In an unfortunate case of similar last names, Iyad El-Baghdadi, an anti-radicalization activist, was mistaken for the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, by Twitter users and a number of media outlets.
Ironically, El-Baghdadi and the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed Caliph couldn’t be further apart. El-Baghdadi is an intellectual and a fiercely anti-ISIS human rights activist, who recently spoke to the Universal Tolerance Forum, a Norwegian group promoting pluralism and peaceful co-existence, on the subject of preventing radicalisation.
The story appears to have begun when El-Baghdadi began tweeting translated portions of the ISIS leader’s most recent recruitment speech, as part of his ongoing commentary on Middle Eastern issues. The tweets prompted a minor trolling campaign against ISIS, with Twitter users inventing humorous reasons for not joining the Islamic State, including “gotta watch the new Sherlock special” and “just eating xmas cake, then watching EastEnders.”
However, El-Baghdadi soon found that the conjunction of his name with the Islamic State leader’s words was an unfortunate combination. Twitter users quickly began mistaking him for the ISIS leader.
— Dara M Wilson (@DaraMWilson) December 30, 2015
Then it got worse. Republika Online, an Indonesia-based news website with over 750,000 followers on Twitter, published an article that named El-Baghdadi as the ISIS leader. They apologised a number of hours later, and published a follow-up article to clarify.
— Aulia Masna (@aulia) December 30, 2015
El-Baghdadi, a prolific tweeter who rose to prominence during the Arab Spring where he live-tweeted translations of Arabic tweets from protesters in Egypt, appeared to take the mistake in good humour, joking around about the incident with others on Twitter. “To clarify, I’m more amused than outraged,” he told The Independent. “Of course this isn’t the ISIS leader’s account,” he later tweeted. “Everyone knows the Caliph only uses Tinder and Snapchat.”