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Is ISIS Leader Baghdadi Still Alive?

What His Death Would Mean for the Group's Survival

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi speaking at the al-Nuri mosque in Mosul, July 2014. Reuters

On June 16, 2017, the Russian military announced that it might have killed the reclusive chieftain of the Islamic State (ISIS), Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in an airstrike in Raqqa. It is working to provide further confirmation. There are many reasons to be skeptical of the claim, including reports that ISIS moved its remaining leadership from Raqqa to Deir Ezzor months ago. And this is far from the first time that Baghdadi has been pronounced dead. Yet even if the rumors prove false, it is still worth considering what his death would mean.

Born in Samarra, Iraq, Baghdadi spent most of 2004 in Camp Bucca, the U.S. military prison in southern Iraq. That turned out to be an opportunity to network with criminals, ex-Baathists, and jihadists, including Abu Muslim al-Turkmani, Abu Louay, and Abu Kassem. Upon their release, Baghdadi and those three formed the core of what evolved into ISIS after Baghdadi helped

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