There are rumors the spiritual and political leader of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the so-called “caliph,” was seriously injured in an October airstrike conducted by Iraqi forces.
According to Iran’s FARS news agency, Baghdadi was nearly killed by the airstrike, received medical treatment in Turkey, and has now fled to Libya, where ISIS has been expanding its brutal empire.
All of this should be taken with as many grains of salt as a healthy diet will permit, because Iran would very much like to spread embarrassing stories about Turkey secretly giving the leader of ISIS a helping hand. The only thing Iran would like better is to implicate the Americans in a plot with the Turks to keep Baghdadi alive, and that is exactly what the FARS report does.
The Iranian account begins by citing widely-circulated reports about Baghdadi moving between the Islamic State capital of Raqqa in Syria and its Iraqi stronghold of Mosul, dodging airstrikes from the Syrian regime, the United States, the Iraqi military, and now the Russians. The Iraqis are thought to have hit his convoy while Baghdadi was en route to a meeting with ISIS commanders near Mosul.
“The notorious terrorist leader escaped the attempt on his life narrowly, but with fatal injuries,” writes FARS. “Few hours after the assault, the spokesman of Iraq’s joint forces declared that Al-Baghdadi was injured in the Iraqi airstrike on his convoy and was taken away from the scene by his forces.”
“The terrorist leader was first transferred to Raqqa, where surgeons saved his life but failed to give him a thorough treatment due to a lack of specialized medical equipment,” the report continues. “Sources disclosed a few days later that the ISIL leader had been taken to Turkey for treatment through a series of coordination measures by the CIA.”
Apparently this joint CIA-Turkish effort was successful, and once he was out of intensive care, Baghdadi fled for Libya and the ISIS stronghold of Sirte to continue his recuperation because, as a Libyan source told FARS, “while everyone is looking for him in Iraq and Syria, no one expects him to be in Sirte.”
The Libyan source asserted that Sirte “would be the last place on Earth for his life to be endangered as it is the safest Takfiri stronghold in the world.” Takfiri, which means “apostate,” is a favored Iranian word for the Islamic State; it is a Sunni Muslim term the Shiite Iranians, appropriated for taunting purposes.
It is a bit of a stretch to call Sirte the “safest stronghold” of ISIS, but it is not getting pounded with multi-national airstrikes the way other Islamic State cities are, and it does seem like the city—which was both the hometown of former Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi and the scene of his demise—has fallen more firmly into ISIS hands. Whatever else the Iranians are trying to claim, Sirte is not wholly implausible as a resort for a wounded Baghdadi.
“Earlier this month, Islamic State reopened schools in the city, segregating students by gender and strictly enforcing an Islamic State approved curriculum,” the Wall Street Journal reported two weeks ago. “On Fridays, the traditional day of communal prayer, the group organizes public lectures and residents are often herded into public squares to witness executions and lashings of those who run afoul of the strict rules.”
Sirte is also the location where ISIS has reportedly begun putting together an air force, using captured Syrian and Iraqi jets, state-of-the-art simulators for both civilian and military aircraft they somehow obtained.