IS victims see satisfaction but no closure in leader’s death
PARIS (AP) — For Georges Salines, whose 28-year-old daughter Lola was killed when Islamic extremists went on a bloody rampage in Paris in 2015, the death of the man who inspired the attack brought a welcome “sense of satisfaction.”
But like other survivors and families of victims of the Islamic State group, Salines stressed that the death of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, does not mean the fight against terrorism is over.
“It would have been even better if al-Baghdadi could have been captured and sent to trial,” Salines told The Associated Press. “That was probably impossible. We knew that for a long time.”
Al-Baghdadi was responsible for directing and inspiring attacks by his followers around the world. In Iraq and Syria, he steered his organization into committing acts of brutality on a mass scale: massacres of his opponents; beheadings and stonings that were broadcast to a shocked audience on the internet; and the kidnapping and enslavement of women.
His death was announced Sunday by U.S. President Donald Trump, who said al-Baghdadi detonated an explosive vest while being pursued by U.S. forces in Syria, killing himself and three of his children. It was another major blow to the Islamic State group, which in March was forced by U.S. and Kurdish forces out of the last part of its self-declared “caliphate” that once spanned a swath of Iraq and Syria at its height.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the Nov. 13, 2015, attacks on Paris cafes, the national stadium and the Bataclan concert hall that left 130 people dead, including Lola Salines and Thomas Duperron, 30.
Duperron’s father, Philippe, who is president of French victims’ association 13onze15, which takes its name from the date of the attacks, said al-Baghdadi’s death was “not bad news.”
“One major player of the Islamic state group’s actions has disappeared,” he told AP, although he said that his group would not express joy at any death.
A trial of suspects in the Paris attacks is expected to begin in 2021. French prosecutors said this month that the judicial investigation of the attacks has ended and that 1,740 plaintiffs have joined the proceedings. Fourteen people have been charged in the case, including Salah Abdeslam, the only surviving suspect of the group of assailants.
French magistrates had recently issued an international arrest warrant for al-Baghdadi in a counterterrorism investigation for “heading or organizing a criminal terrorist conspiracy.”
Arthur Denouveaux, a Bataclan survivor and president of the Life for Paris victims’ group, told the French newspaper Le Parisien “us, the victims, are not seeking revenge ... but a desire for justice.”
Al-Baghdadi’s death is “symbolically is a major blow to the operational capacities” of the IS group, he said.
“It is essential to continue the fight for the security of the region and also of European countries,” Denouveaux added.
The IS group claimed responsibility for three suicide bombings in Brussels on March 22, 2016, that killed 32 people at its airport and in a metro station. Philippe Vansteenkiste, who lost his sister in the airport bombing and went on to become director of V-Europe, an association of victims of those attacks, said he knows the fight is not over.
“This is a new step in the fight against Daesh, but I’m not naive,” Vansteenkiste said, using an Arabic acronym for the militant group. “Their spiritual leader has been hit, but Daesh and many sleeping cells still exist, either in Syria or in our country.”
The parents of Steven Sotloff, an American-Israeli journalist who was killed by IS, thanked Trump and the U.S. forces that conducted the raid that led to al-Baghdadi’s death.
“While the victory will not bring our beloved son Steven back to us, it is a significant step in the campaign against ISIS,” Shirley Sotloff told reporters at their Florida home.
In 2014 and 2015, the militants held more than 20 Western hostages in Syria and tortured many of them. The group beheaded seven U.S., British and Japanese journalists and aid workers and a group of Syrian soldiers. Sotloff was among them.
In Jordan, Safi al-Kasasbeh, whose son was slain by the IS group in 2014, said he was “very happy” to learn of al-Baghdadi’s death.
“I wished that I killed him with my bare hands,” al-Kasasbeh said. “This was one of my dreams, if not to be the one who kills him, at least to witness the moment when he gets killed. But Allah didn’t want that to happen.”
Muath al-Kasasbeh was a fighter pilot who was captured by IS militants after being shot down while fighting in a U.S.-led coalition in Syria. The militants locked him in a cage and burned him to death, and later broadcast video of his death on the internet.
In Syria and Iraq, among the main victims of al-Baghdadi’s organization, residents expressed relief at the demise of the man who presided over the self-styled “caliphate.”
In the Iraqi city of Mosul, still in ruins two years after it was liberated from IS, there was no closure.
“His death is a fraction of the sins and misdeeds he inflicted on the victims who lost their lives in the Old City area and whose bodies until now are still under the rubble. All because of him and his organization,” said resident Mudhir Abdul Qadir.
“We hope that the culture of al-Baghdadi’s and Daesh is killed forever. ... Killing this culture is the real victory,” said Mehdi Sultan, a government employee in the Iraqi capital Baghdad.
Like others, however, he was not optimistic. “One al-Baghdadi goes out, another comes in. It’s the same old story.”
Perhaps nowhere is al-Baghdadi more reviled than among Iraq’s Yazidi community, who are still unable to return home or locate hundreds of women and children kidnapped and enslaved by IS five years ago. The Yazidis are followers of an ancient religion with ties to Zoroastrianism,
The militants rampaged through the Sinjar region in northern Iraq in August 2014, destroying villages and religious sites, kidnapping thousands of women and children, and trading them in modern day slavery. The United Nations called the attacks genocide.
Nadia Murad, a Yazidi woman who was among those kidnapped and enslaved, welcomed the news of his death.
“Al-Baghdadi died as he lived — a coward using children as a shield. Let today be the beginning of the global fight to bring ISIS to justice,” she tweeted, using another acronym for the militant group.
Murad, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for her activism against genocide and sexual violence, called for all those IS members captured alive to be brought to justice in an open court for the world to see.
“We must unite and hold ISIS terrorists accountable in the same way the world tried the Nazis in an open court at the Nuremberg trials,” she wrote.
Associated Press writers Samuel Petrequin in Brussels, Belgium; Josef Federman in Jerusalem; Omar Akour in al-Karak, Jordan; Salar Salim in Irbil, Syria; and Ali Abdul-Hassan in Baghdad, Iraq, contributed.