The Startup Called The Islamic State (aka ISIS)

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the shadowy figure behind the Islamic State , has become the most powerful jihadi leader in the world.  Similar to a startup company’s founder,  Al-Baghdadi has an interesting background and ambitious goals:

  • In his early 40s,  he founded the Islamic State jihadist group (formerly known as ISIS)

  • He was born in Iraq

  • Held prisoner from 2005-2009 in Iraq by the U.S. military, today he has $10M U.S. bounty on his head

  • His organization controls about $2B in assets (cash,  captured military hardware,  etc)

  • Described as secretive and ambitious, he has excellent organizational skills and is believed to be well-educated and rather reclusive


Killer App

Al-Baghdadi’s organization has risen at a staggering pace.  After release from U.S. military custody in Iraq in 2009,  he took over a local Iraqi Al-Queda group in 2010,  transformed it into ISIS,  and built a transnational organization.  Like leaders of successful startup companies,  he has strong operational capabilities,  is able to pivot quickly to new areas of opportunity,  and exhibits a unique form of corporate-style professionalism.  

Declaring a caliphate (Islamic state) in 2014,  then positing himself as calif (leader),  Al-Baghdadi recently made clear his strategic goals in a July 4th, 2014 speech in Mosul (full text here).  Though sparse on details,  the goals outlined in his speech included:

  • Revenge against the “perpetrators” of crimes against Muslims

  • Strict interpretation of Islamic law

  • Recognition that the caliphate is the duty of all Muslims

  • Allegiance to his leadership (as self-declared calif)

  • Building operational maturity by recruiting engineers,  doctors and lawyers

Social Media And Corporate Reports

As though to emphasize transparency and professionalism,  Al-Baghdadi publishes an annual report, which can be found here.  His organization also makes extensive use of Twitter and Facebook to reach audiences.

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