Jihadi Reactions to Baghdadi’s Death
On October 27, President Donald Trump announced that the United States had killed Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi in a raid in northwestern Syria’s Idlib Province. The responses from jihadi media outlets were mixed. Pro-ISIS outlets expressed skepticism that Baghdadi was killed. They urged their followers to rely only on official ISIS outlets. “We emphasize that the commander of the believers – may Allah preserve him [Baghdadi] – ordered to stick to news issued by the official organs of the State of the Caliphate and avoid anything else. The obligation to adhere to 'official' [ISIS media] was stressed repeatedly in Al Naba' and Al Bayyan Radio,” said pro-ISIS Quraysh Media.
Another prominent pro-ISIS media account, Khayr Al Din Barbarosa, also urged caution in trusting Western media reports but praised Baghdadi’s martyrdom if the news was verified. “Even if it is true, this is the main reason all of the jihad fighters set out for – martyrdom…The jihad will not stop when a certain person dies, even if he was the caliph himself. The important thing is that we verify the [truth of the] news before spreading it, and that we do not rely on the news of the infidels, who seek to spread false rumors in the hearts of the monotheists [ISIS followers] by any means,” the account said.
Other media outlets responded defiantly to the news. They emphasized that jihad “is not founded on men” and said that the so-called caliphate would continue despite Baghdadi’s death. “What the impure Crusaders do not understand with regard to the Muslims' creed, especially that of the jihad fighters, is that jihad in its entirety is not founded on men, but on creed. The creed does not die with the death or killing of men…Islam remained and its banner is still raised, and jihad shall continue until Judgment Day,” said a pro-ISIS channel on Telegram.
But jihadist media outlets linked to al Qaeda, a rival of ISIS in the region, were quick to accept Baghdadi’s death and condemned ISIS as un-Islamic. “How much blood has been shed in the name of his imaginary Caliphate?” posted Sirajuddin Zurayqat, a former al Qaeda-linked official, according to SITE Intel Group.
Accounts linked to Hayat Tahrir al Sham, a former al Qaeda affiliate that controls much of Idlib Province, praised Baghdadi’s death but expressed regret that the group had not killed him first. Al Qaeda outlets circulated a video of prominent Salafi cleric Abdullah al Muhaysini praising Baghdadi’s death. In the video, Muhaysini called Baghdadi’s death “a glorious night in Muslim history” and urged ISIS supporters to join al Qaeda.
On October 28, experts clarified that ISIS had not yet released an official announcement on the death of Baghdadi or his successor. They warned against believing a fake statement naming Abdullah Qardash, a former Iraqi military officer jailed with Baghdadi in the U.S.-run Camp Bucca, a prison camp in Iraq, as ISIS’s new leader.
Some pro-ISIS accounts encouraged supporters to retaliate against the United States in the aftermath of Baghdadi’s death. On October 28, pro-ISIS media outlet Bunat Al Amjad Foundation posted a photo threatening to inflict “the most severe punishment” against American troops.
Western law enforcement and intelligence officials warned of the possibility of retaliation from sympathizers or sleeper cells following Baghdadi’s death. Many countries raised terrorism alert levels in response to the news. On October 28, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security released a statement that said its “operating at a heightened state of vigilance” due to concern of revenge attacks. British intelligence agencies increased monitoring of subjects of interests after the death of Baghdadi. MI5’s response covered around 3,000 individuals with suspected links to ISIS, according to The Guardian.