The U.S. held him captive for a time in 2004 before an unconditional release put him back into Iraq’s growing Sunni insurgency.
A year later, the Multi-National Force-Iraq labeled him a kidnapper and murderer. It boasted of probably killing him in an airstrike, only to find out it hadn’t.
In 2010, the coalition announced his arrest. But whoever it held, it either was not Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, or he somehow won quick release.
The elusive al-Baghdadi, known then by his nom de guerre, Abu Du’a, would go on to become the most dominant figure in today’s radical Islamic movement.
A Sunni mullah who is in his early 40s and reportedly hails from Fallujah or Samarra, al-Baghdadi commands his own terrorist army and controls much of Iraq north and west of the capital, Baghdad, as well as a smattering of towns in Syria.
He also has declared the establishment of a new country — the Islamic State.
Some suggest he is the next Osama bin Laden but with his own expeditionary land force. Last week, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel upped the ante on a possible war against the Islamic State by calling it an imminent threat to the United States.
“He’s a hard-core jihadist,” said retired Army Lt. Gen. William Boykin, who was the Pentagon’s No. 2 intelligence official. “He has been able to appeal to those who have felt that al Qaeda was on the ropes after the killing of bin Laden, and he was able to step in and bring back the pride and the determination of those who really were hard-core jihadists.
“As a result, he’s been able to build a strong network of pretty evil people.”
On Sunday, Islamic State insurgents rolled unopposed into the town of Duluiyan, 45 miles north of Baghdad, and seized the mayor’s office, police station, city hall and courthouse, The Associated Press reported.
They also blew up a bridge that links the town with the predominantly Shiite city of Balad nearby.
Iraq’s military launched a counterattack that drove the militants from part of Duluiyah, but clashes were still raging around the police station and mayor’s office Sunday.
Al-Baghdadi began as a rank-and-file insurgent fighting Americans in Fallujah, then joined al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) under Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Al-Baghdadi specialized in funneling foreign fighters and suicide bombers from Syria into Iraq to kill civilians, Shiites and Americans.
The U.S. killed al-Zarqawi in a 2006 airstrike, a death that moved al-Baghdadi up the chain of command.