Reports from inside the U.S. military intelligence community had ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as good as dead last year, having succumbed to his eternal fate during a bombing raid against an Islamic State stronghold in Syria.
Those reports were never confirmed, however, and now there are conflicting reports that say Baghdadi lived through the near-demise of his caliphate and is currently embarking on a new plan – to recruit schoolchildren to learn and carry on the ISIS ideology.
According to a new story in the Washington Post, Baghdadi summoned ISIS leaders to eastern Syria last year to discuss rewriting the organization’s educational materials in an effort to preserve ISIS’s “ideological core.” This would seem to be an odd concern for a leader who was watching his last remaining strongholds fall to the U.S. military coalition, but then, not much is known about what drives the mysterious leader of the caliphate. As the article notes, Baghdadi has only been publicly photographed once and has only spoken publicly on a rare few occasions since July 2014. He is in some ways the antithesis of Osama bin Laden, who made many recordings for his followers around the Middle East.
Despite this secretive lifestyle (or perhaps because of it) U.S. officials are convinced that Baghdadi is alive to this day.
U.S. counterterrorism officials are convinced that Baghdadi is alive and is helping direct long-term strategy for the dwindling numbers of Islamic State fighters defending the group’s remaining strongholds in eastern Syria. The U.S. view is supported by intelligence intercepts and detainee interrogations, as well as writings and statements by operatives within the terrorist group’s network.
The evidence, while spotty and difficult to confirm, depicts a leader who has opted to make himself invisible, even within his organization — a decision that has drawn complaints from followers and arguably undercuts his ability to rally his beleaguered forces, terrorism experts say.
The true danger of ISIS was never whatever nastiness they were involved in out in the wilds of Syria, except that it gave them a base of operations from which to recruit followers and fill their coffers with untold millions of dollars. The true danger to the West was their international network of terrorism, which continues to be a clear and present threat in France, Germany, and throughout Europe and the Middle East. The true danger came from their ability – limited though it may have been – to infiltrate America’s immigration system and refugee pipeline. The true danger came from their propaganda, which radicalized so many young Muslims.
If Baghdadi is alive, then so is ISIS. Therefore, the threat continues. We must be vigilant not just on the battlefield, but in making sure we know the warning signs of radicalization at home and in the Muslim community. This is no time for us to take our collective eye off the ball. Thank goodness we have a president who recognizes this threat for what it is and won’t allow political correctness to stand in the way of necessary action.