WASHINGTON – He’s regarded by some as a rising star in the ranks of al-Qaida, but Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, also known as Abu Dua, the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, could end up on the terminal path of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi over his ruthlessness and desire to take more control, sources report.
Ayman al-Zawahiri has been the acknowledged leader of al-Qaida since Osama bin Laden’s demise, but Baghdadi has shown open defiance by challenging Zawahiri’s leadership.
The last al-Qaida upstart to be in a similar position was Zarqawi, a Jordanian who was killed in 2006 by U.S. forces in Iraq, possibly tipped off by al-Qaida itself to eliminate the rogue fighter, U.S. and foreign analysts have told WND.
Zarqawi headed the Jamaat al-Tawid wal-Jihad al-Qaida in Iraq and was known for his ruthlessness, especially in killing other Muslims and instigating bombings and beheadings during the Iraq war.
He personally cut off the head of businessman Nick Berg, a U.S. citizen whose decapitation was videotaped and distributed.
Zawahiri was No. 2 in al-Qaida at the time and had warned Zarqawi about his unrestrained brutality, which was turning the Iraqi population against al-Qaida.
Sources suggest to WND that Baghdadi may be heading in the same direction. In a very short time, Baghdadi has displayed leadership in increasing attacks in Syria and throughout Iraq.
According to the Pentagon, al-Qaida’s attacks in Iraq have increased from 75 a week in early 2012 to almost double of 140 attacks a week across Iraq by October 2012. Fighting has only intensified since then.
Baghdadi recently led the most recent attacks in Fallujah and Ramadi in Sunni-dominated Anbar province.
The Iraqi army soldiers, who had been trained by U.S. troops when they were in Iraq, were defeated. Local residents talked about convoys of al-Qaida waving their black flags and saying that Fallujah, which was the location of some of the most bitter fighting by U.S. Marines, once again was in the hands of al-Qaida.
With an FBI reward of $10 million for his capture or death, Baghdadi’s notoriety has made him second only to the $25 million reward for Zawahiri himself.
According to the FBI rap sheet, Baghdadi, or Abu Dua, was responsible for “managing and directing AQI large-scale operations, such as AQI’s Aug. 28, 2011, attack on the Umm al-Qura mosque in Baghdad which killed prominent Suni lawmaker Khalid al-Fahdawi.”
“In a statement eulogizing Osama bin Laden,” the FBI wanted poster continued: “Abu Du’a threatened violent retaliation for bin Laden’s death. Abu Du’a claimed responsibility for an attack in Hilla, Iraq, that killed 24 policemen and wounded 72 others. On 15 August 2011, a wave of AQI suicide attacks began in Mosul, Iraq, which culminated in over 70 deaths. Shortly thereafter, Abu Du’a pledged on AQI’s website to carry out 100 attacks across Iraq in retaliation for bin Laden’s death.”
Baghdadi is said to be 42 and from Samarrah, just north of Baghdad. According to FBI records, his real name is Ibrahim Ali al-Badri. In 2005, he apparently was picked up in a U.S. forces sweep and jailed at the U.S.-run Camp Bucca in southern Iraq.
Michael Knights, an Iraqi expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Reuters in an interview that Baghdadi had been at Camp Bucca for several years, making him a threat then as an al-Qaida fighter in Qaim.
“Abu Dua was connected to the intimidation, torture and murder of local civilians in Qaim,” according to a Pentagon document. “He would kidnap individuals or entire families, accuse them, pronounce sentence and then publicly execute them.”
Despite the rap sheet, he was released in 2009 when thousands of suspected insurgents were granted amnesty as the U.S. began to wind down its activities in Iraq.
Baghdadi apparently returned to fight again for al-Qaida, assuming a leadership role after other al-Qaida leaders had been eliminated.
“Baghdadi is actually more capable than the man he took over from,” Knights said. “It’s one of those unfortunate situations where taking out the previous leadership has made things worse, not better.”
The State Department confirms that Baghdadi now is located in Syria and appears to be orchestrating attacks in both Syria and Iraq with the hope of establishing a single al-Qaida caliphate in both countries.
Last June, an audio message attributed to Baghdadi surfaced in which he was in an open dispute with Abu Muhammad al-Julani, head of the Jabhat al-Nusra Front, over leadership of al-Qaida fighters from Iraq fighting in Syria.
Baghdadi sought to bring the Nusra Front under his leadership and called the merged entity as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL.
Julani, however, objected to the effort, appealing his dispute with Baghdadi to Zawahiri, who in turn decided against Baghdadi. In a May 23 letter, Zawahiri sought to dissolve the union.
Baghdadi, however, openly defied Zawahiri.
“The Islamic state in Iraq and the Levant remains as long as we have a pulse or an eye that blinks,” Baghdadi reportedly said in the audio message.
He added that the new entity “remains and we will not bargain with it or back down from it until Allah the Almighty raises it above or we die without it.”
Zawahiri also ordered that Abu Khalid al-Suri would oversee resolving the dispute between Baghdadi and Julani “arising from the interpretation of this ruling.” He also said that Suri could set up a Shariah justice court to give a ruling on the case.
Baghdadi not only objected to Zawahiri’s ruling but questioned the authority of Suri, raising further issue whether Suri could rein in Baghdadi, whom sources say appears to have become a renegade commander.
As it now stands, Nusra continues by that name. However, Baghdadi’s ISIL has begun to turn on rival Islamic rebel groups, including Nusra.
In recent days, ISIL captured and then executed some 100 fighters from Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham fighters in the town of Tel Abiad on the border between Turkey and Syria.
The in-fighting has only intensified in the past few weeks, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, between so-called moderates and the more extreme fighters of ISIL.
Baghdadi isn’t just a potential threat to leadership of al-Qaida but also to U.S. interests, having been a jailed by U.S. forces during the U.S. occupation of Iraq.
In furthering his efforts to take revenge for the death of bin Laden, who was killed by U.S. SEALs in May 2011, Baghdadi in an audio tape warned: “You will see the mujahideen (holy warriors) at the heart of your country. Our war with you has only started now.”