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Is ISIS Still Around? Islamic State Leader Is Alive and Plotting a Comeback, Reports Claim

The Islamic State has almost entirely lost control over territory in Iraq and Syria, and rumors claim that the group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is either dead or severely disabled.

Several analysts indicate that ISIS, the Islamic militants who pledged to invade the West and establish an Islamic State based on Sharia law across the globe, has now been relegated to online forums and encrypted messaging apps, through which it urges its followers to carry out lone wolf attacks. In April, the Department of Defense declared that the defeat of ISIS was imminent. 

Nevertheless, top U.S. counterintelligence officials suspect that the group’s leader is still alive and plotting the organization’s comeback, according to reports. An Islamic State official arrested by Turkey early this year claimed that the organization’s leader is helping plan school children’s curriculums in Syria in an effort to spread the group’s ideology. And even if the militant was lying, some experts say the group has shifted behind the scenes in the wake of its military defeats in the Middle East, and has simultaneously spread its tentacles to other parts of the globe.  

“It's difficult to say whether or not al-Baghdadi is alive, especially as ISIS has a public relations' incentive to maintain that he is still alive and directing operations. However, to understand the growing threat of ISIS, it is partially immaterial whether or not he is alive and its continued survival in Syria," Harrison Akins, a Middle East security expert at the Howard Baker Center, told Newsweek. "Much of the perceived threat of ISIS has been the adoption of the ISIS mantle by affiliate groups in conflicts around the world, much as groups previously adopted the al Qaeda brand.”

ISIS also has a small base in Afghanistan, where it has taken credit for several deadly attacks in the country’s capital Kabul. ISIS-affiliated groups are also increasingly operating in Africa. On Monday, the group took credit for an attack on a vehicle carrying Egypt’s security forces in the Sinai Peninsula. And although ISIS does sometimes take credit for attacks it did not carry out, there is ample evidence that groups loosely affiliated with ISIS continue to operate around the world. Most recently, prosecutors in Brazil charged 11 people with trying to operate an ISIS cell in the South American nation. 

“These ISIS groups, such as the ones in Somalia, Afghanistan, or the Philippines, are factions that have splintered from pre-existing groups such as Al Shabaab, the Taliban, and Abu Sayyaf. As these groups grew out of their own conflict environment, it is difficult to say what control or influence the leadership of ISIS in Syria has over them,” Akins added.

One of the most recent reports from Iraqi officials suggested that al-Baghdadi is alive in Syria’s Jazeera desert and was wounded in airstrikes. He is one of the world’s most wanted individuals, and the U.S. is offering a $25 million reward that could lead to his capture.

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