Islamic State’s leader is believed to be hiding in Libya since February after fleeing Syria’s Baghouz, British military officials have announced today.
British, American and Italian aircraft last night carried out ground-surveillance sorties over Libya in an effort to locate Abubakr al-Baghdadi, according to a report in today’s issue of Britain’s Sunday Express.
The paper quoted a senior British military source as saying of Baghdadi: “He cannot move freely and wherever he is I expect he will be keeping a very low profile, but we have lots of methods to locate him or his team and they will make a mistake”.
It is believed that Baghdadi’s Libya connection has been established based on observations by Libyan social media users on Baghdadi’s latest video appearance, pointing out the close resemblance between two objects featured in the video and items found in the Libyan market.
First, argued many users, the fabric seen in the video as cover for Baghdadi’s mattress and cushions looked uncannily similar to an item produced by a state-owned factory in the north western town of Bani Walid.
Second, others have noted that the vest worn by Baghdadi looked identical to that worn by Salah Badi, a militia commander from the western port city of Misrata.
With a $25 million bounty on his head Baghdadi is the world’s most wanted terrorist, but if he was indeed in Libya, he wouldn’t be the first high profile Islamic State leader to make the journey from Syria to the war torn North African country.
In 2014, Turki al-Binali, Islamic State’s senior cleric, appeared mysteriously in’s Libya’s Sirte where he spent weeks delivering sermons and lectures in its mosques before travelling back to Syria where he was killed in 2017 by a US airstrike in Mayadin. In addition, Islamic State’s former designated emir of its Libyan branch, Abu Nabil al-Anbari, managed to somehow travel from Iraq into Libya where he was killed in 2015 by a US airstrike in Darnah.
Our security editor says Baghdadi’s most likely hideouts in Libya include: Zawya “where Islamic State cells linked to recent high-profile attacks in Tripoli are believed to have infiltrated local militias”, Tebu-dominated towns near Libya’s south-eastern borders, Bani Walid, Khoms, Tajoura or Emsallata.
The last few weeks witnessed an upsurge in Islamic State’s terrorist attacks especially in southern Libya following Baghdadi’s video, his first in five years, in which he ordered followers in the country to “continue bleeding out their enemies”. However, our security editor says that the attacks in the south could either be explained as mere exploitation of soft targets, or a calculated move to divert attention from Islamic State’s presence and secret activities elsewhere in the north.