Report: ISIS leader sidelined by spinal injury, possibly spurring appointment of new caliph By JPOST.COM STAFF/05/02/2015
A spinal injury has sidelined Islamic State leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, according to a report by the Guardian.
The leader of the self-styled caliphate, often pictured dressed in black Islamic garb, is said to have suffered the injuries after a US air-strike in Iraq’s north-western region of Nineveh in March and has since retreated to Mosul, the war-torn country’s second largest city which had fallen into the Islamic State group’s possession in June of last year.
The jihadist organization, in control of vast swathes of Iraq as well as Syria, where it is said to have killed over 2,000 people just off the battlefield, is now under the leadership of Abu Alaa al-Afri who is yet to assume the title of caliph, which al-Baghdadi still holds, but is running the the group’s day to day operations. Al-Afri, a former physics teacher who had penned several scientific and religious publications, is a veteran militant who previously had ties to al-Qaida in Mesapotamia, the branch of the notorious terrorist organization from whom the Islamic State group in part grew and eventually separated.
The process of choosing a leader of the caliphate is a complicated one, Middle East expert William McCant told the political blog site Think Progress. “Isis’s Shura council voted for al-Baghdadi for several reasons: his religious credentials, his supposed descent from Muhammad, and his tribal connections,” criteria that al-Afri might not necessarily meet.
However Hisham al-Hashimi, a senior adviser to the Iraqi government, emphasized al-Afri’s potential taking of the reins, suggesting that “he is smart, and a good leader and administrator. If Baghdadi ends up dying, he will lead them,” he added, suggesting that if the terrorist organization is under enough duress given the international campaign against the, an unorthodox decision might be made.
For now the exact circumstances of al-Baghdadi’s health remain obscure. Following the March air-strike in question, the Pentagon has denied having known that al-Baghdadi was present in the area targeted. Meanwhile, on the ground, the natural secrecy maintained by Islamic State members and sympathizers further shrouds reality.
One source quoted by the Guardian had claimed that physicians and doctors with strong allegiances to the Islamic State had been treating al-Baghdadi in a Mosul hospital, and that a group of men, dressed like “Kandaharis”, a possible reference to the style garb worn by veteran mujaheddin who had fought in Afghanistan during the 1980’s, were present as well.
While some reports place Baghdadi in Mosul, more far-fetched hearsay from Iranian and Arab media has suggested a more conspiratorial scenario. Last wekk Iran’s state FARS news, quoting two Iraqi media outlets, claimed that al-Baghdadi had somehow been transferred to the Israeli Golan Heights, where Israeli surgeons and physicians had declared him clinically dead.
Israeli officials have not responded to these reports.