Military Wiki
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
Arabic language: أبو بكر البغدادي
File:Al-Furqān Media Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.png
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi delivering a sermon in the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul, July 2014
Native name Arabic language: إبراهيم عواض إبراهيم علي محمد البدري السامرائي
Born Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali Muhammad al-Badri al-Samarrai[1]
28 July 1971(1971-07-28) (age 51)[2]
Near Samarra, Iraq[2]
Nationality Iraqi
Other names Caliph Ibrahim
Abu Du'a[3]
'The Invisible Sheikh'[4]
Known for Leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
Predecessor Abu Omar al-Baghdadi
Religion Sunni Islam (Salafism)[5][6]
Criminal charge Abu Du'a is a Specially Designated Global Terrorist under U.S. Executive Order 13224. He is also listed at the United Nations Security Council 1267/1989 al-Qaida Sanctions Committee.
Military career
Allegiance Jamaat Jaysh Ahl al-Sunnah wa-l-Jamaah
File:Mujahideen Shura Council Iraq logo.jpg Mujahideen Shura Council (January 2006–October 2006)
Islamic State of Iraq (October 2006–April 2013)
(April 2013–present)
Years of service 2003–present
Rank Caliph of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant

War on Terror


Military intervention against ISIL

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (Arabic language: أبو بكر البغدادي‎, ʾabū bakri l-baḡdādī)[7][8][9] or Abu Du'a,[3] (أبو دعاء, ʾabū duʿāʾ) alternatively called Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi al-Husseini al-Qurashi[10] (أبو بكر البغدادي الحسيني الهاشمي القرشي, ʾabū bakri l-baḡdādī l-ḥusaynī l-hāšimī l-qurašī) and known to his supporters as Amir al-Mu'minin or Caliph Ibrahim (خَلِيفَةُ إِبْرَاهِيم ḵalīfatu ʾibrāhīm;[7] born as Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al-Badri),[11] is the leader[12][13][14] of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), an Islamic extremist group in western Iraq, Libya, northeast Nigeria and Syria self-styled as the "Islamic State". It is believed that he has been proclaimed by his followers to be a Caliph.[15]

On 4 October 2011, the U.S. State Department listed al-Baghdadi as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist, and announced a reward of up to US$10 million for information leading to his capture or death.[15][16] Only the leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, merits a larger reward (US$25 million).[17]


Al-Baghdadi is believed to have been born near Samarra, Iraq, in 1971.[18] In his teens Baghdadi had a passion for football. In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, contemporaries of Baghdadi trace how he went from being a shy, unimpressive, religious scholar and man who eschewed violence, to an infamously dangerous extremist. For more than a decade, until 2004, he lived in a room attached to a small local mosque in Tobchi, a poor and ramshackle neighbourhood on the western fringes of Baghdad, inhabited by both Shia and Sunni Muslim residents.[11]

The description of Baghdadi given by another of his contemporaries, Ahmed al-Dabash, the leader of the Islamic Army of Iraq who fought against the allied invasion in 2003, matched that of the Tobchi resident:

"I was with Baghdadi at the Islamic University. We studied the same course, but he wasn't a friend. He was quiet, and retiring. He spent time alone. Later, when he helped found the Islamic Army, Mr Dabash fought alongside militia leaders who were committing some of the worst excesses in violence and would later form al-Qaeda...[but] Baghdadi was not one of them, I used to know all the leaders (of the insurgency) personally. Zarqawi (the former leader of al-Qaeda) was closer than a brother to me...But I didn't know Baghdadi. He was insignificant. He used to lead prayer in a mosque near my area. No one really noticed him."[11]

American and Iraqi intelligence analysts in 2014 said Baghdadi has a doctorate in Islamic studies from a university in Baghdad.[19]
According to a biography that circulated on jihadist internet forums in July 2013, he obtained a BA, Master, and PhD in Islamic studies from the Islamic University of Baghdad.[8][18][20][21] Another report says that he earned a doctorate in education from the University of Baghdad.[22]

"They (the US and Iraqi Governments) know physically who this guy is, but his backstory is just myth," said Patrick Skinner of the Soufan Group, a security consulting firm. "He's managed this secret persona extremely well, and it's enhanced his group's prestige," said Patrick Johnston of the RAND Corporation. "Young people are really attracted to that." [23] He is so unrecognized even in his own organization Baghdadi is nicknamed "the invisible sheikh".[4]

Militant activity

Some believe that he was already a militant jihadist during the rule of Saddam Hussein, but other reports contradict this. He may have been a mosque cleric at around the time of the US-led invasion in 2003.[24]

After the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, al-Baghdadi helped to found the militant group Jamaat Jaysh Ahl al-Sunnah wa-l-Jamaah (JJASJ), in which he served as head of the sharia committee.[21] Al-Baghdadi and his group joined the Mujahideen Shura Council (MSC) in 2006, in which he served as a member of the MSC's sharia committee. Following the renaming of the MSC as the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) in 2006, al-Baghdadi became the general supervisor of the ISI's sharia committee and a member of the group's senior consultative council.[21][25]

US internment

Mugshot of al-Baghdadi.

Bakr al-Baghdadi had been arrested by US Forces-Iraq in early 2004 near Fallujah and been detained at Camp Bucca detention center under his name Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al-Badry,[19] as a "civilian internee", from February until December 2004, when he was recommended for release by a Combined Review and Release Board.[21][26] That December 2004 he was released, as ‘low level prisoner’.[19]

A number of newspapers and cable news channels have instead stated that al-Baghdadi was interned from 2005 to 2009. These reports originate from an interview with the former commander of Camp Bucca, Colonel Kenneth King, and are not substantiated by Department of Defense records.[27][28][29] Al-Baghdadi was imprisoned at Camp Bucca along with other future leaders of ISIL.[30]

As leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq

Public service announcement for the bounty (reward) of al-Baghdadi (aka Abu Du'a) from Rewards for Justice Program

The Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), also known as Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), was the Iraqi division of al-Qaeda. Al-Baghdadi was announced as leader of the ISI on 16 May 2010, following the death of his predecessor Abu Omar al-Baghdadi.[31]

As leader of the ISI, al-Baghdadi was responsible for masterminding large-scale operations such as the 28 August 2011 suicide bombing at the Umm al-Qura Mosque in Baghdad, which killed prominent Sunni lawmaker Khalid al-Fahdawi.[16] Between March and April 2011, the ISI claimed 23 attacks south of Baghdad, all allegedly carried out under al-Baghdadi's command.[16]

Following the death of founder and head of al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, on 2 May 2011, in Abbottabad, Pakistan, al-Baghdadi released a statement praising bin Laden and threatening violent retaliation for his death.[16] On 5 May 2011, al-Baghdadi claimed responsibility for an attack in Hilla, 62 miles (100 km) south of Baghdad, that killed 24 policemen and wounded 72 others.[16][32]

On 15 August 2011, a wave of ISI suicide attacks beginning in Mosul resulted in 70 deaths.[16] Shortly thereafter, in retaliation for bin Laden's death, the ISI pledged on its website to carry out 100 attacks across Iraq featuring various methods of attack, including raids, suicide attacks, roadside bombs and small arms attacks, in all cities and rural areas across the country.[16]

On 22 December 2011, a series of coordinated car bombings and IED (improvised explosive device) attacks struck over a dozen neighborhoods across Baghdad, killing at least 63 people and wounding 180. The assault came just days after the US completed its troop withdrawal from the country.[33] On 26 December, the ISI released a statement on jihadist internet forums claiming credit for the operation, stating that the targets of the Baghdad attack were "accurately surveyed and explored" and that the "operations were distributed between targeting security headquarters, military patrols and gatherings of the filthy ones of the al-Dajjal Army", referring to the Mahdi Army of Shia warlord Muqtada al-Sadr.[33]

On 2 December 2012, Iraqi officials claimed that they had captured al-Baghdadi in Baghdad following a two-month tracking operation. Officials claimed that they had also seized a list containing the names and locations of other al-Qaeda operatives.[34][35] However, this claim was rejected by the ISI.[36] In an interview with Al Jazeera on 7 December 2012, Iraq's Acting Interior Minister said that the arrested man was not al-Baghdadi, but rather a section commander in charge of an area stretching from the northern outskirts of Baghdad to Taji.[37]

Leader of ISIL

Expansion into Syria and break with al-Qaeda

Al-Baghdadi remained leader of the ISI until its formal expansion into Syria in 2013, when in a statement on 8 April 2013, he announced the formation of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)—alternatively translated from the Arabic as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).[38]

When announcing the formation of ISIL, al-Baghdadi stated that the Syrian Civil War jihadist faction, Jabhat al-Nusra—also known as al-Nusra Front—had been an extension of the ISI in Syria and was now to be merged with ISIL.[38][39] The leader of Jabhat al-Nusra, Abu Mohammad al-Jawlani, disputed this merging of the two groups and appealed to al-Qaeda emir Ayman al-Zawahiri, who issued a statement that ISIL should be abolished and that al-Baghdadi should confine his group's activities to Iraq.[40] Al-Baghdadi, however, dismissed al-Zawahiri's ruling and took control of a reported 80% of Jabhat al-Nusra's foreign fighters.[41] In January 2014, ISIL expelled Jabhat al-Nusra from the Syrian city of Ar-Raqqah, and in the same month clashes between the two in Syria's Deir ez-Zor Governorate killed hundreds of fighters and displaced tens of thousands of civilians.[42] In February 2014, al-Qaeda disavowed any relations with ISIL.[43]

According to several Western sources, al-Baghdadi and ISIL have received private financing from citizens in Saudi Arabia and Qatar and enlisted fighters through recruitment drives in Saudi Arabia in particular.[44][45][46][47]

As Caliph of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant

On 29 June 2014, ISIL announced the establishment of a worldwide caliphate. Al-Baghdadi was named its caliph, to be known as "Caliph Ibrahim", and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant was renamed the "Islamic State" (IS).[9][48] There has been much debate especially across the Muslim world about the legitimacy of these moves.

The declaration of a caliphate has been heavily criticized by Middle Eastern governments, other jihadist groups,[49] and Sunni Muslim theologians and historians. Qatar-based TV broadcaster and theologian Yusuf al-Qaradawi stated: "[The] declaration issued by the Islamic State is void under sharia and has dangerous consequences for the Sunnis in Iraq and for the revolt in Syria", adding that the title of caliph can "only be given by the entire Muslim nation", not by a single group.[50]

As a caliph, al-Baghdadi is supposedly required to hold to each dictate of the sunnah whose precedence has been set in the recorded in sahih hadiths and has an established chain of narration. According to tradition, if a caliph fails to meet any of these obligations at any period, he is legally required to abdicate his position and the community would appoint a new caliph, theoretically selected for being the most religiously and spiritually pious individual among them.[51] However, due to widespread rejection of Baghdadi's caliphhood, the status of his caliphism has been compared to other caliphs whose caliphship has been questioned.[52]

In an audiotaped message, al-Baghdadi announced that ISIL would march on "Rome"—generally interpreted to mean the West—in its quest to establish an Islamic State from the Middle East across Europe. He said that he would conquer both Rome and Spain in this endeavor[53][54] and urged Muslims across the world to immigrate to the new Islamic State.[53]

On 5 July 2014, a video was released apparently showing al-Baghdadi making a speech at the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul, northern Iraq. A representative of the Iraqi government denied that the video was of al-Baghdadi, calling it a "farce".[50] However, both the BBC[55] and the Associated Press[56] quoted unnamed Iraqi officials as saying that the man in the video was believed to be al-Baghdadi. In the video, al-Baghdadi declared himself the world leader of Muslims and called on Muslims everywhere to support him.[57]

On 8 July 2014, ISIL launched its online magazine Dabiq. The title appears to have been selected for its eschatological connections with the Islamic version of the End times, or Malahim.[58]

According to a report in October 2014, after suffering serious injuries, al-Baghdadi fled ISIL's capital city Ar-Raqqah due to the intense bombing campaign launched by coalition forces, and sought refuge in the Iraqi city of Mosul, the largest city under ISIL control.[59]

On 5 November 2014, al-Baghdadi sent a message to al-Qaeda Emir Ayman al-Zawahiri requesting him to sever his allegiance to Taliban commander Mullah Mohammed Omar. Al-Bagdahdi allegedly called the Taliban leader "an ignorant, illiterate warlord, unworthy of spiritual or political respect". He then urged al-Zawahiri to swear allegiance to him as Caliph, in return for a position in the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The source of this information was a senior Taliban intelligence officer. Al-Zawahiri did not reply, and instead reassured the Taliban of his loyalty to Mullah Omar.[60]

On 7 November 2014, there were unconfirmed reports of al-Baghdadi's death after an airstrike in Mosul,[61] while other reports said that he was only wounded.[62][63]

On 13 November 2014, ISIL released an audiotaped message, claiming it to be in the voice of al-Baghdadi. In the 17-minute recording, released via social media, the speaker said that ISIL fighters would never cease fighting "even if only one soldier remains". The speaker urged supporters of the Islamic State to "erupt volcanoes of jihad" across the world. He called for attacks to be mounted in Saudi Arabia—describing Saudi leaders as "the head of the snake" and said that the US-led military campaign in Syria and Iraq was failing. He also said that ISIL would keep on marching and would "break the borders" of Jordan and Lebanon and "free Palestine."[64]

On 20 January 2015, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that al-Baghdadi had been wounded in an airstrike in Al-Qa'im, an Iraqi border town held by ISIL, and as a result, withdrew to Syria.[65] Through his forename he is rumored to be styling himself after the first ever caliph Abu Bakr who led the so-called "Rightly Guided" or the Rashidun. One of the distinctive comportments that the original Abu Bakr was distinguished by was the Sunnistic tradition recalling him replacing Muhammad as prayer leader when he was suffering from illnesses.[66] Another feature of the original Rashidun was what some historians dub as the first Sunnist Shiist discord during the Battle of Siffin. Some publishers have drawn a correlation between those ancient events and modern events under Baghdadi's reign.[67][68]

On 8 February 2015, after 56 Jordanian airstrikes had killed 7,000 ISIL militants from 5–7 February, Abu Bakr al-Bagdadi was said to have fled from Ar-Raqqah to Mosul, out of fear for his life.[69]

The Guardian reported that al-Baghdadi was wounded in a 18 March 2015 Coalition airstrike at the al-Baaj District, in the Nineveh Governorate, near the Syrian border. It was reported that his wounds were so serious that the top ISIL leaders had a meeting to discuss who would replace him if he died. By 21 April, al-Bagdadi reportedly had not yet recovered enough from his injuries to resume daily control of ISIL.[70] In response to the media reports, Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren was quoted as telling reporters that al-Baghdadi had not been the target of the airstrikes and that "We have no reason to believe it was Baghdadi."[71] Newsweek basing its information on official Iraqi government sources, reported on April 22, 2015, that Abu Alaa Afri, the self-proclaimed caliph's deputy and a former Iraqi physics teacher, has now been installed as the stand-in leader while Baghdadi recuperates from his injuries.[72]


Little is known about al-Baghdadi's family and sources provide conflicting information. Reuters, quoting tribal sources in Iraq, reports Baghdadi has three wives, two Iraqis and one Syrian.[73] CNN reports the Iraqi Interior Ministry as saying, "There is no wife named Saja al-Dulaimi" and that al-Baghdadi has two wives, Asma Fawzi Mohammed al-Dulaimi and Israa Rajab Mahal A-Qaisi.[74]

Saja al-Dulaimi

According to many sources, Saja al-Dulaimi is or was al-Baghdadi's wife. The couple met and fell in love online.[75]

She was arrested in Syria in late 2013 or early 2014, and was released from a Syrian jail in March 2014 as part of a prisoner swap involving 150 women, in exchange for 13 nuns taken captive by al-Qaeda-linked militants. Also released in March were her two sons and her younger brother.[76]

Al-Dulaimi's family allegedly all adhere to ISIL's ideology. Her father, Ibrahim Dulaimi, a so-called ISIL emir in Syria, was reportedly killed in September 2013 during an operation against the Syrian Army in Deir Attiyeh. Her sister, Duaa, was allegedly behind a suicide attack that targeted a Kurdish gathering in Erbil.[77] The Iraq Interior Ministry has said that her brother is facing execution in Iraq for a series of bombings in southern Iraq.[74][78] The Iraq government, however, said that al-Dulaimi is the daughter of an active member of al-Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, al-Nusra Front.[79]

In late November 2014, al-Dulaimi was arrested and held for questioning by Lebanese authorities, along with two sons and a young daughter. They were traveling on false documents.[73] The children are being held in a care center while Dulaimi is interrogated.[79]

The capture was a joint intelligence operation by Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, with the US assisting Iraq. Al-Dulaimi's potential intelligence value is unknown. An unnamed intelligence source told The New York Times that during the Iraq war, when the Americans captured a wife of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, "We got little out of her, and when we sent her back, Zarqawi killed her."[74] Al-Baghdadi's family members are seen by the Lebanese authorities as potential bargaining chips in prisoner exchanges.[80]

In the clearest explanation yet of al-Dulaimi's connection to al-Baghdadi, Lebanese Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk told Lebanon's MTV channel that "Dulaimi is not Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's wife currently. She has been married three times: first to a man from the former Iraqi regime, with whom she had two sons."[79] Other sources identify her first husband as Fallah Ismail Jassem, a member of the Rashideen Army, who was killed in a battle with the Iraqi Army in 2010.[76] Machnouk continued, "Six years ago she married Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi for three months, and she had a daughter with him. Now, she is married to a Palestinian and she is pregnant with his child." The Minister added, "We conducted DNA tests on her and the daughter, which showed she was the mother of the girl, and that the girl is [Baghdadi's] daughter, based on DNA from Baghdadi from Iraq."[79][81]

Al-Monitor reported a Lebanese security source as saying that al-Dulaimi had been under scrutiny since early 2014. He said, "[Jabhat al-Nusra] insisted back in March on including her in the swap that ended the kidnapping of the Maaloula nuns. The negotiators said on their behalf that she was very important, and they were ready to cancel the whole deal for her sake," adding, "It was later revealed by Abu Malik al-Talli, one of al-Nusra's leaders, that she was Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's wife."[82]

On December 9, 2014, al-Dulaimi and her current Palestinian husband Kamal Khalaf were formally arrested after the Lebanese Military Court issued warrants and filed charges for belonging to a terrorist group, holding contacts with terrorist organizations, and planning to carry out terrorist acts. Her freedom was offered in a hostage swap deal.[83]


According to a source interviewed by The Guardian, al-Baghdadi married in Iraq in around 2000 after finishing his doctorate. He had a son soon after, aged 11 years old in 2014.[11]

A four- to six-year-old girl who was detained in Lebanon in 2014 is allegedly al-Baghdadi's daughter.[79]


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External links

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
Worldwide Caliphate
Born: 1971 Died: N/A
Salafi titles
Preceded by
Hussein bin Ali, Sharif of Mecca
First Caliph of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
Succeeded by

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