Haji Bakr
Birth nameSamir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi
Nickname(s)'Knight of the Silencers'[1]
'Lord of the Shadows'[2]
Bornca. 1958–1964[2]
DiedJanuary 2014 (late fifties)[2]
northern Syria
Allegiance Baathist Iraq (unknown–2003)

Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (2003–2004)

Al-Qaeda (2004–2013)

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (2013–2014)
Service/branchIraqi Army (until 2003)
ISIL military (8 April 2013 – January 2014)
RankColonel (until 2003)
ISIL Military Chief and overall leader of ISIL in Syria
(April 2010 – January 2014)[3]
Battles/wars1991 Iraq War
2003 Iraq War
Iraqi insurgency

Syrian Civil War

Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi, better known by the pseudonym Haji Bakr and sometimes his kunya Abu Bakr al-Iraqi,[4] was a senior leader of the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), heading its Military Council and leading its operations in Syria, prior to his killing by Syrian rebels in January 2014.[2][5] Previously a Colonel in the Iraqi Intelligence Service, papers found after his death indicated that al-Khlifawi played a key role in devising the plans ISIL used to conquer and administer territory in Syria and Iraq.[2]


During the Ba'ath regime

Prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq and overthrow of Saddam Hussein, al-Khlifawi had been an Iraqi Army colonel who had worked on weapons development and in the intelligence services of Saddam's Air Defense Corps.[6] According to Iraqi journalist Hisham al-Hashimi, whose cousin served with Khlifawi, he was stationed for a period of time at Habbaniya Air Base. Iraqi Intelligence say that he joined al-Qaida in Iraq and took part in the Iraqi insurgency.[7]

After the Invasion of Iraq

Arrested by American forces, al-Khlifawi was held in detention in Camp Bucca, alongside many of the men who would form the senior leadership of ISIL, including Abu Muslim al-Turkmani, Abu Abdulrahman al-Bilawi and future leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.[8][9][10]

Following his release he became a senior leader in the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), and led the group's military council following the killing of top commanders Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Ayyub al-Masri by US Forces in 2010. Al-Khlifawi played an influential role in Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi becoming the next ISI leader, and reportedly organized an internal purge, including scores of assassinations, in order to solidify al-Baghdadi's control of the group.[6][11]

Role in Syria

The then-ISI took advantage of the 2011 outbreak of Civil War in neighboring Syria to grow their organisation. Al-Khlifawi moved to an unremarkable house[12] in the small Syrian town of Tell Rifaat, just north of Aleppo in late 2012, along with his wife.[12] It was here where he organised the group's takeover of territory in parts of the country using his experience as a former Intelligence Officer. Documents written by al-Khlifawi, and discovered by Syrian rebels in his hideout, showed that the group was following a strategy to initially use intelligence gathering, infiltration of local power bases, and tactical short-term alliances with local power brokers to establish themselves in an area. This would expand to include kidnappings and assassinations of potential threats before the group would seize control of the territory and utilize the already established network of informers in the area to become the base of a governance system.[2][13]

Al-Khlifawi was killed in early January 2014 in Tell Rifaat during clashes between ISIL and Syrian rebels by members of the Syrian Martyrs' Brigade, who were not aware of his importance.[2][7][11] Prior to his death, he had refused to move to a heavily guarded ISIL headquarters near his house because of his addiction to living in the shadows.[12] One of his neighbours betrayed him by saying "A Daesh (ISIL) sheikh lives next door". Soon after, rival Syrian rebel militiamen forced their way into his house and al-Khlifawi fought the attackers back with his AK weapon but he was killed during the gunfights.[12] Following al-Khlifawi's death, Abu Abdulrahman al-Bilawi, another former Iraqi Military officer, took his place in ISIL's Military Council.[14]


  1. ^ "Opaque structure adds to challenge of defeating Isis". Financial Times. 24 August 2014. Retrieved 23 October 2014. (subscription required)
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Christoph Reuter (18 April 2015). "The Terror Strategist: Secret Files Reveal the Structure of Islamic State". Der Spiegel. Retrieved 18 April 2015.
  3. ^ "ISIS confirms death of senior leader in Syria". Long War Journal. February 2014.
  4. ^ "ISIS confirms death of senior leader in Syria | FDD's Long War Journal". www.longwarjournal.org. 2014-02-05. Retrieved 2021-05-24.
  5. ^ "Military skill and terrorist technique fuel success of ISIS". The New York Times. 27 August 2014. Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  6. ^ a b "The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria: A Primer". The Soufan Group. 13 June 2014. Archived from the original on 23 October 2014. Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  7. ^ a b "Key Al-Qaida Militant Reportedly Killed in Syria". Yahoo. 27 January 2014. Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  8. ^ "Who runs the militant group Islamic State?". Reuters. Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  9. ^ "Exclusive: Top ISIS leaders revealed". Al Arabiya. 13 February 2014. Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  10. ^ "Deadly revenge of Saddam's henchmen". The Times. 14 June 2014. Retrieved 23 October 2014. (subscription required)
  11. ^ a b "ISIS confirms death of senior leader in Syria". Long War Journal. 5 February 2014. Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  12. ^ a b c d Moorcraft, Paul (30 November 2015). The Jihadist Threat: The Re-conquest of the west? (Illustrated ed.). Pen and Sword. p. 86. ISBN 978-1-473-85679-0.
  13. ^ Christoph Reuter (19 April 2015). "Interview with Christoph Reuter". BBC World Service: Newshour, 19 April 2015, 12:40-13:00 GMT. Archived from the original on 22 April 2015.
  14. ^ "Military Skill and Terrorist Technique Fuel Success of ISIS". New York Times. 27 August 2014. Retrieved 21 October 2014.