After months of speculation that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had died, reports suggest the terrorist kingpin is alive but paralyzed by a spine injury.
According to The Guardian, Islamic State militants flew a radiologist and a surgeon from a hospital in Mosul, the major city it controls in Iraq, to treat the leader’s wounds. The newspaper reported that the extent of Baghdadi’s injuries “could mean he will never again lead” the terrorist group.
In his stead, a shady figure named Abu Alaa al-Afri has emerged to assume oversight of the group’s day-to-day operations. A top Iraqi government official told Newsweek that Afri is “smarter” than Baghdadi, “a good public speaker” full of “jihadi wisdom” who once worked as a physics teacher before working his way up through the organization’s ranks. (RELATED: ISIS Makes Absurd Baltimore Solidarity Ploys Online)
Baghdadi, who proclaimed himself as caliph of the Islamic State after conquering Mosul in the summer of 2014, allegedly was struck in a March airstrike. The bombardment was part of the air campaign that the United States is conducting against the group with support from a coalition of European and Arab countries, including Jordan and the U.K.
He has not been seen in public, including by Islamic State propagandists, since declaring the group’s caliphate. So far, Afri has been just as mysterious, so facts about his leadership style or personal background are difficult to verify.
SITE Intelligence Group, a terrorism analysis firm, claims that Afri is willing to cooperate with al-Qaida, from which IS separated in a vehement dispute in early 2014. The division between the two groups has led to intense competition, as each vies for dominance in countries at a remove from IS’ base in Syria and Iraq. (RELATED: ISIS Meets Its Most Formidable Foe: Microscopic Parasites)
The turf war with al-Qaida, as well as its slowed advance in the face of the airstrikes, may have motivated IS’ recent high-profile attacks in places like Libya and Afghanistan, and its recruitment of Nigerian jihadi group Boko Haram into its network.
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