Al Baghdadi Plans to Run Away from US-Russian Blitz to Africa or Arabia
At the same time as Syrian President Bashar Assad is preparing to relocate to Russian exile, in line with the Kremlin’s script (See previous article) – Islamic State chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is planning his getaway from the noose tightening around his armies’ necks in Syria and Iraq.
The ISIS chief is looking at two hideaways: The Yemeni region of Hadhramaut, which is ruled by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), or the Suhel and Sahara Deserts, large tracts of which are under the thumb of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
(See attached map)
He won’t hang around until the Russian bombers start pounding his strongholds in Raqqa and Mosul (See the article on the US-Russian war plans for ISIS). Neither will he make the mistake of going to ground in Syria or Iraq, having learned the lessons of the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein whom Kurdish special forces captured in an underground bunker near Tikrit in December 2003; and Al Qaeda’s Iraq commander, the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, whom a US Delta Force killed in a hideout north of Baghdad in June 2008.
Unlike Zarqawi, who was poor, the absconding “caliph” has a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars to assure him of a warm welcome from AQAP or AQIM in either of those putative refuges.
But he may have left it too late. According to DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence and counterterrorism sources, the Americans and Russians have placed obstacles on his likely escape routes from Syria or Iraq, and British and French Special Forces are standing by to catch him before he sets up shop in North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, or other parts of the Middle East.
The latest movements of US, British and French Special Forces offer clues to the intelligence they are garnering on Al-Baghdadi’s preparations for his getaway.
The US Special Forces team that visited Al-Hasakah in northern Syria in late January, while establishing the first US airbase in Syria, also performed a clandestine mission, which was to block al-Baghdadi’s escape route from Raqqa to Mosul.
A Jordanian Special Forces team is deployed in the western Iraqi province of Anbar to place a second impediment in his path, in case Al-Baghdadi decides to take advantage of ISIS control of eastern Syria to slip into Iraq via the Euphrates Valley.
It was a Jordanian intelligence tip-off that gave the Americans Al Zarqawi’s precise whereabouts eight years ago.
On another continent, 4,000 kilometers away, US Special Forces are in position in Libya between Sirte in the center, Tripoli in the west and Benghazi in the north, to trap Al-Baghdadi if he makes for Sirte, or from there transits Tripoli to reach the Libyan-Tunisian border. Once there, he can link up with AQIM.
Another of his options is to head north from Sirte to the eastern Libyan town of Darnah to join the violent Islamist militias nesting there.
The information about Baghdadi’s planned run for Libya comes mostly from Russian intelligence and has not been verified by other agencies. On Dec. 9, Iranian sources, quoting Russian informants, reported that al-Baghdadi, fearing his life was in danger, had gone into hiding in Sirte, hometown of the late Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi which is under ISIS control.
Some Western intelligence agencies dispute this account. They say it is far more plausible for the ISIS “caliph” to seek sanctuary in the AQAP-controlled Yemeni Hadramauth, a desert region of the Arabian peninsula, whose harsh terrain has historically defied attempts at access by foreign military, and would therefore be a virtually unassailable hideout.
Neither the US nor Saudi Arabia has ever tried to send elite forces into Hadhramauth. However, AQAP’s plans for terrorist attacks in foreign countries would sit well with the ISIS chief”s own program of expanded terror for Europe and North America. He could stay in full operational mode, safe from harm, in this desolate corner of Arabia, while still keeping his followers on the mark in Iraq and Syria.