At Camp Bucca, Abu Omar met Baghdadi, who was then using the alias Abu Duaa. “He used to lead the prayers and on many occasions gave Friday sermons. He wasn’t someone important there when compared to the high-profile inmates such as Abu Mutaz, Abu Abdul Rahman al-Bilawi and current IS spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani. They were the big names and they had their fingerprints on the world of jihad,” Abu Omar said.
Baghdadi was arrested in 2004 while visiting an al-Qaeda-affiliated friend. At that point, the future IS leader wasn’t a member of the organization. He had just graduated with a master’s degree in Islamic studies from the Iraqi University in Baghdad, now known as the Islamic University of Iraq, and was preparing to start his doctoral degree.
Hashimi said, “At Camp Bucca, Baghdadi absorbed the jihadist ideology and established himself among the big names. He met Haji Bakr, back then known as Samir al-Khlifawi, Abu Muhannad al-Suedawi, Abu Ahmed al-Alwani. These were officers in Saddam [Hussein]’s army, and despite their Baath origins they impressed him with their military knowledge. He also influenced them with his religious background — mainly his expertise in Quranic studies.”
Abu Omar, Baghdadi’s friend at Camp Bucca, filled in other details of Baghdadi’s daily life there: “I saw him playing football with other prisoners. I was amazed by his skills, and I understood later that he was given the name Maradona. This is the only thing I saw in him. I heard his speeches but he was nothing compared to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. His words lacked power,” he said.
During his years at Camp Bucca, Baghdadi built his contacts and established good ties inside Iraq’s al-Qaeda. As soon as he was released he became a member of the group, taking the name Abu Duaa as his alias. Baghdadi sought to continue his studies and acquired a doctoral degree in Sharia from the Islamic University in Baghdad. Outside prison, Baghdadi met Sheikh Fawzi al-Jobouri, one of the influential intellectuals within the ranks of Iraq’s al-Qaeda. Jobouri introduced him to the organization’s Minister of Information Muharib Abdul Latif al-Jubouri, who used his authority to help Baghdadi go to Syria and concentrate on his writings on condition that he would help in media issues whenever they needed him.
“Sheikh Ibrahim’s field of study was phonetics of the Quran, a rare field that only few chose in their doctoral studies.” Abu Ahmad said. “He was influenced by his father who used to teach the Quran at the Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal Mosque in Samarra.” The future leader of IS acquired his doctoral degree in June 2006, the same month that the al-Qaeda leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian, was killed by US and Iraqi forces.