ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has angered jihadist fighters after appearing to go into hiding as the caliphate continues to lose ground.
Soldiers who surrendered now accuse their leader of abandoning them in their last stand for the caliphate, as forces closed in on the last small strongholds of ISIS territory—spanning about half a square mile in the Syrian Euphrates.
ISIS fighters expressed their outrage in an interview with The Sunday Times that Baghdadi seems to have gone into hiding.
“He’s hiding somewhere, people were angry,” said Mohammed Ali, an ISIS fighter from Canada who was captured by U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.
The terrorist organization is also reportedly suffering deep rifts after an internal disillusionment with the ISIS leader, according to members of ISIS, western officials and leaders in the area.
Baghdadi’s absence in ISIS’s last sliver of territory has already been confirmed by a number of local sources and Western officials.
They believe the ISIS leader could instead be in Anbar, a desert province in western Iraq.
ISIS fighters are furious their leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, appears to have melted into the desert rather than fight. https://t.co/uFb979re7U
— The Australian (@australian) March 4, 2019
In a 2014 speech, in West Mosul’s historic al-Nuri Mosque, Baghdadi declared himself a caliphate leader but has not appeared in a video or in public since.
He has since urged his followers to stay strong in a series of voice clips, the latest of which was released in August 2018.
In the audio clip, which is believed to have been recorded in the weeks prior to release, Baghdadi encouraged his followers to carry out attacks on Westerners using knives, bombs, and guns.
Now, his disappearance is causing conflict within the already crumbling caliphate, with ISIS soldiers calling for Baghdadi to stand on the front line.
“Around one year ago there were a lot of assassinations between [ISIS members], between those from the Gulf, other groups and Iraqis. They were killing each other,” a source from the al-Shaitat militia, who can openly communicate with the caliphate, told The Sunday Times.
“The conflict was between the foreign fighters. They were asking, where is the caliph? Like the prophet Muhammad he should be on the front line. They wanted someone to be there on the ground.”
#UPDATE: ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi survived and fled a coup attempt by top foreign fighters in Hajin on January 10th, intelligence officials believe. An armed clash between Baghdadi’s bodyguards and foreign fighters took place, leaving at least two dead https://t.co/YASfUjQKB7
— ELINT News (@ELINTNews) Feb. 7, 2019
Since 2016, the U.S. State Department has offered a $25 million reward for information that could lead to Baghdadi’s capture.
Not much is known about Baghdadi’s early life but it is thought he was born in 1971 near Samarra, Iraq.
His death has been falsely reported many times over the past few years but he is widely still believed to be alive, and was reportedly seriously injured in an Iraq air strike by the U.S.-led coalition back in 2015.
ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi injured in airstrike last May, sources say https://t.co/AZJ69ATvmD
— Paul Cruickshank (@CruickshankPaul) Feb. 12, 2018
It is believed the ISIS leader frequently moves from place to place to avoid detection, according to Abu Ali al-Basri, director general of Iraq’s intelligence office at the Ministry of Interior.
“Iraqi intelligence is following Baghdadi and we believe he never stays in one place for more than one day,” he told Fox News in February. “We have information he still moved from towns in Syria and entered the Iraq border through Anbar [province] with movement to bordering Salahuddin [province].”
The leader is also thought to dress in “disguise”—in this case, modern clothing—as another means to avoid detection.
“Wearing modern clothes, no mobiles, a simple car, and just a driver. Anyone around him is dressed in modern clothes,” Fadhel Abu Rageef, a political and security analyst in Baghdad told Fox News.