*** Immediate Intelligence Bulletin ***
July 11, 2017
Arab News Platforms Echo Reports ISIS Leader Dead
According to information echoed on July 11, 2017 on some Arab news platforms. ISIS will soon announce the death of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
A platform associated with ISIS echoed – yet did not confirm – the report.
In addition, the Director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights quoted by the Al Arabiya news network confirms the information.
Yet as of the time this report was published, no formal announcement has been made by ISIS.
In June 2016, the Russian Defense Ministry posted on its Facebook page that it was checking information that Baghdadi was killed in the strike on the outskirts of Al-Raqqa in Syria. This was the Russian announcement: “On May 28, after drones were used to confirm the information regarding the location and time of the meeting of IS leaders, between 00:35 and 00:45 Russian air forces launched a strike on the command point where the leaders were located.” On another occasion, the Deputy of the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry announced that it is very likely that Al-Baghdadi was killed in the area of the city of Al-Raqqah in Syria in late May 2017. The Russian announcements were never confirmed by other factors, and ISIS kept a total silence on that matter.
It should be noted that according to Iraqi news platform, ISIS has moved to suffocate any hints or rumors supporting the information that Al Baghdadi was killed. For example, reportedly ISIS executed a cleric and senior IS member named Abu Qutaiba in ISIS’S stronghold in Tal’Afar in western Iraq because he hinted that Al Baghdadi had been killed. According other information, ISIS has distributed paper leaflets in areas under its control, threatening that any person who hints that Al Baghdadi is dead will be beaten 50 times. The sources for this information are unknown. However, it should be noted that the platform publishing the information is known to have access to reliable sources in the area of western Iraq.
It should be mentioned that it is not the first-time Arab news platforms report that Al Baghdadi has been killed. For example, in September 2014, Arab news platforms echoed reports arguing the alleged killing of Al Baghdadi. Some even published photo of Al Baghdadi’s alleged dead body.
It should also be stated that the reports about Al Baghdadi’s alleged death are published one day after the Iraqi Prime Minister announced that Iraq terminated ISIS’ rule over the city of Mosul. Thus, one cannot exclude the possibility that these reports are psychological warfare on behalf of the Iraqi government aiming to further demoralize ISIS militants. In that context, for example, an Iraqi senior officer reputedly claimed that dozens of ISIS militants were killed as they were trying to escape Mosul by swimming in Dajla River.
As of the time this report is being published the information regarding Al Baghdadi’s death is unconfirmed.
However, the fact that the Director of the Syrian Observation Center for Human Rights confirms the information, strongly supports the possibility that the information is accurate and that Al Baghdadi is indeed dead.
It is likely that the organization has kept silent thus far regarding the fate of its leader because it is trying to avoid demoralization among the ranks of its militants, especially given the fact ISIS is on the run as the military pressure on ISIS in Iraq and Syria mounts. This has resulted in the shrinking of the areas it controls and a significant loss of militants.
Another possible explanation for ISIS’ silence is that ISIS’ highest body of leadership, Majlis As-Shurah (The Advisory Council) needed time to nominate Al-Baghdadi’s replacement.
If Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi is indeed dead, it is possible that ISIS will change its policy of silence and acknowledge the reports for two major reason:
First, Islamist militant groups glorify the concept of Istishhad (Martyrdom). If the reports are accurate, ISIS may try to raise the morale of its militants by glorifying the death of its leader, thus demonstrating that the concept of Martyrdom applies to all ISIS members equally.
Second, acknowledging the death of its leader will enable ISIS to convey the message that though they are on the run, the organization, its strength, and endurance stems from ideology and vision, and is not dependent upon the fate of its leader.
Assuming Al Baghdadi is dead, it is likely that his death will further deepen ISIS’ dire situation.
One cannot exclude the possibility that such process will be encompassed with a power struggle within ISIS.
Further developments on that matter need to be watched closely.