Where is ISIS’s Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi?

A veil of mystery surrounds Baghdadi and other ISIS leaders, even to other members

Raed Omari

Published: Updated:

There has been no revelation about the whereabouts of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), since his appearance in June 2014 preaching in a mosque in the Iraqi city of Mosul. This, and the fact that there are only two authenticated photos of him, have earned him the nickname “the invisible leader.”

Following rumors about his death in May this year, Baghdadi released an audio message in which he emphasized his group’s advances. Had there been no rumors of his death, he would probably not have released the message. Iraqi officials had said they hit a convoy carrying Baghdadi and other ISIS leaders, but then the Iraqi military said it could not confirm the killing. The recording was not only a response to the Iraqis, but a morale booster for his fighters.


However, Baghdadi did not do the same in October, when there were rumors of his death and critical injury following a U.S.-led airstrike against an ISIS base in the western Iraqi province of Anbar. Why did he remain silent? Certainly to ensure that he could not be tracked down.

A veil of mystery surrounds Baghdadi and other ISIS leaders, even to other members.

Raed Omari

After all, the showmanship of the former leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, led to his location and death by U.S. bombing in 2006. A veil of mystery surrounds Baghdadi and other ISIS leaders, even to other members.

None of the group’s leaders appeared to praise its attacks in Paris or its bombing of a Russian plane over the Sinai, except for letters circulated on the internet. They know that ISIS-held territories are not safe for them, because the brutality of their rule means most people would readily provide information on their whereabouts if they knew them.

Plus, ISIS is surrounded by enemies, including the Kurds, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), and even Al-Qaeda’s Jabhat al-Nusra. Moreover, ISIS leaders do not have the advantage of Afghanistan’s caves and mountains, in which Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders hid.

Given the multiple ways in which ISIS leaders are being tracked down, the group’s central command must have developed a complicated system for their protection. However, it is uncertain for how long such a system will remain effective given the renewed international determination to eliminate ISIS.

Raed Omari is a Jordanian journalist, political analyst, parliamentary affairs expert, and commentator on local and regional political affairs. His writing focuses on the Arab Spring, press freedoms, Islamist groups, emerging economies, climate change, natural disasters, agriculture, the environment and social media. He is a writer for The Jordan Times, and contributes to Al Arabiya English. He can be reached via raed_omari1977@yahoo.com, or on Twitter @RaedAlOmari2

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.