Afghan sources have provided new information on the elusive leader of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, also now known as Caliph Ibrahim. According to these accounts, Baghdadi spent several years in Afghanistan working with the Arab jihadist community and the Taliban. Baghdadi apparently went to Afghanistan in the late 1990s with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian who founded al-Qaeda in Iraq after the US-led invasion in 2003. It was Zarqawi's group that would later evolve into the Islamic State.
Zarqawi, whose real name was Ahmad Fadil al-Khalayilah, had been a petty criminal known for his cruelty. Born in 1966, he spent several years in Jordanian prisons, where he was radicalized in the 1980s, becoming an Islamic extremist. Once freed, between 1989 and 1992 he fought with the Afghan mujahedeen against the Soviet-backed communist regime in Kabul before returning to Jordan.