Emerges in a Widely Shared Propaganda Video,” please click here.
To read CEP’s Extremist Content Online release “Extremist Content Online: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi Releases Second Video in 2019,” please click here.