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Name of leader         Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi


Organization                     ISI

Conflict country               Iraq


Gender                               Male  


Year of birth                      1971[1]


Place of birth                    Samarra, Iraq[2]


Year of death                    N/A





No, he is likely no deceased.[3]


Birth order


His birth order is unknown.


Age at start of rebel leadership

2010, so at the age of 39.[4]

Leader entry method

He was elected as the new emir.[5]



No, based on multiple biographical sources there is no evidence that he was not the top leader.


Education (also name universities attended, if any); note any relevant experiences while a student


Baghdadi has obtained several advanced degrees in Islamic studies, “including a bachelor's degree in Islamic studies from the University of Baghdad in 1996, and a Master's and PhD in Koranic studies from Iraq's Saddam University for Islamic Studies in 1999 and 2007 respectively.”[6]


Ever married? If yes, age of first marriage


He married in roughly 2002.[7]




He has six children.[8]


Religious identification


He is a Sunni Muslim.[9]


Elite Family background


No. Baghdadi comes from a lower-middle-class family that does not hold elite status. The ISIS leader’s family is very pious and they even claim to be direct decedents of the Prophet Muhammad. However, claiming to be a decedent of the Prophet is not uncommon, especially among religious leadership in Islam (although usually more common in Shia circles). [10]

Despite the fact that Baghdadi’s family has a history of religiosity, some of his family joined the Baath Party. [11] This may help explain why former Baath Party members have played such a prominent role (despite their inherent rivalry) in the ISIS expansion since Baghdadi became the leader of ISIS.[12]


Political affiliations and intellectual circles; note any relevant social connections made

Baghdadi was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood while in graduate school. 

Through this organization Baghdadi gravitates towards the most radical elements of the brotherhood, the jihadist Salafis.  His brother Jum’a and mentor Muhammad Hardan (a veteran of the Afghan war against the Soviets), are also members of this movement.[13]

Physical and mental health


No, there is no evidence of poor physical or mental health.


Pre-militant leader occupation


He was an activist.[14]


Experience in a state military, and role; any relevant social ties


No, based on multiple biographical sources there is no evidence of state military experience.

Experience in a nonstate military, and role; any relevant social ties


Yes. “Baghdadi helped found Jaysh Ahl al-Sunna wa-l-Jamaah (Army of the People of the Sunna and Communal Solidarity), an insurgent group that fought U.S. troops and their local allies in northern and central Iraq.”[15]  However, given his reputation as a theologian and recruiter, evidence of actual combat experience is thin at best.

Combat experience prior to assuming resistance organization leadership?


No, based on multiple biographical sources there is no evidence of combat experience.

Held government position prior to assuming leadership?


No, there is no evidence he held a government position.

Lived in exile?


Yes, he has fled Iraq and is hiding in the desert in Syria.[16]


Study abroad?


No, based on multiple biographical sources there is no evidence of study abroad.


Did the leader receive military training abroad?


No, there is no evidence of military training abroad.


Did the leader have extensive work experience abroad?


No, there is no evidence of him having extensive working experience abroad.


Serve time in prison? Social connections during that time?


Yes. Beginning in 2004 Baghdadi was arrested in Fallujah and eventually taken to Camp Bucca for the next ten months. His time in Bucca allows him to meet and make connections other Sunni radicals, many of whom “would later rise with him through the ranks of the Islamic State.”[17]

“By the time Baghdadi was released on December 8, 2004, he had a virtual Rolodex for reconnecting with his co-conspirators and protégés: they had written one another’s phone numbers in the elastic of their underwear.”[18] During his time in Bucca, “Baghdadi would almost certainly have met jihadists in Zarqawi’s circle.”[19]


Was there an assassination attempt on the leader by the state?


Yes, there was an attempt in 2015.[20]

Cause of Death?




Primary language, and other languages spoken as adult


His primary language was Arabic, and there is no evidence of English as a first or second language.



[1] Image Credit:

McCants, William, "The Believer," The Brookings Institution, Accessed May 29, 2016,

[2] Ibid.

[3] “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi Was Dead, Then not Dead, Now Last Reported Wounded Near Raqqa,” Newsmax, February 12, 2018, Accessed February 19, 2018,

[4] See f.n.1

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ruth Sherlock, “How a talented footballer became world’s most wanted man, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,” The Telegraph, November 11, 2014, Accessed February 19, 2018,

[8]  William McCants, “Who is Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi?,” BBC News, March 8, 2016, Accessed February 19, 2018,

[9] See f.n.1

[10] William Mccants, “WHO EXACTLY IS ABU BAKR AL-BAGHDADI, THE LEADER OF ISIS?,” Newsweek, September 6 2015, Accessed February 19, 2018,

[11] See f.n.1

[12] Isabel Coles and Ned Parker, “How Saddam’s men help Islamic State rule,” Reuters, December 11, 2015, Accessed February 19, 2018,

[13] See f.n.1

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Hollie McKay, “Elusive ISIS leader al-Baghdadi believed hiding out in Syrian frontier,” Fox News, May 7, 2018, Accessed October 12, 2018,

[17] See f.n.1

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Al-Bagdadi Escapes from Assassination Attempt,” Alalam News, July 9, 2015, Accessed February 26, 2018,

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