Report: ISIS leader sidelined by spinal injury, possibly spurring appointment of new caliph

The jihadist organization, in control of vast swathes of Iraq as well as Syria, is now under the leadership of Abu Alaa al-Afri, a former physics teacher and al-Qaida veteran.

Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi (photo credit: REUTERS)
Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has received a serious spinal wound, according to a report in The Guardian on Friday.
The leader of the selfstyled caliphate was injured by a US air strike in Iraq’s northwestern Nineveh province in March and has since retreated to Mosul, the country’s second largest city that Islamic State conquered last June, according to the report.
The jihadist organization is now under the leadership of Abu Alaa al-Afri, who has yet to assume the title of caliph, the newspaper reported.
Afri, a former physics teacher who has written about scientific and religious subjects, is a veteran Islamic radical who previously had ties to al-Qaida in Mesopotamia.
The process of choosing a leader of the caliphate is a complicated one, Middle East expert William McCant told the political blog site Think- Progress.
“ISIS’s Shura Council voted for Baghdadi for several reasons: his religious credentials, his supposed descent from Muhammad, and his tribal connections,” criteria that Afri might not necessarily meet, McCant said.
Hisham al-Hashimi, a senior adviser to the Iraqi government, emphasized that Afri “is smart, and a good leader and administrator. If Baghdadi ends up dying, he will lead them.”
Baghdadi’s exact condition remain unknown. Following the March air strike in question, the Pentagon denied knowing that he was present in the area targeted.
One source quoted by The Guardian said that physicians with strong allegiance to Islamic State had been treating Baghdadi in a Mosul hospital, and that a group of men, dressed like “Kandaharis,” i.e., Afghans, were present as well.
While some reports place Baghdadi in Mosul, others in Iranian and Arab media have suggested a more conspiratorial scenario. Last week, Iran’s state Fars news agency, quoting two Iraqi media outlets, claimed he had somehow been transferred to the Golan Heights, where Israeli surgeons and physicians declared him clinically dead.