At the moment of his demise, what passes through the mind of a terrorist who literally views himself as king of the world?
“He died like a dog,” said U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday, referring to the death of Islamic State (ISIS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s in northern Syria at the hands of U.S. forces. His statement was tough and simple, and drew a clear line between human beings and terrorist murderers. In his announcement of al-Baghdadi’s death, Trump described the ISIS mastermind as neither a leader nor a man, but as a thug and a coward.
In his detailed account of the raid, Trump spoke of men risking their lives to defend all global citizens from beasts in human form. He described the video footage of the raid, which he watched from the White House Situation Room, as “something really amazing to see,” saying it was like “watching a movie.” This, however, was no ordinary movie — it was the American movie.
Like a modern John Wayne, Trump has drawn a line in the sand vis-à-vis terrorism. Like a sheriff in a classic Western, he displayed pride in having taken out the leader of “the most ferocious terrorist organization in the world,” describing how Baghdadi was run down by dogs, “whimpering and crying and screaming all the way.”
This, it must be remembered, was the great, black-robed “caliph” who ordered “Jihadi John” to behead kneeling infidels in orange jumpsuits. (Trump recalled some of ISIS’s many victims, including James Foley, Steven Sotloff, Kayla Mueller and the poor Jordanian pilot burned alive in a cage.) In his speech, Trump stripped al-Baghdadi and those like him of all social and national pretense, reducing him to a miserable, dangerous madman who killed himself in a dead-end tunnel along with three of his own children.
This slaughter of innocents (we do not know the ages of the children) was reminiscent of the murder by Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels and his wife, Magda, of their six children in Hitler’s bunker.
Al-Baghdadi had been hiding in Syria’s Idlib province despite the area being largely controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, an Al Qaeda splinter group hostile to ISIS. Turkish observation posts are also scattered throughout the province, and Turkish-supported opposition groups control parts of the province. How he came to be in Idlib, how long he was there and why he chose that particular location are unclear.
Surrounded by enemies or not, however, al-Baghdadi remained the leader of the only terrorist organization ever to have established a territorial entity — one which at its height controlled the lives of some 8 million people. Tens of thousands of lives were destroyed in this “Islamic Caliphate” before the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces pushed ISIS out of its last stronghold in March.
And al-Baghdadi clearly believed the fight was far from over. In a video that aired this past April and then in a recorded message in September, he attempted to rally his followers, who were regrouping after the March defeat. Al-Baghdadi believed to the end that ISIS would regroup and that the caliphate would be resurrected. His goal remained the domination of the entire planet through the use of unthinkable violence and terror.
Fear is the true homeland of all terrorists, and hatred is their fuel. Hatred burned in al-Baghdadi in 2014 when he announced the creation of the new caliphate in the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul, Iraq, and continued to burn right up until the moment of his death in northern Syria over the weekend. The few recordings we have of his words all bear witness to his visceral, psychopathic hatred of all “infidels.”
Unlike the needless deaths of his innocent children, al-Baghdadi’s miserable end evokes no pity. As Trump said, with his death, the world has become a much safer place.
Journalist Fiamma Nirenstein was a member of the Italian Parliament (2008-13), where she served as vice president of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the Chamber of Deputies. She served in the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, and established and chaired the Committee for the Inquiry Into Anti-Semitism. A founding member of the international Friends of Israel Initiative, she has written 13 books, including “Israel Is Us” (2009). Currently, she is a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
Translated by Amy Rosenthal.