The then-fledgling Islamic State laid out its strategy for protecting self-declared caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in an early e-book, saying their goal was basically to disguise him in plain sight.
Al-Baghdadi killed himself in an overnight U.S. military raid in Barisha, a town near the Turkish border in the northwest Syrian province of Idlib. He was last heard from publicly in a September audio message urging ISIS members to free detainees in SDF custody. He last spoke in public in 2014, when he declared the formation of the caliphate in Mosul.
And the terror leader last released a video in April; distributed by ISIS’ al-Furqan Media, the video showed al-Baghdadi meeting with commanders as he vowed to inflict revenge for the defeat of the caliphate’s physical territory in Iraq and Syria. The meeting took place in interior rooms, giving no hint about his geographical location.
Back in 2014 and early 2015, a series of ISIS e-books circulated the terror group’s plans online, including an ambitious plan to sack Rome by 2020. “The Western powers would not get involved in physical ground combat because they had just withdrawn from a failed war in Iraq (their public wouldn’t be happy with it.) This opportunity gave the Islamic State to grow stronger, with more fighters and more territory and resources as the world watched on,” that book said, adding that “there is no doubt that if Muslims want to take over Italy, the Islamic State European fighters will have to ally with other militias to fight the Mafia before the conquest of Rome.”
In a more general 100-page English-language e-book titled “The Islamic State,” the group said that al-Baghdadi dressed like an ordinary jihadist when he was out and about and was paranoid about carrying a cell phone or using email.
He was “always cautiously on the move for security reasons… hiding is comfortably possible compared to Osama bin Laden who had less security, more spies against him and less places to hide,” the book claimed.
“Unlike the medieval times when a king was safe in a guarded castle, leaders today cannot have one central location,” ISIS continued. “Khalifah Ibrahim is always on the move in a convoy of cars, with loyal bodyguards who he knows since the American invasion in the mid 2000s. The secret is not to have too much cars which will give the impression (to local people and even drones) that an important person is in one of the cars. But not to have too less cars either, in case of ambush.”
At the time of the e-book’s publication, rumors — which would continue on and off for years — were circulating that al-Baghdadi had been killed in an airstrike.
The book went on to state that al-Baghdadi did not micromanage ISIS commanders, giving them “a lot of flexibility and makes the Islamic State harder to defeat” unlike “conventional national armies who have a long chain of command and a common pattern in style of war.”
This strategy was displayed in al-Baghdadi urging the creation of ISIS “wilayah,” or provinces, in locations across the globe from Africa to southeast Asia. He particularly stressed the importance of this expansion after the defeat of the physical caliphate in Iraq and Syria.
The earlier e-book included loyalty pledges from “The Islamic State International Expansionalist Project.” They stated that their media strategy was likewise diffuse because “by not having a website, no one can hack it and claim an online victory.”
“Each province has its own responsibility in creating its own videos and social media accounts to share its successes. By decentralising everything from the core leadership, even if a province fails online or offline, the leadership and overall Khilafah (Caliphate) leadership project is still safe and can grow elsewhere,” ISIS added.