1 Jul 2014

‘Embrace jihad’ – who is al-Baghdadi and what does he want?

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is the self-styled leader of a new global jihad. On Tuesday he urged followers to “embrace this change” in a recording posted online. So what do we think we know about him?

Video: Home Affairs Correspondent Darshna Soni reports on the appeal of the caliphate to British Muslims

“Shadowy”, “anonymous” and “feared” – the adjectives used to describe Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the Islamic State (until recently the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or Isis). What do we think we know about the extremist Sunni leader?

Al-Baghdadi is believed to have been born in Samarra, roughly 80 miles north of Baghdad, in 1971 (so he is 42 or 43 years old).

It is believed he was a cleric at the time of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

He was held in custody by the Americans between 2005 and 2009, and is reported to have told his captors as he was transferred to Iraq “I’ll see you in New York”. He was later freed by the Iraqi government.

A more appealing leader to young jihadists than al-Qaeda’s 63-year-old theologian.

Al-Baghdadi emerged as the leader of the al-Qaeda splinter group Islamic State of Iraq in 2010 when he replaced Abu Omar al-Baghdadi – who had been killed in an American and Iraqi raid near the Iraqi city of Tikrit.

He is described as a well-educated man, but also a ruthless battlefield tactician – potentially a more appealing leader to young jihadists than al-Qaeda’s 63-year-old theologian leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.

The surge of Isis follows al-Baghdadi shunning al-Qaeda by moving the group into Syria (to become Isis) and then rejecting al-Zawahiri’s calls to retreat back into Iraq.

The Islamic State has released statements mocking al-Qaeda as a “joke”. The declaration of the caliphate is viewed by many as an “act of war”.