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The year in which the Islamic State lost its caliph and its caliphate

The terrorist group remains a threat with a strong presence in particular in Africa

Almost five years after Abu Bakr al Baghdadi proclaimed the caliphate from the pulpit from the Great Mosque of Al Nuri in Mosul, the Islamic State lost its last stronghold of the vast territory that came to control in Iraq and Syria in March and just seven months later also to his caliph.

However, the terrorist group, which has already marked a before and after in global jihadism, had long been preparing for the loss of its caliphate and, so it seems as quickly as it chose the successor of Al Baghdadi, also for the disappearance of its leader.

On March 23, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDS), an alliance led by the Syrian Kurdish militias, managed to snatch their Baghuz stronghold in eastern Syria from the Islamic State, with the support of the United States and the international coalition.

The military victory was more symbolic than real, since the enemy had not been defeated and the Islamic State had been gradually adapting its strategy and actions to the loss of the territory under its control. Thus, in Iraq, he had intensified his punctual attacks, adopting the modus operandi of the guerrillas, and in recent months he has also done the same in Syria.

However, the hallmark of the terrorist group has been its numerous ‘provinces’ throughout the world, which have systematically assumed a more leading role in the face of the harassment to which the central nucleus was subjected. Thus, to prove that the Islamic State was not dead, just one month after the loss of Baghuz the group carried out a terrible blow in Sri Lanka.

On Easter Sunday a suicide bomber command simultaneously attacked three churches and three luxury hotels in Colombo and its surroundings, claiming the lives of almost 260 people, including half a hundred foreigners. The perpetrators of the attacks were identified by the Sri Lankan authorities as members of the National Thawheed Jammath Organization, but the attack was claimed by the Islamic State via Amaq, its news agency.

Days later, in a clear example of the dominance of propaganda by the Islamic State, Al Baghdadi, which had only been seen in a video during the proclamation of the caliphate in June 2014, reappeared in another recording in which he recognized the loss of Baghuz and assured that they were now immersed “in a battle of attrition with the enemy.”

The video, in which Al Baghdadi praised the actions of the different ‘provinces’, particularly those based in Africa, and encouraged more attacks, was accompanied by a sound recording in which he celebrated the Sri Lankan attacks in “revenge “for what happened in Baghuz.

From that moment and as usual, there would be no news about Al Baghdadi or his whereabouts until October 27 when a satisfied Donald Trump announced his death to the world. “Abu Bakr al Baghdadi is dead. He was a sick and depraved man, who died like a coward, on the run and in sobs,” he said.

The leader of the Islamic State, who had assumed the reins of the group that was originally Al Qaeda in Iraq in 2010, died after operating the vest with explosives he wore when he was cornered by one of the dogs that participated in the operation of the forces American specials in Idlib, in northern Syria. Beside him, two of his children died, whom he had taken in his attempt to escape during the assault.

His presence in northern Syria, where he would have come from Iraq, surprised his own and strangers, given that Idlib is the last stronghold in Syria in the hands of the rebels and is controlled mainly by Hayat Tahrir al Sham, a jihadist alliance which heads the former Nusra Front, once a subsidiary of Al Qaeda in Syria and a declared enemy of the Islamic State, with whose members they have faced in the past.

The death of Al Baghdadi followed only one day after that of another of the group’s key figures, Abú al Hasán al Muhayir, spokesman for Islamic State, in an SDS operation in Jarablus, in northern Syria.

But the power vacuum did not last long. On October 31, through the mouth of its new spokesman, Abu Hamza al Qurashi, Islamic State announced to the world the name of his new caliph: Abú Ibrahim al Hashimi al Qurashi. Nothing is known for the moment of his identity, beyond the few clues offered by his name, which places him as a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad – by reference to the Qurashi tribe – and that he would be a religious scholar and a “experienced commander”, which would guarantee him to take up the position of caliph.

The fact that the real identity of the new leader of State I is not known

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