Who Leads ISIS? Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi Deliberately Keeps Out Of The Spotlight

The world received a chilling reminder on Wednesday that ISIS' brutality extends far beyond its fighters in Iraq and Syria. In the video, a group of Algerian ISIS supporters pledge their allegiance to ISIS and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as they apparently behead French tourist Hervé Gourdel. The group's rare mention of ISIS' mysterious leader raises the question: Just who is the perpetrator behind the terror group?

Nicknamed "the invisible sheikh," Baghdadi carefully maintains a shadowy presence for very deliberate reasons. According to BBC's Security Correspondent, Frank Gardner, the terror leader does not want to repeat his predecessor Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi's mistake. Zarqawi kept a much higher profile and was eventually located by U.S. troops, who killed him in 2006.

While Baghdadi has not appeared in any of the group's videos, he was mentioned in the Algerian militants' video. In the segment, the men claim to belong to Algeria's Jund al-Khilafa (Soldiers of the Caliphate) group. Similar in style and production as the ISIS videos, this one is also aimed at a world leader — in this case, French President Francois Hollande for joining America in launching airstrikes in Iraq. Where the video deviates is when the men directly address ISIS leader Baghdadi, saying:

We are with you... Here are your soldiers fighting those you fight and making peace with those you make peace with.

For a leader who rarely makes public appearances, it's clear that Baghdadi's influence is strong.

  • He was born in Iraq in 1971, making him either 42 or 43.
  • Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is a nom de guerre; his birth name is Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali Muhammad al-Badri al-Samarrai.
  • He adheres to the ultraconservative Wahhabi movement of Sunni Islam.
  • Some experts believe that he became radicalized during his internment at U.S. detention facility Camp Bucca, where Department of Defense records state he stayed for 10 months in 2004, but conflicting reports say he stayed from 2005 to 2009.
  • When he was released from Camp Bucca, where many Al Qaeda commanders were being held, Baghdadi told his captors, "I'll see you in New York."
  • He was appointed leader of the ISI (Islamic State of Iraq), the Iraqi branch of Al Qaeda and an early iteration of ISIS, in May 2010.
  • He rose to prominence when he asserted his dominance over Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who had demanded that ISIS leave Syria to the al-Nusra Front. Clearly, that didn't happen.
  • In October 2011, the U.S. officially designated him a terrorist and issued a $10 million reward for any information leading to his whereabouts.
  • In July 2012, when ISIS was still affiliated with Al Qaeda, Baghdadi released an audio recording announcing, "Soon you will witness them in the heart of your homeland, as our war with you has just begun, and so await them."
  • Even many ISIS fighters reportedly have never seen him.

Images: Mark Gilroy/Twitter, Zee News/Twitter, Baghdadi Al-Rolexi/Twitter