Al Baghdadi’s death will not signal the end of ISIS

Reported death of terrorist leader would be welcome but would not mean the group no longer poses a threat.

There are those who pretend they are destined for greatness but did not quite make it. Adolph Hitler launched the ‘1000-year Reich’ that lasted 985 years short of its goal. Golfer Tiger Woods’ career nosedived after it was discovered he was a serial philanderer. Donald Trump claims ‘great and unmatched wisdom’ (enough said).

Then there is Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, the now (apparent) ex-leader of the terrorist group Islamic State (ISIS), dead after a US-led raid in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, although he may have killed himself (details are sketchy at this point).

If true, the head of a heinous terrorist group is dead and that is indeed good news (a dead terrorist is a good terrorist as I always say).

A fairly recent photo of Al Baghdadi (Photo: AP)

Al Baghdadi’s failed greatness is linked to his announcement on June 29, 2014 that he was ‘Caliph’ of the ‘Islamic State’. This position, and the polity it goes with (the Caliphate) is of primordial importance to the world’s Muslims.

For centuries there was indeed a semi-unified Islamic dominion headed by a Caliph, a term that referred originally to the successor to the Prophet Muhammad. There were several instantiations over the years and the last recognised Caliphate was dissolved along with the Ottoman Empire after WWI.

Baghdadi addressing crowd in Mosul, 2014
Al Baghdadi announcing the Caliphate and asking for the allegiance of the world’s Muslims (Photo: AFP)

That Al Baghdadi saw himself as religious inspiration for more than one billion Muslims, and demanded their fealty, is laughable, especially given the form of Islam ISIS practiced. I do not think that anyone aside from ISIS members saw him as such, although some half-wits did travel from far and wide to live under the tutelage of the self-styled Caliph.

And now he is apparently dead. So what does this all mean for ISIS and for Islamist extremism writ large? Hard to say. I do know we will get all kinds of speculation in the days to follow as to who is next in line to take over, just as Cold War analysts used to study Kremlin photos to suss out the next leader of the Soviet Union. We shall see who assumes the mantle of power.

More importantly, does Al Baghdadi’s death really matter?

In one sense it probably does as he was a charismatic man whose messages and exhortations to violence did inspire thousands. We may get lucky and his replacement may be the equivalent of Ayman al Zawahiri, the man who replaced Al Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden when he got killed in 2011. Al Zawahiri could not inspire a starving person to eat, that is how uncharismatic he is.

Ayman al Zawahiri, trying (futilely no doubt) to make a point (Photo: AFP)

But the AQ story provides us with a sober lesson. Just as that terrorist group has thrived since bin Laden’s demise so may ISIS. Regardless of who is on top next there are tens of thousands of core ISIS members, some of whom may plan attacks in revenge for Al Baghdadi’s murder, tens of thousands of ISIS terrorists in affiliates around the world, and untold thousands of ISIS ‘inspired’ and wannabes, few of whom are going to cash in their chips because of the loss of the ‘Caliph’. In short, ISIS is probably as dangerous now as it was 24 hours ago.

Still good riddance to bad rubbish.

Abu Bakr al Baghdadi was an evil man and he will not be missed. If there is a god he has a lot to answer for (i.e. no paradise and no virgins for him: probably the opposite as The Onion so brilliantly lampooned after 9/11 for the AQ hijackers).

Will Trump benefit from this? I hope not. The so-called US President has done so much damage on so many fronts that he still deserves impeachment. Besides, he played absolutely no role in this operation, which is a testimony to US special forces who do their best to identify, track and eliminate terrorists, whether the man in the Oval Office is Donald Trump or Donald Duck.

Three cheers for those who eliminated a senior Islamist terrorist! Unfortunately there is still much to do.