Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was allegedly seriously wounded in a U.S. coalition airstrike in March, has been temporarily replaced by a former Iraqi physics teacher, reports Newsweek.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon denies that al-Baghdadi has been injured, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP).
On Tuesday, the Guardian reported that the ISIS leader had been seriously wounded in an airstrike in Western Iraq. The strike allegedly took place on March 18 in the al-Baaj district of Nineveh, near the Syrian border.
“A source in Iraq with connections to the terror group revealed that Baghdadi suffered serious injuries during an attack by the U.S.-led coalition in March,” declared the Guardian. “The source said Baghdadi’s wounds were at first life-threatening, but he has since made a slow recovery. He has not, however, resumed day-to-day control of the organization.”
“Yes, he was wounded in al-Baaj near the village of Umm al-Rous on 18 March with a group that was with him,” Hisham al-Hashimi, an Iraqi official who advises Iraq on ISIS, told the British daily.
That same official confirmed to Newsweek that Abu Alaa Afri, the ISIS leader’s deputy and a former physics teacher, “has now been installed as the stand-in leader of the terror group in Baghdadi’s absence.”
“After Baghdadi’s wounding, he [Afri] has begun to head up Daesh [arabic term for ISIS] with the help of officials responsible for other portfolios,” Hashimi told Newsweek. “He will be the leader of Daesh if Baghdadi dies.”
ISIS leaders reportedly held urgent meetings after al-Baghdadi was allegedly wounded, believing he was going to die.
Nevertheless, Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters on Tuesday that “there was nothing to indicate” that Baghdadi had been wounded or killed.
The Iraqi official claims that the stand-in leader is more important than Baghdadi himself.
“Yes – more important, and smarter, and with better relationships. He is a good public speaker and strong charisma,” the Iraqi adviser told Newsweek when asked if Afri was more important than Baghdadi. “All the leaders of Daesh find that he has much jihadi wisdom, and good capability at leadership and administration.”
However, Hashimi concluded, “The rise of Afri should not be viewed as the overtaking of Baghdadi as he was installed a ‘supreme leader’ with his generals having the authority to ‘steer the group,’ leading and planning their activities while ensuring the entire leadership ‘communicate on big issues,’” notes Newsweek.
The article adds:
While details about Afri’s personality are limited, the belief is that he leans toward reconciliation with rival extremist group al-Qaeda and its Syrian affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra and prefers that ISIS’s leadership structure is composed half of Arabs and half of foreign members of the group.”
The Guardian points out that two previous reports in November and December that Baghdadi had been wounded were proven inaccurate.
Follow Edwin Mora on Twitter: @EdwinMora83.