Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi: What his death means for IS in Syria

A video appearing to show the IS group leader was released earlier this year

The death of Islamic State (IS) group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a US military raid has been announced with great fanfare by President Donald Trump. Lina Khatib, director of the Middle East programme at the international relations think-tank Chatham House, explains what is likely to happen next.

The killing of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi does not mean the automatic end of IS. But the immediate future of IS depends more on local dynamics in Syria than on whether it still has a leader or not.

Baghdadi was a powerful tool for IS, especially at a time when the organisation was planning to establish a so-called state. Considering that there could not be a caliphate without a caliph, IS put Baghdadi in the public eye to give its supporters around the world an identifiable figurehead.

Despite the military defeat of IS in Syria and Iraq, its supporters still saw in the presence of Baghdadi hope of restoring the caliphate one day. His statements mobilised sympathisers, even if only rhetorically, as noted by journalists and aid workers who interviewed the wives and widows of IS fighters in al-Hol camp inside Syria.

In the run-up to the Turkish invasion of northern Syria, the military capacity of IS had been greatly reduced but the organisation was still active. Sleeper cells would conduct opportunistic attacks in the…

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