Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Friday, December 13th, 2019

Al-Baghdadi’s Death – Not a Death Knell for ISIL

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Al-Baghdadi’s Death – Not a Death Knell for ISIL

US President has confirmed the death of the self-styled ISIL chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. His death is declared as the ISIL is operating as a decentralized outfit after losing ground in Iraq and Syria. However, its threat still looms large across the region.
Although al-Baghdadi’s death has circulated since 2014, with both the US and Russia claiming at different times to have killed him, Trump’s statement seemed much confident this time.
His demise is likely to deal a strong blow to the ISIL fighters and decrease their morale. It will also splinter the group, but it is not a death knell for the ISIL. The group will operate as an organization rather than a state or caliphate. The ISIL fighters still seek to spread their tentacles across the region despite losing ground, which was another demoralizing fact. After al-Baghdadi’s death, “ISIL affiliates have a chance to switch allegiances or simply not re-pledge their allegiance to Baghdadi’s successor”.
It has been reported that ISIL’s 9-man Shura Council, or leadership group, was expected to meet and appoint a leader from among five candidates. Abu Abdullah al-Jizrawi, a Saudi, and Abdullah Qaradash, an Iraqi and one of Baghdadi’s right-hand men, also a former army officer under Saddam Hussein, and Abu Othman al-Tunisi, are the front runners. With this in mind, al-Baghdadi’s death will have a short-term impact on the ISIL group.
On the other hand, a number of individuals have been radicalized through social media and feared that they will continue their attacks. Malaysian police counter-terrorism chief Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay is cited as saying, “What we are most worried about now are ‘lone wolf’ attacks and those who are self-radicalized through the internet. We are still seeing the spread of IS teachings online. IS publications and magazines from years ago are being reproduced and re-shared.”
It seems that a number of ISIL fighters seek to join other terrorist groups or carry out lone wolf attacks. The world should understand that the fight against ISIL is not over. The group is still able to carry out large-scale attacks. For instance, in Afghanistan, although the group is far from its birthplace or central leadership, it is seeking to recruit fighters from remote villages and tribal belts.
A number of political analysts believe that al-Baghdadi’s death will not make any difference for the ISIL calling it “mostly of symbolic importance” and claim that the group has been “leaderless”. But I believe that al-Baghdadi’s name could put weight behind the group and boost its fighters’ morale. To this end, the group will reel from his death for the time being and may encounter challenges in its recruitment.
Al-Baghdadi may have been a charismatic leader for some ISIL ideologue fighters. With his death, they are likely to shift their allegiance or discontinue their activities. Or ironically, they may seek retaliation for his death, which will be a threatening signal for the United States.
But as far as mercenary fighters are paid, they will continue their terrorist activities under the ISIL group. If al-Baghdadi had played a strong financial role in the group, the ISIL will be weakened to a great extent.
It is also believed that the ISIL leaders, including the 9-man Shura Council, are worried that al-Baghdadi’s death may splinter the group or cause a rift between ideologue and mercenary fighters within the group. His successor will be challenged by his sincere proponents.
Al-Baghdadi’s death will also give a boost to rival armed groups in Syria such as Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham and the Hurras al-Deen group.
In Afghanistan, although the Taliban, who tried to defeat ISIL locally, have shown no overt reaction, they will express their happiness.
Overall, al-Baghdadi’s death will put a negative impact on the ISIL group and its fighters across the region. But it will not stop the group’s threat. The world has to intensify its attacks against the group to dismantle it. Notwithstanding the fact that al-Baghdadi’s death is a good step towards combating terrorism, the threat of regional terrorism is still strong.

Hujjatullah Zia is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan and freelance writer based in Kabul. He can be reached at zia_hujjat@yahoo.com

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