Let’s be honest. The world never thought that Isis was finished when its last vestiges in Syria were eliminated. Although US President Donald Trump said that the terror organization was, for all intense and purposes, ended many gawked but preferred to keep a tight upper lip. They hoped there might be an ounce of truth in what Trump said. False illusion was better than a stark reality, or so it seemed.
All this came tumbling down however when the Isis strongman Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi came on the scene in an 18-minute video sabre-rattling and showing that it is business-as-usual in Isis ranks and in telling the world his murderous outfit is alive and kicking and would go on with its global menace and terror niches. The video, seen on the social media, provided jolt-shocks for two reasons:
Firstly, this was the first time in five years, the world has seen the Isis leader since 2014 when he gave a sermon in Al Nouri Mosque in Mosul, and when the terror organization was at its heights, starting to control swaths of territory from northern Iraq right to north Syria and where Riqa became the capital of the newly-formed Caliphate and regardless of whether anyone recognized it or not. Thus first his absence from view all this time - as many reports suggested he was killed - and then his face all over the media sent many in the world in a terror-frenzy foreboding that all hell-loose was about to break.
Secondly, just as Isis was at the very least seen as winding down, Al Baghdadi was once again knocking on every media outlet and intelligence agency which have been shadowing his footsteps from Iraq to Syria but with no apparent success and practically since the time he made his first in appearance on the world-stage. He frustrated everyone and it was as if he was once-again robbing many, the Americans, Arabs, the Russians and even Israelis of their victories and gains. But that was Baghdadi, who seemed to be always one step ahead of his interlocutors as one American soldier turned writer by the name of Brett Velicovich has said.
The timing of his appearance this time, albeit on video, is significant because it shows that the terror organization despite its defeat in Syria and previously in Iraq and not withstanding its new kill guerrilla strategy and despite the incarceration of many Isis fighters has not lost its old, murderous, terroristic steam and that it will now go on to fight on a global level.
While many would suggest this is hogwash and the snake-bites had long become ineffective, there was a chill when Abu Baker Al Baghdadi confirmed his terror outfit was behind the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka in which over 250 were killed and the more than 500 injured. Global terrorism was back in action at its most horrific. Sri Lanka was a shock to the world not only because of the killings but because of the coordination of the bombings across different churches and hotels which meant there was a sense of an acute professional calculations in the mayhem.
Although Isis has claimed responsibility soon after the killings, the appearance of Baghdadi to confirm the blasts brought cold twinges of the bloody, fearful, terroristic way Isis deals with people. This includes the murders Isis have been noted for not only in Syria and Iraq where Yazdi women were made into sex slaves but in Europe, in France and Belgium, in Afghanistan, Philippines and Indonesia not to say anything about the Arab countries like Yemen, Tunisia and Libya when slaughters were made on camera, video and the social media.
ISIS, an acronym for Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and went several name changes, has a bloodthirsty tone to it because of its almost hissing, slicing sound. It has lived up to the tale couching up its standing, along a takfiri ideology that sought to appeal to the alienated and down-and-outs in Europe and in places like Nigeria, Mali, Somalia and various other African countries where extremist Isis groups mushroomed under different names and carried bloody attacks in hubs like Kenya.
This is the strength of Isis its leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi still believes in and can bank on. It is a belief also couched in his own warped ideology that was slowly developed over the years when he was educated in extremist thought beginning in his university days and eventually ending as a supporter of Al Qaeda and its self-styled leader Osama Bin Laden. Maybe there was a psychological bent to all this for the news Baghdadi whose real name is Ibrahim Awaad Ibrahim Al Badri, coming from a small town north of Baghdad called Samarra and where he was a mosque breacher who always believed in fundamentalist Salafi Islam.
Many, indeed analyzing the videotape suggested he was seeking to emulate the late terror master and whose fate was sealed in 2010 when the Americans bombed his house in Pakistan. But Baghdadi was no match for Ben Laden in temperament with an impulsive twitch judging from the style of executions he ordered to be carried out.
As well, Isis and Baghdadi had already eclipsed Al Qaeda and no longer under its wings especially after 2014 when it became more expansive and outreaching with nobody and no one capable of stopping it. After all, it had taken over Mosul and north Iraq almost effortlessly sending the Baghdad army soldiers scouring for their lives.
However, today all this appears to be chip-chopping. It seems that with the changing international politics the fate of Baghdadi is catching up with him despite his playful tactics to keep underground and of what must be said as his charisma in rallying the crowd. Baghdadi known as Mr Ghost for his talent for disappearing acts as openly stated by those who are trying to catch him could nevertheless be facing his dying days. And this is despite the bloody painful blows his henchmen inflicted on the people of Sri Lanka.
His last surprising appearance could be a double-edged sword. Although Isis, and according to western intelligence still has between 15,000 to 30,000 fighters hauled in northern Syria which is a formidable force in the light of the fact they have been under constant fire from the American-led coalition and the Russians, since 2015, the movement itself is losing its vigor and perhaps panache and bombastic ideology. Many of these men are marred by the frustration of war, the jets and the missiles that lead the to lose their Riqa capital at the end of 2017 and send many of their fighters scurrying to vast territory in north Syria, into Iraq and possibly across Asia and Europe.
This also created splits between extremists, middle-of-the-roaders and moderates over the way to move forward. For the first time Isis has become factionalized in their extremism. And thus the present opposition to Al Baghdadi comes within this fray that was already helped by the fact he was seriously wounded in May 2017 and went out of action for five months.
Hence, the present challenge to his leadership that is coming from his distant cousin Abu Mohammad Al Husseini Al Hashimi and how is described as a senior figure in Isis who is openly rallying supporters and calling for the removal of Baghdadi. Hashimi is thought to represent an “intellectual” trend in Isis who wrote a book on the movement and the way it should be moving forward in the light of its changing circumstances.
So the picture is not hopeful for Al Baghdadi regardless of his recent Kalashnikov-by-his-side image. Although Isis may continue to limp and doodle its way through on the international stage like many other movements before it, the fate of the leadership appears to be sealed if not today then in the not too distant future.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Al Bawaba News.
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