Islamic State of Iraq leader reported captured


Hamed Dawood Mohammed Khalil al Zawi, who is better known as Abu Omar al Baghdadi. Image from Talisman’s Gate via al Arabiya.

The Iraqi Army claimed to have captured Abu Omar al Baghdadi, the leader of al Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq, during a raid today. The report has not been confirmed by the US military. The reported capture of Baghdadi takes place as two suicide bombers killed more than 60 Iraqis in attacks in Baghdad and Diyala.

Baghdadi was captured during a raid in eastern Baghdad, according to a report by the Al Iraqiyah television network. Brigadier General Qassim Atta, the official spokesman for the Baghdad Operational Command, confirmed that Baghdadi was captured by Iraqi forces based on an intelligence tip.

“The Iraqi security forces have arrested Abu Omar al Baghdadi, al Qaeda leader in Iraq and emir of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq,” Atta said, according to Al Arabiyah Television. But the network indicated there are conflicting reports on where he was detained. Some reports indicated that Baghdadi was detained in Kirkuk or Diyala provinces.

Baghdadi’s capture has not been confirmed

The US military has not confirmed Baghdadi’s capture. “We have no operational reporting on this incident,” First Lieutenant John Brimley, a Public Affairs Officer for the Media Operations Center in Baghdad told The Long War Journal.

Nibars Kazimi, an Iraq expert and visiting scholar at the Hudson Institute, said the Iraqi security forces are claiming a man named Ahmad ‘Abid Ahmad Khamees al Majma’i was captured and he is being identified as Baghdadi.

Iraqi security forces have a poor track record on reporting on the capture or death of senior al Qaeda in Iraq leaders. This is the fourth time since 2007 that the Iraqi security forces have claimed Baghdadi and Abu Ayyub al Masri, al Qaeda’s leader in Iraq, were either killed or captured.

In February 2007, the spokesman for the Interior Ministry claimed that al Masri was wounded and captured in a major clash between al Qaeda forces and the Awakening and police forces near the city of Balad. Al Masri was not captured, but Abu Abdullah al Majamaia, an aide to al Masri who also is believed to lead his security detail, was.

In May 2007, Sunni tribes reported that al Masri was killed in a battle near Taji, just north of Baghdad. Iraq’s Ministry of Interior claimed its forces saw his body. Just days later, the Ministry of Interior said that Abu Omar al Baghdadi, the supposed leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, was reported killed in another battle in the town of Dhuluiya in Salahadin province. US forces confirmed that Muharib Abdul Latif al Jubouri, al Qaeda in Iraq’s senior minister of information was killed, but neither al Masri nor Baghdadi were killed. In May 2008, the Iraqi Ministry of Defense announced the capture of al Masri, but just one day after that announcement, the US military denied that al Masri was in custody.

Al Masri and other senior al Qaeda operatives are thought to have been recalled to Pakistan after al Qaeda’s failure to break the Iraqi and US effort to secure Iraq during 2007.

Who is Abu Omar al Baghdadi?

Baghdadi’s true identity has been the source of controversy since the establishment of the Islamic State of Iraq during the summer of 2006. Al Qaeda created the Islamic State of Iraq as part of its efforts to put an Iraqi face on its operations. Baghdadi was named the emir and chief of the Islamic State’s shura, or executive council, while al Masri was appointed the military commander.

The appointment of Baghdadi as the leader of the Islamic State caused rifts within the Sunni insurgency. Tribal leaders and Iraqi Islamist and insurgent groups objected to the creation of the Islamic State and the appointment of an anonymous leader. Abu Omar al Baghdadi is a pseudonym.

The US military dropped a bombshell in July 2007 when it stated Baghdadi was in fact a fictitious person created by Abu Ayyub al Masri, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq. Baghdadi was played by an Iraqi actor named Abu Abdullah al Naima, the military stated. This was confirmed after the capture and interrogation of Khalid Abdul Fatah Da’ud Mahmud Al Mashadani, then al Qaeda’s media emir.

The US military’s claim that Baghdadi is a fictitious character was challenged in May of 2008 after Haditha’s police chief identified Baghdadi as Hamed Dawood Mohammed Khalil al Zawi, a former officer who was “dismissed from the army because of his extremism.”

The US military believes that al Qaeda quickly backfilled the position of Baghdadi after the Naima charade was disclosed last year.

“Al Qaeda in Iraq filled in the position with a real individual after Multinational Forces Iraq revealed that Abdullah al Naima was a hired actor,” a senior US military intelligence official told The Long War Journal in September 2008.

“Hamid al Zawi was one of the few senior al Qaeda in Iraq leaders who could meet the criteria of being descended from Hussein that was a key part of Baghdadi’s biography,” the official said. The ability of a potential leader of the Islamic State to trace their lineage back to Hussein Ali, the grandson of Prophet Mohammad, is a requirement.

Baghdad, Miqdadiyah hit with major suicide attacks

As the Iraqi military announced the capture of Baghdadi, al Qaeda in Iraq suicide bombers conducted two major attacks in Baghdad and Miqdadiyah in Diyala province.

In central Baghdad, twenty-eight Iraqis, including eight security personnel, were killed, and more than 50 were wounded in an attack. “The bomber blew up an explosive belt strapped to his body targeting civilians who were receiving food materials in al Karada region,” Atta told Voices of Iraq.

In an attack in the Imam Wess region near Miqdadiyah, thirty-two people, many of them Shia pilgrims from Iran, were killed and 63 more were wounded. The suicide bomber targeted the pilgrims as they visited religious shrines in the area, Voices of Iraq reported.

Al Qaeda in Iraq has stepped up attacks recently in Baghdad and in central, northern, and western Iraq. Today’s two attacks mark the eleventh and twelfth major strikes since April 5. Nearly 100 Iraqis and five US soldiers have been killed in the attacks.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.



  • Rosario says:

    Very timely reporting, good job. Iraqi security seems to function. I guess we will see how well the Iraqi judiciary works to swiftly bring this criminal to justice.

  • Neo says:

    I’ll be quite satisfied if the current arrest is someone high up in the organization. At this point the whole “Baghdidi”

  • Micah says:

    “”Hamid al Zawi was one of the few senior al Qaeda in Iraq leaders who could meet the criteria of being descended from Hussein that was a key part of Baghdadi’s biography,” the official said. Tracing lineage back to Hussein Ali, the grandson of Prophet Mohammad, is a requirement for leadership of the Islamic State.”
    Im a bit confused. This sounds a bit like a Shia requirement. Can someone explain this? This makes no sense. Ive never heard of such a requirement, especially amongst ultra orthidox wahabi doctrines.
    Husayn was also the 3rd Shia Imam in most Shia sects and was massacred by Yazid, the 6th Caliph in Sunni Islam (not that Yazid was well respected even amongst Sunnis these days, but still..). I just have a hard time understanding this quote. Sunnis still respect Husayn, as a decent person and Mohammads favorite grandson, but the requirement for the Sunni Islamic State to have a leader with descendence from Husayn? This just sounds VERY strange.
    Or does this simply mean that he had to have this characteristic so it would be believable that he is the Emir of the state, since the fictionalized biography was already made? In other words, they need someone who just happens to meet the fictionalized traits of the biography?
    The last sentence just is a bit confusing:
    “Tracing lineage back to Hussein Ali, the grandson of Prophet Mohammad, is a requirement for leadership of the Islamic State.”

  • Midnight says:

    What if we just say, Vincit Amor Patriae. Say that and nothing else matters. Religious conservatives everywhere are being attacked with some sort of unpleasant rhetoric, rhetoric with the distint smell of BS.
    Excellent reporting.

  • sheytanelkebir says:

    i must concur.
    no way would the islamic state of iraq require that their leader be a descendant of immam hussain.
    that’s like claiming the pope must come from the russian orthodox church!!! it shows a serious lack of sectarian knowledge 😉

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Don’t be quick to make such assumptions.
    Baghdadi’s full name, according to the Islamic State of Iraq, is Abu Omar al-Husseini al-Qureish al-Baghdad.
    He is claiming lineage from Hussein.
    I don’t know why lineage from Hussein is important to be the leader of the Islamic State, but I do know it is an important factor.
    I’d suggest reading Iraq expert Nibras Kazimi’s website for more info on Baghdadi.

  • At least we got another high level official. We need to bring Al-Qaeda down quick. The longer we stretch this out the longer they have to recruit and train. It’s not hard to expand when you’re too decentralized to target effectively.

  • I hope this is right but I doubt it. I was in Iraq and followed the hunt for AUAB. It was unbelievable how many times there were rumors of him being captured by US, UK, IA, IP, or anyone else under the sun.

  • Midnight says:

    There is an old intel wish list that made Saddam the most wanted to be killed man alive. He was perhaps the single most hated man in the intel community of the world. Most now look at what happened as expensive lying.
    I sometimes wonder does DC get it? Rich men are committing suicide, people need to recover. The far left has become so fierce that they are downright mean. There is no room for a real recovery there. And we face more war.
    A very old friend of mine in the computer world, John, who is as old at this as me is often thought of by me at times like this. Some have been around as long as the hate, long enough to just say what they see in terms that people don’t want to have to depend on. It’s sad but hate lives forever, in a heart or mind. I would have invested in infrasructure in Afghanistan that was real, not roads but sewers, Halal businesses and things that would last forever, some things in this world are unexplainable. This sort of thinking about Muslims being one of them.

  • KnightHawk says:

    This would be most welcome news, thanks for covering it.

  • natej740 says:

    Has this been confirmed by the U.S. yet????

  • crosspatch says:

    From Radio New Zealand today reporting a BBC confirmation:

    Iraq has confirmed that a man arrested by security forces in Baghdad last week is Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, a top figure connected to al-Qaeda.
    The BBC on Sunday quoted Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki as saying Iraqi security forces had been tracking Abu Omar al-Baghdadi “through elements close to him” for two months.
    His arrest was reported last Thursday but the reports were not confirmed.
    The BBC reports Baghdadi is a nom de guerre for a shadowy figure thought to lead the Islamic State in Iraq, an umbrella group of radical Sunni factions.


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