Terrorism has over the years been a world’s issue of concern where interlocking trends
such as globalization and denationalization of weapons used for mass destruction have
transformed the nature and the degree of these threats. The terrorist groups are mainly
categorized into non-government sponsored, government sponsored, or government-directed
groups. The non-government sponsored groups are independent and do not receive any backing
from the state, while the government sponsored groups receive backing and funding from either
one or more states. The most popular groups in the world are the Islamic Extremist groups which
receive support from state sponsors. These groups include the Al Qaeda and Islamic State in Iraq
and Syria (ISIS) (Bertrand, 2015). These groups are known to have hierarchical structures and
their activities and are well organized and decentralized. Similar to all organizations in the
business world, the success of these groups is attributed to their leaders who are known to be
tactical and have manipulative communication techniques. These characteristics enable these
leaders to gain control over thousands of people across the world who are willing to die for them
(Glenn, 2015). Therefore, these terrorist groups can exploit various tactics such as bombings and
barricade-hostage incidences to achieve recognition, provoke organizations, and the government
or to gain rebellion support. This paper aims at comparing and contrasting the leadership and
communication techniques of Osama bin Laden, the former leader of Al Qaeda, and the leader of
ISIS Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Similarities between Osama bin Laden and al-Baghdadi
Osama bin Laden and al-Baghdadi are both termed as the most influential individuals in
the face of the earth due to their leadership and communication techniques used to lead their
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terrorist groups in conducting terrorist attacks. Some of these similarities include; first, the two
leaders managed to maintain their identity and background as a secret which leaves no room for
the opponents to know their next moves (Byman, 2015). Additionally, both leaders appeared
very minimal times in public, and when they do, they are seen in recordings which are aimed at
acknowledging their recent attacks. Al-Baghdadi is known as the ‘invisible sheik’ because he
avoids the spotlight, by all means, hides his face with a piece of clothe from those outside his
trusted circle (Anderson, 2014). Similarly, Osama used to keep a low profile, which made it
difficult for his opponents to get his psychological perspective from his background.
Second, both Osama and al-Baghdadi are considered as hard-line Islamists, which
enables them to have a different perspective of the world. Having this different perspective about
the world made the two leaders gain control over a massive group of people through
manipulative communication techniques (Bertrand, 2015). Both Osama and al-Baghdadi
possessed the skill of being in charge of their own life and influencing the people around them.
Their manipulative communication skills enabled them to justify the violence they instituted.
Their followers believe that their leaders’ actions are based on the Koran. The leaders use their
manipulative communication skills to justify the attacks around the world in spite of the Koran
being clear about the importance of maintaining peace and harmony.
Third, both Osama and al-Baghdadi have vast knowledge in military practices even
though they are not formally trained military commanders. They are both educated individuals
who are keen on military practices and teach their followers on how to attack their opponents
using this knowledge (Glenn, 2015). They both have a better understanding of their opponent’s
strategies and tactics of attacking them. Therefore, they recruit professional foreign fighters who
are loyal to them. Al-Baghdadi recruits veteran foreign fighters and keeps them in national units
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to enhance cohesion and reduce language barrier as countrymen are kept together (Anderson,
2015). Al-Baghdadi also recruits loyal, battle-hardened sub-commanders and suicidal bombers.
Each category of recruits is used based on his knowledge about the enemy. Similarly, Osama
recruited and made use of professional cadres who were the most trusted, trained amateurs, local
walk-ins who came up with terrorist ideas, and like-minded guerrillas and terrorists who were a
group of terrorists who in one way or another were indebted to the Al Qaeda (Bertrand, 2015).
All these groups came in handy during the organization and execution of a terror attack.
Fourth, the two leaders instituted hierarchies within their terrorist groups, where each
group in the hierarchy has different levels of accessibility of information regarding the group’s
internal operations. The top leaders have all the details about the groups’ activities while the
foreign fighters and the trained amateurs have minimal information (Byman, 2015). Therefore, in
case they are captured, they have limited information about the groups’ inner working.
Additionally, if killed, they can be easily replaced without disrupting the more comprehensive
Differences Osama bin Laden and al-Baghdadi
Despite the various similarities between Osama’s and al-Baghdadi’s leadership and
communication techniques, there are many differences between the methods used by the two
leaders. These differences are; first, Osama and al-Baghdadi had different goals where Osama
viewed the United States (US) as the main enemy of the people and thus prioritized global jihad.
On the other hand, Baghdadi wants to be the leader of the Muslim state (Schmitt & Hubbard,
2015). Osama capitalized on his network to take the jihad globally. Led by his vision of bringing
together the struggling jihadist groups under one umbrella, all local regimes swore allegiance to
him. As a result, he had more support in terms of weapons and finances, which lead to the
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success of the 1998 attack of two African based US embassies (Glenn, 2015). However, al-
Baghdadi, recruited foreign fighter to assist him in acquiring the Muslim estate to have a united
Iraq. In 2014, al-Baghdad and his forces successfully captured both minor and major towns in
Iraq and declared himself the leader of Muslims.
Second, al-Baghdadi used the strategy of controlling the territory while slowly
consolidating and expanding his position. The main aim of this strategy is to create a state where
all Muslims would adhere to the Islamic law (Byman, 2015). As a result, an Islamic state would
be formed, which would make it easier for the people to join the ISIS and thus, increasing its
army, which would be useful in conquering other territories. However, Osama advocated for
global jihad and encouraged people to take jihad as their obligation and embrace Al Qaeda’s
goals rather than to fight amongst themselves. Additionally, in conducting global jihad, Osama
planned for dramatic attacks against the US. However, he refrained from killing the western
people to suit his purposes. Osama regularly took the ideology of that terrorism does not work if
no one was watching (Byman, 2015). On the other hand, al-Baghdadi and the ISIS believe that
they must conquer by all means, and thus, they use revolutionary wars to conquer territories
(Anderson, 2015). In the conquered territories, al-Baghdadi and ISIS use harsh approaches such
as rape, public beheadings, and executions to create fear, which results in the submission of the
people in these communities.
Third, Osama used a centralized approach to Al Qaeda’s activities, where the top leaders
were controlling most of the operations. Therefore, even if one of the foreign fighters were
captured, he or she would not have anything to say to the enemy (Schmitt & Hubbard, 2015).
Consequently, the group’s operations and security would not be jeopardized. However, al-
Baghdadi empowers his inner circle deputies and regional commanders by giving them authority.
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The main aim of this leadership technique is to ensure that in case he is killed, the ISIS group
will continue its operations (Schmitt & Hubbard, 2015). However, this leadership technique
poses a risk, where, if one of these leaders are captured, they would have a wide range of
information to give to the enemy about the inner workings of the organization.
Fourth, Osama was a skilled orator who was able to manipulate various rhetorical
strategies to make his message accessible and understandable to everyone, including the
uneducated. Through the use of his charisma in his written statements and videos, he was able to
gain trust and confidence from others (Bertrand, 2015). Hence, he managed to have thousands of
militant followers across the globe. Al-Baghdadi and ISIS, on the other hand, are seen to have a
good mastery of online platforms such as Facebook and online propaganda, which has given
them an upper hand in the recruitment of young jihadists (Anderson, 2015). Al-Baghdadi is
known for applying the identity theory, where he recognizes the fact that most young people lack
self-esteem and are desperate to consolidate their identity (Atwan, 2015). Therefore, ISIS uses
social media platforms to encourage young people to engage in the group’s activities as a means
to adapt to life and gain a sense of importance as well as identity.
In conclusion, leaders in terrorist groups play a very significant role in the organization’s
success. Both Osama and al-Baghdadi have hugely contributed to the worldwide recognition of
the Al Qaeda and the ISIS terrorist groups. Following the discussion made, the two leaders have
various similarities and differences in their leadership and communication techniques. Some of
the discussed similarities include; they both approached the leadership technique to maintain a
low profile and had different perspectives about the world, which enhanced their ability to
manipulate people. Moreover, they explored their enemies’ weakness and came up with tactics to
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defeat them, and they introduced a hierarchy system of government in their groups, which was
meant to safeguard the secrets of their operations. In spite of these similarities, as discussed, the
two leaders had visible differences in the leadership and communication techniques where
Osama capitalized on the local groups to create a global jihad while al-Baghdadi focused on
conquering the Muslim State. Additionally, al-Baghdadi used the harsh approach of dealing with
his enemies while Osama adapted the approach where terrorist attacks were to be conducted
when the enemies were watching. Furthermore, Osama used his charisma to recruit young
jihadists while al-Baghdadi used his mastery of the identity theory and social media to recruit
young people. From the discussion, it is clear that leadership plays a very crucial role in the
success of any terrorist group. Additionally, these leaders have vast knowledge about their
targeted enemies and are willing to use all the tactics available for them to achieve their terrorist
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