A Brief History of the Current Head of ISIS

A Brief History of the Current Head of ISIS

Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, head of ISIS

Shamel Dishack, Staff Writer

ISIS* has been grabbing news headlines every day, yet few know the man behind this terrorist group. Known by his nom de guerre (war name) Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, the illusive figure currently heads the Islamist movement through what he envisions to be the ideal Islamic “Sunni” utopia. Highly organized, yet brutal in tactics, his leadership has permitted a regional expansion in the Middle East that has not been witnessed in ages, thus, posing a threat to many nations.

Little is known about who Baghdadi really is. He is believed to have been born in Samarra, Iraq in 1971, by the name of Ibrahim Al Badri Al Samarri. Terrance McCoy reported, in the Washington Post’s “How ISIS Leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi Became the World’s Most Powerful Jihadist Leader,” that Baghdadi is an educated man, obtaining a PhD in Islamic Studies at the Islamic University in Baghdad.

Prior to the collapse of Saddam’s regime in Iraq, Baghdadi operated as a clerk in a mosque in Tobchi. In The Telegraph article “How a Talented Footballer Became World’s Most Wanted Man, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi” Ruth Sherlock reports that Baghdadi was reported to have played for the local mosque’s soccer team, but was later evicted from the mosque and shunned by the village due to his Salafist** beliefs that were seen as extremely radical.

After the U.S. toppled the Republican Guard and Saddam’s regime, Baghdadi became involved in various militant groups, but on a minor scale. However, many speculate that it was his internment in Camp Bucca that sparked his inextinguishable flames of wrath.  The Week reports in its article “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi: The Man Who Would Be Caliph” that after enrolling in a militant group that mounted a defensive measure against encroaching U.S. troops in Iraq, Baghdadi was detained in 2005 by U.S. officials and was sent to Camp Bucca. From there, he came in contact with Al-Qaida operatives.

In 2009, Baghdadi was handed over to Iraqi authorities, which was followed by his release from custody. After he was set free, Al Baghdadi started receiving parts of the mantle of leadership over the Al Qaeda branch in Iraq/Mesopotamia (Jamāʻat al-Tawḥīd wa-al-Jihāddi), which at the time became fragmented after Zarqawi (the founder of Al Qaeda in Iraq/Mesopotamia and a key figure in establishing the Islamic State in Iraq) was killed in 2006. He became especially well known when Omar Al Baghdadi, Zarqawi’s successor, was killed in an air strike in 2010, thus, leaving a power vacuum for Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi to claim in the Islamic State in Iraq (ISI). Rising through ranks and gaining prestige, Baghdadi’s actions and zealot beliefs came to the attention of Al Qaida officials. WGN TV’s Mark Suppelsa reported in his article “The Invisible Sheik: Who is ISIS Leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi?” that Baghdadi eventually developed animosities against Al Qaeda, thus, leading the leaders themselves to ostracize him from Al Qaida later on throughout Baghdadi’s reign.

The Syrian Loophole

For a period of time, Al Baghdadi and ISI remained active on a margined scale, operating with congruency to other groups in the region (Iraq mostly). However, it was the Syrian uprising in 2011 that gave ISI the kick that it needed. Changing the name to ISIS/ISIL, by 2013, Baghdadi plunged into his personal definition of Jihad and developed a thirst for conquest. Through his tactics and reputation, ISIS gathered a large array of supporters. His decision to dispatch armed forces to Syria defied Al Qaida’s proposition, which was to leave Syria for the Al Nusra Front and other Al Qaida affiliated groups. Currently a vital force in the civil war, ISIS seems to be targeting both the government, the Free Syrian Army, and other sub-rebel groups that differ from its goals or loyalty.

ISIS under Baghdadi

The rapid growth of ISIS/ISIL has anchored the Middle East in a harbor of chaos and oblivion. Baghdadi’s belligerent and brutal approaches towards any resisting populace, specifically the Shii’s, moderate/ other Sunnis, and non-Islamic entities, has caused the organization to be feared by regional and international powers in addition to other Islamist groups. Through careful financial and strategic moves, ISIS has maintained a stable extension of power throughout its campaign, allowing it to exploit the surrounding regions for land and profit, finance its operations very effectively, and successfully execute its agenda.

Baghdadi has displayed his ability to make an impact on the Middle East. To achieve full completion of his personal agendas, Baghdadi and his organization have caused a schism that separated them from Al Qaida. According to Trackingterrorism.org’s “ISIS: Rifts Between ISIS and Other Terror and Rebel Groups,” Baghdadi regarded Zawahiri (current head of Al Qaida) as a man without proper navigation, as his aim deviates from Osama Bin Laden’s, which was regarded as the righteous path by Baghdadi and previous figures in the Islamic State.

ISIS has also exponentially grown in influence, regional space, and numbers in recent years. In terms of goals, Trackingterrorism.org’s “Islamic State of Iraq and Ash Sham/Islamic State (Islamic State of Iraq, ISIS or ISIL, IS)” states that Baghdadi hopes to expand upon his own personal form of Caliphe (Islamic State) to embody the Arabian Peninsula, hence, uniting the Middle East under a banner of what he believes Islam stands for.

From an economic standpoint, ISIS is extremely wealthy in resources and finances. Luay al-Khatteeb’s article “How Iraq’s Black Market in Oil Funds ISIS” from CNN, states that Baghdadi has made ISIS a lucrative organization through the crude oil and weapons black markets. According to the New York Time’s “How ISIS Works,” by occupying oil fields in Iraq, it is estimated that ISIS’s oil revenue has reached $1-2 million per day. It is also necessary to state that the weapons market also makes up a huge sum of the revenue that is generating this war machine.

Whether the organization is called ISIS or ISIL, Baghdadi’s legacy remains unscathed at this time.  While ISIS has gripped the whole Arabian Peninsula by its heels, we cannot stand back while this threat pulls the Peninsula to another age of conflict. A threat to the commonwealth of Islam and many nations in the Middle East, Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi must be looked at with a stronger scope, in order to reveal more about his life, legacy, and possibly future intentions.


*ISIS stands for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. However, the term ISIL It is a more accurate representation of the area that is meant to embody the organization’s vision. The L stands for Levant, a region that accumulates Syria and surrounding regions, such as Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, and Israel.

** Salafist is a movement that epitomizes the earliest practices of Islam and interpretations of the Islamic holy book of Quran, but simultaneously advocates the implementation of a religious orthodoxy that would cleanse the religion of all wanted misrepresentations.