The elusive leader of the Islamic State “caliphate,” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is evidently still alive, despite rumors that his low profile for the past few months might have signaled his death or a serious injury.
There were also rumors of his death on social media and a report that Islamic State leaders from Iraq and Syria were meeting to choose Baghdadi’s successor as caliph.
“In the last few weeks we’ve been aware of some of Baghdadi’s movements,” a U.S. official told CNN on Thursday. The sensitivity of the intelligence he referred to prevented him from providing any further details, including whether he is currently in Syria or Iraq.
However, the official did concede the U.S. didn’t have “real-time” intelligence on his whereabouts and have therefore been unable to dispatch a drone or fighter jet to deliver holiday greetings to the terrorist mastermind. Military commanders have expressed hope that capturing the ISIS capital of Mosul in Iraq might yield information helpful in capturing or killing their leader.
“On December 16, the US increased the reward on Baghdadi from $10 to $25 million for information leading to his capture,” CNN observes. The previous bounty was on par with the reward offered for Taliban leader Mullah Omar, while the new sum makes Baghdadi one of the most wanted men in the world.
On Thursday, Al-Masdar News reported Baghdadi promoted a 40-year-old math teacher called Abu As’ad al-Iraqi from the Mosul suburb of Tal Afar to be “emir” of the city. Abu As’ad’s background as a “prominent leader of Islamic State sleeper cells in Mosul” was cited by a local source as one of his important qualifications for the job.
Baghdadi suffered a major setback this week when Iraqi security forces reported that they had captured his top assistant, Abu Harith al-Matuiti. According to the report, the assistant was taken alive after security forces surrounded his house on the eastern side of Mosul.