Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was never able to match the spectacle of al Qaeda’s 9/11 attack, but his legacy as a jihadi may equal or outshine Osama bin Laden’s. In spring 2010, he became the leader of what was then called the Islamic State of Iraq, after 36 of its top 42 leaders had been killed or captured. Over the next several years, under Baghdadi’s leadership, the group became the most important jihadi organization in the world, surpassing its former partner al Qaeda.
His influence surged in late June 2014, when the group’s official spokesperson, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, announced that it had resurrected the caliphate. It was a goal that the international jihadi movement had aimed to achieve since its inception decades ago. Baghdadi managed to turn that dream into reality. It’s an achievement that will inspire future jihadis for generations—likely more than the accomplishments of any of his jihadi contemporaries. Would-be jihadis can now point to a caliphate project that was achieved in their lifetimes.
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