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TERROR WARS
Baghdadi 'The Ghost': world jihad's low-profile boss
by Staff Writers
Beirut (AFP) July 11, 2017


Mosul's once-thriving Old City now a grey wasteland
Mosul, Iraq (AFP) July 11, 2017 - Once the beating heart of Iraq's second-largest metropolis, the Old City of Mosul is now a broken wreck, its winding streets piled high with rubble and hardly a building spared from destruction.

After months of gruelling battles to retake Mosul from the Islamic State group, the Old City has become a bleak landscape of gutted buildings, crumbling concrete and pockmarked mosque domes.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared Mosul finally retaken on Monday, as his forces fought to recapture a last sliver of territory still held by the jihadists in the Old City on the west bank of the Tigris River.

But the cost of that victory has reduced a once-thriving urban hub to a grey wasteland.

Residential low-rises that once housed families and shops have been flattened or blasted into empty shells.

Burned-out cars sat on top of each other in craters, as armoured cars, mechanical diggers and ambulances jostled for space on the narrow streets.

The bodies of dead jihadists lay on the road, covered by blankets.

In some buildings, remnants of life remained, once-private domestic scenes exposed when walls were torn away.

A room seems to float above the ruins, a clock hanging from the wall and an indoor plant sitting in a corner. Iron cooking pots and electric kettles sat amid the rubble.

- 'The battle is over' -

On Monday, fighters with Iraq's elite Counter-Terrorism Service were battling to dislodge the last jihadist holdouts from a handful of buildings in the Old City.

Clouds of smoke rose above the city as air strikes hit down, the crackle of gunfire echoing through the streets.

"In reality, the battle is already over," Colonel Salam Jassem Hussein told AFP. "There are only a few groups of terrorists left."

Draining cans of Red Bull, Hussein oversaw the fighting with his arm in a sling after he was wounded in combat. On his neck a bandage used to hide another wound kept coming unstuck in the stifling heat.

Fighters climbed abandoned buildings at his command, taking up positions with sniper rifles and machineguns.

In the courtyard of the ancient Nuri mosque, the venerable building blown up by IS as Iraqi forces advanced, the air filled with an appetising smell as volunteers prepared skewers of meat for Iraqi forces.

They worked just a few steps from where Mosul's iconic leaning minaret -- also destroyed by IS -- once rose over the Old City and a few ancient columns still stood, decorated in calligraphy citing verses of the Koran.

Discreet in his youth and invisible as the world's most wanted man, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was reported dead on Tuesday as his cross-border "caliphate" falls apart.

The reclusive jihadist chief's death was confirmed by "top tier commanders" from his Islamic State group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The 46-year-old Iraqi, nicknamed "The Ghost", has not appeared in public since he delivered a sermon at Mosul's famed Nuri mosque in 2014, declaring himself "caliph".

His attempt to build a jihadist state has since faced major setbacks.

Iraq has declared victory over the jihadists in Mosul. That defeat followed the loss of swathes of territory in Iraq and in Syria, where US-backed forces are pressing an assault on the jihadists' stronghold Raqa.

Baghdadi has been rumoured wounded or killed several times in the past. While he was said to have left Mosul earlier this year, his whereabouts were never confirmed.

- Introvert -

Keeping a low profile -- in contrast to slain Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden -- helped Baghdadi to survive for years despite a $25-million US bounty on his head.

Ibrahim Awad al-Badri came from modest beginnings to became the overlord of a jihadist state ruling millions of inhabitants.

He was born in Samarra, north of Baghdad.

His high school results were not good enough for law school and his poor eyesight prevented him from joining the army.

So he moved to Baghdad to study Islam, settling in the neighbourhood of Tobchi.

After US-led forces invaded Iraq in 2003, he founded his own insurgent outfit.

It never carried out major attacks, however, and by the time he was arrested in February 2004 and detained at the US military's Camp Bucca, he was still very much a second or third-tier jihadist.

- Strategist -

The prison in southern Iraq, later dubbed "the University of Jihad", was where he started showing signs of leadership.

He was released at the end of 2004 for lack of evidence. Iraqi security services arrested him twice subsequently, in 2007 and 2012, but let him go because they did not know who he was.

In 2005, he pledged allegiance to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the brutal leader of the local Al-Qaeda franchise.

Zarqawi was killed by an American drone strike in 2006. After his successor was also eliminated, Baghdadi took the helm of the group in 2010.

He revived the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), later declaring it independent of Al-Qaeda, expanding into Syria in 2013 then launching a sweeping offensive across northern Iraq in 2014.

- 'Rapist' -

Baghdadi had grown up in a family divided between a religious clan and officers loyal to Saddam Hussein's secular Baath party.

Years later, his jihadist organisation was to incorporate ex-Baathists, capitalising on the bitterness many officers felt after the American decision to dissolve the Iraqi army in 2003.

That gave his leadership the military legitimacy he personally lacked and formed a solid backbone of what was to become IS, combining extreme religious propaganda with ferocious guerrilla efficiency.

Uncharismatic and an average orator, Baghdadi was described by his repudiated ex-wife Saja al-Dulaimi, who now lives in Lebanon, as a "normal family man" who was good with children.

He is thought to have had three wives, Asma al-Kubaysi, Isra al-Qaysi -- from Iraq and Syria -- and another, more recently, from the Gulf.

He has been accused of repeatedly raping girls and women he kept as sex slaves, including a pre-teen Yazidi girl and the US aid worker Kayla Mueller, who was subsequently killed.

TERROR WARS
IS chief reported dead after jihadists lose Mosul
Beirut (AFP) July 11, 2017
Islamic State group chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was reported dead on Tuesday, a day after Iraq declared it had driven the jihadists from their one-time top stronghold of Mosul. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a longtime conflict monitor, said it had heard from senior IS leaders that Baghdadi was dead. If confirmed, his death would mark another devastating blow to the jihadist gro ... read more

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