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World's Most Wanted Terrorist Was Killed In U.S. Raid In Syria


What does the death of the ISIS leader really mean? We're about to answer that question from two perspectives. We will hear what it means for U.S. counterterrorism efforts, and we hear from a city Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi once ruled. It was inside a mosque in Mosul, Iraq, where he declared himself caliph several years ago. He ruled for years over the purported Islamic State encompassing large parts of Iraq and Syria. NPR's Jane Arraf is in Mosul, and we should warn you there is something of a delay on the line to Jane in Iraq. And, Jane, where are you exactly?

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Well, Steve, I am actually in the very mosque, the al-Nuri mosque, where Baghdadi declared his caliphate. I'm standing in the rubble of the pulpit, actually, where he stood. You can still see the green and red carpet that's now covered with building dust. ISIS exploded this mosque before they left, before they were driven out of the city. And now it's almost in ruins, but there's still the ceiling, there's still rubble. And the U.N. is trying to rebuild it because it still is a very potent symbol of the caliphate that he created and ran.

INSKEEP: Well, what are people who live in Mosul saying about this news of his death?

ARRAF: It's really interesting because we've been talking to people all along this street who were, for the most part, actually in this mosque when he gave that speech. And they're saying that they showed up to Friday prayers as they usually do, and all of a sudden, there was this guy with a lot of bodyguards. They didn't know who he was, but all of a sudden, he was saying that he was their caliph. And so the interesting thing about this is that when I asked them whether they - their reaction to Baghdadi dying, they don't believe that he actually died. And one of the imams actually, one of the spiritual leaders who was here when Baghdadi made the declaration, Mahmoud Saeed (ph), tells us that he doesn't believe it will make a difference now that Baghdadi is gone.

MAHMOUD SAEED: (Foreign language spoken).

ARRAF: So like a lot of people here, he was saying actually that they believe Baghdadi was an invention of the U.S. And, of course, they mention Israel because that's always the backdrop of conspiracy theories here. But there's a lot of disbelief about Baghdadi's death and disbelief about the prospect that it will change anything.

INSKEEP: Amazing that even people who saw him declare himself caliph years ago who were in that spot would doubt that he ever was what he claimed to be. Now he's gone, of course, but ISIS is still around. We've heard from our correspondent, Greg Myre, that there are an estimated 15,000 ISIS fighters in various parts of Iraq and Syria, that some attacks still continue. So when you talk to people there in Mosul, do they presume that ISIS is still in their midst?

ARRAF: They do, and they're a little bit afraid to talk about it. One of the people we spoke with this morning was the governor, Mansour al-Mareed (ph). He was saying that great that Baghdadi is gone, but that doesn't mean the danger is gone. And, in fact, if you go just outside the city limits to the mountains, to the islands and the Tigris, Iraqi forces are still fighting ISIS and, in some cases, fighting them with U.S. help. The ideology still persists here. That is the problem.

INSKEEP: OK. Thanks very much. NPR's Jane Arraf in Mosul, Iraq, actually standing on the rubble-strewn spot where Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi once declared himself caliph of the Islamic State. Jane, thanks so much.

ARRAF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jane Arraf covers Egypt, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East for NPR News.