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ISIL and its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi are active in Syria and Iraq.

Middle East Security News.- Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, linked to Al-Qaeda.

Middle East Security News.- Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, linked to Al-Qaeda.

Al-Qaeda has made a comeback that few at the time foresaw. On at least one important metric, it has never been stronger.

Two groups linked to al-Qaeda, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Jabhat al-Nusra now lead the military resistance against Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. Between them, they control most of the north-east of the country.

ISIL has also captured large swathes of Iraq, from the western province of Anbar to the northern reaches around Mosul near the border with Turkey. Throw in its strong presence in eastern Yemen, across northern Africa and down to Mali, as well as its influence over extremist groups in northern Nigeria, Somalia, Uganda and Kenya, and a picture emerges of an organisation that is resurgent, rather than retreating.

This is not quite al-Qaeda as we have known it. Its core leadership has been largely routed. Bin Laden’s replacement as leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has little, if any, operational influence over the al-Qaeda affiliates from his hideout, believed to be on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

The Al Qaeda group has become decentralised. Al-Qaeda operatives have become jihadists of opportunity, exploiting local grievances and inserting themselves into existing conflicts, with remarkable success over the past year, especially for ISIL. ISIL is led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a nom de guerre for an individual who is fast filling the void left by bin Laden’s demise and emerging as the inspirational figurehead for violent extremists.

Exploiting tensions between the minority Sunnis and the Shia government in Iraq, ISIL had been making gains since 2012, when it began to step up its violent attacks. In July last year, in an operation dubbed ”Harvest of the Soldiers”, al-Baghdadi ordered an attack on Abu Ghraib prison with waves of vehicle-borne suicide bombers and mortar attacks.

After a pitched battle, as many as 1000 prisoners escaped, including some 500 senior and mid-level al-Qaeda leaders who had been rounded up in the US military surge of 2007-08.

It was a propaganda and operational coup. ISIL was celebrated by Islamists around the globe and garnered a new pool of recruits. The freed al-Qaeda prisoners rejoined the fight, and provided al-Baghdadi with a new and experienced cadre of field commanders.

Suicide bombings now average one a day in Iraq, and ISIL leads the military resistance to Assad in Syria. Al-Baghdadi has as many as 25,000 fighters at his disposal. GO TO SOURCE