The Washington Post: Dead ISIS Leader Was ‘Austere Religious Scholar’

On October 27, 2019 President Donald Trump confirmed the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The terrorist reportedly detonated a suicide vest, killing himself and three of his children, when U.S. Special Forces raided his hideout in Idlib, Syria. The 48-year-old led a terrorist organization that was responsible for genocide in the Middle East and mass murder abroad.

But the headline for The Washington Post’s obituary initially described the terror chieftain as merely “an austere religious scholar at helm of Islamic State.” The newspaper subsequently changed it to read “extremist leader of Islamic State.” Oddly, the first version of the Post’s Baghdadi obituary described him as the “Islamic State’s terrorist-in-chief” before changing it to “an austere religious scholar,” according to a Washington Examiner report.

The Post’s absurd description of Baghdadi drew widespread condemnation and mockery on social media, with several Twitter users employing the hashtag “WashPostObituaries” to lampoon the newspaper. A Washington Post spokesperson, Kristine Coratti Kelly, admitted that the headline “should never have read that way and we changed it quickly.”

However, the problem goes beyond the headline. The Post’s opening paragraph still whitewashes Baghdadi as “an austere religious scholar with wire-frame glasses” who had “no known aptitude for fighting and killing” when he first took charge of the terror group. The newspaper does note that he “embraced a kind of extreme brutality” and led “one of the most notorious, vicious—and for a time, successful—terrorist groups of modern times.” But as The Washington Examiner’s Madison Dibble pointed out, the Post “focused much of its obituary on his academic career.”

By contrast, The New York Times’s obit, “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, ISIS Leader Known for His Brutality, Is Dead at 48,” provided readers with a no-frills, but deeply informative, accounting of Baghdadi’s crimes. New York Times reporters Rukmini Callimachi and Falih Hassan noted that Baghdadi was also a serial rapist, who personally tortured and toyed with his victims.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is not the first terrorist whose crimes were minimized in his obituary. As CAMERA highlighted in a Nov. 22, 2017 Algemeiner op-ed, Amin al-Husseini’s 1974 New York Times obit referred to the Nazi collaborator as a “handsome and soft-spoken Moslem gentleman” with “keen and often smiling blue eyes.” Popularly known as “Hitler’s Mufti,” al-Husseini helped the Nazis during World War II and, like Baghdadi, sought the destruction of Middle Eastern minorities.

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