Baghdadi Is Dead. Should We Brace for ISIS 2.0?

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ISIS head Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi as he appeared in a May 2019 video
ISIS head Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi as he appeared in a May 2019 video. Will there be an ISIS 2.0?

ISIS leader and self-styled calif Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead. During a raid by U.S. Special Operations forces on a compound in northern Syria where Baghdadi was hiding out, Baghdadi detonated a suicide vest, killing himself and three of his children he had dragged into a dead-end tunnel where he was cornered by U.S. special forces and their attack dogs.

U.S. President Trump gave details of the two-hour raid in a speech to the nation at 9:30 am EST, in which he praised the U.S. forces as the best in the world.

“Last night was a great night for the United States and the world,” the president said. “The world is a much safer place.”

Trump described how U.S. special forces — none of whom were hurt or killed in the operation — secured the compound, removing 11 children from harm’s way and chasing Baghdadi into a tunnel in the compound.

The president named Baghdadi as a “vicious and violent man who died in a vicious and violent way.” He also called him a  coward, saying he spent his last moments terrified “screaming, crying and whimpering.”

The president recalled some of the more barbaric acts of ISIS — from the beheadings of U.S. journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff to the burning alive of the Jordanian pilot in a metal cage to the death of American aid worker Kayla Mueller, who Baghdadi repeatedly raped and eventually killed.

He noted that some of the ISIS fighters were more like “frightened puppies while some were hardcore killers.” Nonetheless, he said his presidency was committed to fighting ISIS and other terror organizations.

The president thanked the countries of Russia, Turkey, Syria and Iraq as well as the Syrian Kurds for their intelligence cooperation in the operation. He said that the compound had been under surveillance for a couple of weeks and they had been watching Baghdaid’s movements.

Baghdadi’s death was ultimately confirmed through DNA testing. Trump told how Baghdadi’s DNA (which the U.S. was in possession of) was brought with the special forces to the site. The testing took place within 15 minutes of Baghdadi’s death, even though the tunnel in which Baghdadi had escaped into collapsed with the force of the suicide bomb Baghdadi detonated.

Fox News reported that the compound was located near the Turkish border in northwest Syria’s Idlib Province.

On Twitter, Mazloum Adbi, General Commander of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, praised the “historical operation,” saying it was possible due to “joint intelligence work with the United States of America.”

President Trump recently pulled out U.S. Special Forces (numbering between 50-100 personnel) from northern Syria making way for a Turkish invasion some 20-30 kilometers in from the border.

While Turkey claims it needed a “safe zone” (i.e., a zone free from Kurdish fighters and civilians) to resettle Syrian refugees currently in Turkey, commentators pointed out there have been no terror attacks by Kurds against Turkey from the territory since 2012.

After the U.S.retreat, Turkey proceeded to attack Kurdish positions, even using chemical agents against Kurdish civilians, including children.

While the U.S. withdrawal from Syria has drawn mixed reviews across the political aisle, both the withdrawal and the death of Baghdadi raises the question of whether the events will give rise to ISIS 2.0.

At present, the U.S. announced that it will send armored vehicles and combat troops into eastern Syria to secure oil fields from being taken over by ISIS. (Meanwhile, Russia, which is using the American withdrawal to gain prominent in the region, has already accused the U.S. troops of stealing massive amounts of oil from the fields.)

Most importantly, the announcement that the U.S. will secure the oil fields comes with another U.S. revelation that more than 100 ISIS prisoners have already escaped since the Kurds were forced to abandon prisons where they were guarding ISIS fjihadis and fight for their lives against the Turks.

The U.S. negotiated a ceasefire allowing the remaining Kurdish fighters to withdraw from the area.

When it comes to projection of ISIS 2.0, a worst case scenario would see more ISIS prisoners and ISIS families on the loose due to the American and Kurdish withdrawal. There are an estimated 10,000 ISIS fighters and 100,000 ISIS family members that could potential melt back into the region or escape to their countries of origin.

Given the impact that has on the region and at home, it has never been more critical to understand how ISIS operates.

In the video below, counter-terrorism analyst Oz Sultan and Clarion Project’s National Corespondent Shireen Qudosi discuss how ISIS has borrowed from cults and gang recruitment strategies to build out it’s own caliphate.

In a 2016 Congressional hearing on radical Islam, Qudosi asserted that theologically speaking, ISIS borrows from the culture of war left in prophetic legacy during Islam’s early years. That is to say that a terror group like ISIS is not just one thing, it’s a hybrid of several factors. It remains to be seen how this hybrid will manifest as it adapts and responds to current geopolitical events.

From a preventing violent extremism perspective, Qudosi is especially concerned by the type of terrorists the next generation will produce. As she notes:

“We’ve seen the most depraved psychopathy come forward through ISIS. Contrary to what many people think, the type of people who have flocked to ISIS and have in some cases even submitted their resumes and  are not Third World desperados.

Some of these people have come from education and privilege, wealthy families, some born as white Christians in the U.S. working day jobs as school teachers.

It is terrifying to think that right now we have a whole generation of children born to ISIS fighters, children who are in depraved conditions who will grow up with severe mental health issues and be conditioned toward sociopathy at a young age.

What does a generation of terror look like when those children take the helm?”



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