The monster is dead

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Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, leader of the monstrous terrorist organization Daesh (the self-proclaimed IS), is dead. Nothing better epitomized him than that in his final seconds, he chose to murder three of his own children when, cornered in a tunnel, he detonated his suicide vest. A blasphemous creature, who threw over every standard of decency and humanity in his crazed and brutal campaign for power, Baghdadi’s demise is a cause for joy. It not only, as President Donald Trump made clear, makes the world a safer place, but it brings some sort of closure to the families of Baghdadi’s tens of thousands of innocent victims.

As long as this man lived in the shadows, there would have been willing dupes ready to go out and do his bloody business. But, of course, his death does not spell an end to terror. His followers will seek to hold him up as a martyr to his evil cause, just as the followers of Al-Qaeda founder Osama Bin Laden sought to memorialize him. It may be of some comfort, however, that the killing of Bin Laden by US Special Forces at his hideout in Pakistan has not provided any expected rallying call for other deluded bigots.

Baghdadi himself reportedly abandoned the use of any electronic communications, as did Bin Laden. Both chose to rely on old fashioned messengers. Certainly in the case of the Al-Qaeda leader and, it is suspected also of the Daesh supremo, these messengers proved even more dangerous than using a satellite phone.

Communications can be scrambled and their exact location disguised. Anti-terrorist forces have only so much time in which to pinpoint and try and react to an intercepted message. The target may very well have moved on. With human messengers, the options are far wider and the time frame considerably larger. Once a suspected courier has been identified, modern surveillance technology make tracking that individual relatively easy. As happened with Bin Laden’s secret compound in the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad, in the end a messenger will lead the forces of law and order to the leader’s lair.

Daesh terrorism has not died with its leader. As Coalition forces drove their people from Iraq and pummeled them from the air in Syria, arms and explosive caches were established and sleeper cells hidden among the ordinary population. The killers still have the weaponry and personnel to commit yet more savagery. The battle to defeat them has a ways yet to go.

And perhaps it is about time that analysts gave up treating individual terrorist groups as distinct entities. They in fact have far more in common other than their addiction to destruction and bloodletting. Even though they sometimes fight each other when they fall out over the profits from oil, drugs, weapons or human trafficking, their leaders know how to work together as well. Baghdadi was hiding out in Idlib, which is dominated by the Al-Qaeda offshoot Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, who very likely knew where he was and offered him protection. Moreover, individual killers have moved between groups. There is, however, one possibility that would demonstrate the utter amorality of all these terrorists: Did Hayat leaders betray Baghdadi in the hope of earning the $25 million bounty on his head?


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