Why ISIS Can Survive Without Baghdadi

TIME

Amidst speculation that U.S.-led airstrikes had last week killed or injured Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), the group released an audio message on Thursday from Baghdadi himself where he called on his supporters to “erupt volcanoes of jihad”, saying ISIS would “never abandon fighting”, adding: “they will be triumphant, even if only one man of them is left.” While Baghdadi apparently was not killed in last week’s raid on the Iraqi city of Mosul, the rumors nonetheless raised the question: can ISIS survive and thrive without its mysterious frontman?

“Baghdadi is more like a CEO than a traditional battlefield leader,” says Justin Dargin, a Middle East scholar at the University of Oxford. Unlike the late al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, Baghdadi does not present himself as a charismatic, messianic leader to his followers. A November report from security intelligence…

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