By Ameen Izzadeen
Quashing rumours about his death, terrorist leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi appeared in a video clip released by the ISIS – the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The terror incorporate is also known as IS or Islamic State, implying that its reach is global. In the video message, al-Baghdadi was heard to say that the Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka were a revenge for the group’s defeat in Syria’s Baghouz region, the fall of which ended the so-called ISIS-caliphate which he declared in 2014.
After crowning himself as the Khalifah or Caliph of the Muslim world, he urged the Muslims to swear allegiance to him and invited Muslims around the world to migrate to the new state.
Barring a few, the world over the Muslims denounced him as a dangerous terrorist. The misguided few, who were taken up by al-Baghdadi’s initial successes, saw him as a modern day Saladin, the legendary Muslim hero during the crusades.
In its determination to overthrow the Bashar al-Assad’s regime, the West turned a blind eye when some of its Muslim citizens moved to Syria and joined ISIS and other terror groups. These battle-hardened terrorists, upon their return, pose a major security threat to their native countries, as they are linked up through a cyber-terrorism network. A question arises as to why the world’s best intelligence agencies have failed to hack this network and go after ISIS members worldwide. Their failure also raises a question as to whether the ISIS serves someone else’s interest.
Certainly, the ISIS does not represent Islam. Al-Baghdadi and his group have only brought insult to Islam. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s real name is Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al-Badri. It was unfortunate, that he sullied the good name of Islam’s first Caliph Abu Bakr to lead his terror group. Caliph Abu Bakr was a pious ruler and, was credited with presenting Islam’s version of the social contract, centuries before Britain’s Magna Carta in 1215.
On the contrary, terror-incarnate al-Baghdadi has chosen to ignore Islam’s humanitarianism. In Iraq, Syria and other countries, ISIS has killed tens of thousands of Muslims. The group even wanted to destroy the Ka’bah, Islam’s holiest monument in Makkah. The ISIS is as an enemy to Muslims as it is to the rest of the humanity. Its evil doctrine attracts only the fanatics and the frustrated people brainwashed by its depressive narratives on the status of the Muslim world and the boast that only ISIS can restore Islam’s glory.
But what is ISIS? The more we ponder on this question, the more we become firmer in the view that it was a mercenary force.
It did not emerge out of nothing. The circumstances that led to its emergence were created by the United States’ 2003 invasion of Iraq, a country that had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks.
Blame President George W. Bush for creating this evil. The then Arab League Secretary General Amr Mousa warned Bush that a US war on Iraq would “open the gates of hell”. Open it did. The demons have escaped and are wreaking havoc. But they are cowards, for their victims are often unarmed civilians.
The ISIS came into the scene around 2011 at a time when the US was ending its combat operations in Iraq and Syria was being plunged into a civil war.
Terror leader al-Baghdadi was born in 1971 in Samara, Iraq. He has a PhD in Islamic studies from the Islamic University of Baghdad. Certain events associated with al-Baghdadi’s life raise serious questions. He was picked up by US forces in Fallujah in 2004 and sent to heavily guarded prisons as a ‘civilian detainee.’ He was allowed to mingle with hardcore al-Qaeda members. He succeeded in taming the unruly prisoners while he served less than a year in prison.
After his release, he joined the al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. After al-Zarqawi was killed in 2006 in a US military operation, the group remained defunct for five year until al-Baghdadi claimed its leadership in 2011. Under his leadership, the AQI emerged stronger, with thousands of Saddam Hussein’s jobless soldiers joining the group. A series of success stories followed. Chief among them was the attack on the heavily guarded Abu Ghraib jail where the crème of the AQI fighters had been detained. Al-Baghdadi freed them all – about 500 prisoners — and transported them in pickup trucks to Syria. Their arrival in Syria changed the ground situation in favour of the AQI. He then urged all Syrian groups to come under his command and warned of attacks if they did not comply. Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch, defied the order and complained to the al-Qaeda leadership. Al-Baghdadi broke his ties with al-Qaeda and renamed the organisation as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
The US and Gulf Arab nations had supplied heavy weapons to various Syrian rebel groups. Soon, they ended up with ISIS. This enabled the group to capture Iraq’s Mosul and surrounding areas. Having captured large Syrian and Iraqi territories, ISIS declared its caliphate in 2014. Yet, the US showed no urgency to deal with the ISIS threat, because the ISIS was fighting the common enemy — the Assad regime. Besides, the group also enjoyed the covert support of the US allies in the region.
The US war on ISIS began only after the terror group’s atrocities hit world headlines. They included gang rapes of women. The US war also came after Iran, the Hezbollah and Russia entered the Syrian war and put ISIS on the run.
In this international war on ISIS, civilians have become the biggest casualty, as ISIS makee them human shields. Last week, Amnesty International said that in the US attack on ISIS capital, Raqqa, some 1,600 civilians died.
Middle East analysts have questioned Israel’s role in the Syrian war. Some allege Israel, which, like the West, wants Assad ousted, had acted as ISIS air force, often hitting Syrian, Iranian and Hezbollah positions. It is also said the wounded extremists were treated in Israeli hospitals across the border. The ISIS’s lack of interest in the Palestinian freedom cause is also intriguing, these analysts point out.
Al-Baghdadi’s latest video message and warnings of a global jihad give the US the excuse to stay put in the Middle East and expand its military presence to other parts of the world, just as it did after the 9/11 attacks. Already in Sri Lanka, opposition politicians see the danger of foreign troops, under the cover of fighting ISIS terror, establishing themselves in the country, a strategic location in the Indian Ocean.
Sri Lanka faces the urgent need to wipe out ISIS terrorism from the country. Our military forces who know the terrain, the people and the cultural and religious sensitivity of the crisis, are capable of dealing with the ISIS threat. They are doing a great job. We hope other nations prosecuting the global war on terror will be as determined as our soldiers in wiping out ISIS.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka on May 3, 2019)