Articles > > RISE AND FALL

Articles - Addostour - Date: 2019-05-03
By: Oraib Al Rantawi

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's two video appearances were separated by only a short period of less than five years, but it was enough to witness a legend come to life in the rise and fall of the Islamic caliphate state that spread by the bloody sword over mass graves and the rubble of destroyed buildings.
 
As the caliph ascended the pulpit of the an-Nuri Mosque in Mosul to declare the creation of a 'caliphate based on the prophet's [Mohammad's] methodology' in 2014, it was with a heavy, deliberate stride, completely unlike his sluggish demeanor as he mourned his state and caliphate from far away, declared the end of the Battle of al-Baghouz, and eulogized his brothers-in-arms that beat him to 'martyrdom. 
 
Back then, his swift and illustrious territorial conquests left signs all over his face and his resolute stride, showing a man assured of the future and fully confident of victory. In contrast, his latest appearance showed a man weighed down by fatigue and marked by receding hope and confidence, his demeanor a testimony to the scale of his defeat. 
 
The man who occupied and preoccupied the world for five harsh years broke his silence to rally his followers and supporters for a resurgence and to send a message: He is alive, despite dozens of reports of his death or grave injury. He has convinced us that he still eats and sleeps, even if he cannot walk around the market squares, but his aim was also to put an end to the speculation and attempts to succeed or inherit his throne, as he is still in good health, and fatter than ever, and apparently has the time to dye his bushy beard. 
 
He chose to mirror the style of Osama bin Laden: Sitting cross-legged, with a few cushions and an AK-47 automatic rifle from the same class favored by bin Laden propped next to him. That image of bin Laden appeared after al-Qa'ida's defeat in the Afghanistan war, and now Baghdadi's parallel image appears after ISIS's defeat at the hands of dozens of armies, organizations, and groups fighting in the global war on terror. The former came to broadcast his determination to continue jihad, and the latter followed his example, as if to say that he alone is the legitimate successor and sole representative the legacy wrought by bin Laden, al-Qa'ida, and global jihad
 
Perhaps there is a coded message for [current al-Qa'ida head] Zawahiri and his supporters to deconstruct in his references to a terrorist operation of the type and nature of 9/11, if one less complicated and high-tech and with fewer casualties [recent Sri Lanka attacks]. Of course, we need to confirm whether he actually ordered the operation, or whether the man was motivated by nostalgia for the golden age of jihad to take credit for itcompensating for his battlefield losses with the appearances and symbols. 
 
The man's second open message to supporters and detractors, and to friends and foes alike, was that the global jihad has turned the page on state and territorial conquests to begin the chapter of a war of attrition and targeted guerrilla operations. Just as he previously presented himself as the Muslims' leader, calling on all to immigrate to the caliphate state's lands to achieve the honor of jihad and martyrdom, he now presents himself as the leader of jihad's next phase, with new tools and across different fronts.
 
He took care to flip through a pamphlet bearing the title 'The State of Turkey' on camera – does this mean that Turkey will be the new front for the coming jihad, or is it the intended target for guerrilla operations? Turkey should fear the beast it has let out of the bottle with its foolish policies, because this is not a random act or coincidence, but a coded message or signal to engage in terrorist operations against Turkish targets, or at least consider and plan for them, if not yet ready to carry them out. 
 
Whether or not he realizes it, Baghdadi's video also sent a message to Donald Trump that he had prematurely proclaimed victory over ISIS and that the battle against terrorism has not yet come to an end. 
 
The only thing that has changed is the jihad's form, and its means, and perhaps its fronts, but it is still here, and here to stay, even if it is not currently expanding in light of circumstances familiar to us all.