On October 27, the President of the United States, Donald Trump confirmed the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. This was skeptically assessed in the Russian media. The pro-Kremlin actors labelled the death of al-Baghdadi a stage performance and diminished its importance. We offer you the main narratives and its sources disseminated in the pro-Kremlin media outlets.
1. The United States faked the death of al-Baghdadi
Sputnik Georgia and Sputnik Ossetia claimed that the United States did not provide evidence of al-Baghdadi’s death and disseminated contradictory information about the operation. According to a Sputnik columnist, Armen Gasparyan, nobody knows whether al-Baghdadi was actually killed or he just moved to Miami to get treatment in a recreational facility.
“Царьград” (“Tsargrad”), in its article, mentions that al-Baghdadi has already been “buried” several times and one should not exclude that his death is a deception yet again. One of the “troll factory” media outlets, “Федеральное агентство новостей” (“Federal News Agency”) offers seven reasons proving that al-Baghdadi was not killed. In one out of the seven reasons, the use of an explosive belt would have been illogical and under such scenario, al-Baghdadi would rather have fled from the American soldiers, as navigating underground tunnels would have been easy for him.
2. Al-Baghdadi’s elimination is unimportant
A representative of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation, Igor Konashenkov, stated that al-Baghdadi’s death did not have any operational importance for the actions of other terrorists in Syria. The Head of the Center of Islamic Studies, Kirill Semyonov, shares the opinion of the Ministry of Defense and notes that al-Baghdadi’s role in the ISIS network structure was not very large and it would be inaccurate to label him “the number one terrorist”.
Armen Gasparyan, the Sputnik columnist, labelled the operation unimportant, too. He stated that “al-Baghdadi was not the real head of ISIS. He was an adherent of thuggery, an ideologist or a theoretician, if I may. ISIS was headed by other people.”
3. Trump needed the death of al-Baghdadi for the presidential rating and the United States needed it for its external image
“РИА Новости” (“Ria Novosti”) published an “expert” opinion on the United States’ operation in Syria, according to which, even if al-Baghdadi is actually dead, it is still a part of Trump’s plan of increasing his presidential approval rating. Pro-Kremlin media outlets connect the elimination of al-Baghdadi, on the one hand, to the US Presidential Elections and, on the other hand, to the efforts of restoring positions in Syria.
The Head of Russia-Muslim World Strategic Research Center, Shamil Sultanov compared this operation to the one in 2011, when Osama Bin Laden was eliminated during the Presidency of Barack Obama and underlined the fact that in both cases the actions targeted the upcoming Presidential Elections.
A lecturer at the Moscow State Pedagogic University, Vladimir Shapovalov and the Sputnik columnist Gasparyan note that this is not a simple coincidence and that al-Baghdadi was eliminated exactly at the time when the United States abandoned Kurds and handed Syria over to Russia. According to Shapovalov, the White House needed to increase its reputation at home as well as abroad. “The United States is now trying to increase its rating and show that it is the main power that fights international terrorism” – said Shapovalov.
Armen Gasparyan, on the other hand, thinks that al-Baghdadi “is a pet project of the US State Department and the White House”, whose every step was controlled by the United States and, naturally, they knew where he was all along. “First, [al-Baghdadi’s] elimination strangely coincided with the agreement between Russia and Turkey on Syria. Prior to that, al-Baghdadi was quite useful for both the White House and the US State Department” – claims Gasparyan.
Since 2011, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was considered a global terrorist, with the provision of information on his location or his elimination having had an award worth USD 10 million, set by the United States. In 2006-2011, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was a member of al-Qaeda, after which he joined ISIS and proclaimed himself the Caliph of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Al-Baghdadi is responsible for organized rape cases and deaths of thousands of people in the Middle East, including the Genocide of Yazidis, a religious minority group in Iraq. In 2014, he headed the operation which aimed to eliminate 3,000 Yazidis in Northern Iraq. Al-Baghdadi was also accused of raping, torturing, and killing a US national and a human rights activist, Kayla Mueller.
In an interview with Deutsche Welle, an expert in the Middle East issues at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, Guido Steinberg stated that al-Baghdadi’s death would weaken ISIS, as it is not easy to find such a well-organized and ideologically motivated person. Steinberg also added that al-Baghdadi became a leader of an organization, consisting of less than 1,000 fighters and turned it into a quasi-state.
On October 30, Pentagon published a video of the military operation, carried out with the aim of eliminating al-Baghdadi.
Prepared by Maiko Ratiani