The Islamic State's Leader is Dead. What Now?

The death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a daring raid by US special forces on Saturday is a significant breakthrough in American efforts to defeat the sprawling terror organization, which has killed thousands and inflicted suffering on millions of people, primarily in the Muslim world. What should we make of the takedown of one of the world's most elusive terrorists? Here are some key questions to consider.


For ISIS, is this an operational blow or a symbolic one? In recent years, al-Baghdadi has seldom been seen or heard from. And while he served an important inspirational and symbolic role in building ISIS' jihadist brand, attracting fighters from every region of the world to come to the Levant, and inspiring offshoots elsewhere, his operational control of the organization had evidently faded as the group became more globally diffuse. But that symbolism is important: taken together with the loss of their self-proclaimed Caliphate (which was once as big as the UK), the death of al-Baghdadi may well undermine the vision of establishing a global caliphate. What's more, intelligence recovered from al-Baghdadi's hideout could help to disrupt operations by the organization's members and sympathizers in the region and globally.

What does this mean for the broader appeal of Islamic extremism? Probably not much. It is one thing to kill a particular terrorist leader, but quite another to extinguish the appeal of jihadist extremism itself. The death of Osama bin Laden in 2011 is a case in point. At the time he was the most wanted terrorist in the world. His death helped to hobble Al-Qaeda, but just a few years later ISIS emerged. For ISIS sympathizers scattered around the world and connected to its violent ideology via the internet, al-Baghdadi's death is unlikely to have much effect on their extreme beliefs or their readiness to carry out attacks.

How does this fit in with Trump's plan to withdraw from Syria? One of Trump's stated reasons for leaving Syria was his claim that ISIS had been defeated. Killing al-Baghdadi certainly lends weight to that notion. But it's still not clear whether Trump's withdrawal will, in fact, allow rank and file ISIS members to regroup and regenerate their movement in ways that undercut the recent successes. The Trump administration seems aware of that possibility, as it has deployed hundreds of US troops to "guard oil fields," in part from ISIS advances in eastern Syria.

Looking forward: The death of the visionary sadist behind the Islamic State strikes a blow to the terror group, but how this will translate on the battlefield remains unclear. The group has been landless for some time, now it's leaderless. Will that matter?

The scientific consensus is clear. The world confronts an urgent carbon problem. The world's climate experts agree that the world must take urgent action to bring down emissions. Ultimately, we must reach "net zero" emissions, meaning that humanity must remove as much carbon as it emits each year.

While the world will need to reach net zero, those of us who can afford to move faster and go further should do so. That's why last week we announced an ambitious goal and a new plan to reduce and ultimately remove Microsoft's carbon footprint. By 2030 Microsoft will be carbon negative, and by 2050 Microsoft will remove from the environment all the carbon the company has emitted either directly or by electrical consumption since it was founded in 1975. We are also launching an initiative to use Microsoft technology to help our suppliers and customers around the world reduce their own carbon footprints and a new $1 billion climate innovation fund to accelerate the global development of carbon reduction, capture, and removal technologies.

Read more on the Official Microsoft Blog.

A potentially deadly new coronavirus that can be transmitted from one person to another is now spreading across China. Chinese state media say it has infected about 300 people and killed six, but the number of undetected or unreported cases is certain to be much higher. Complicating containment efforts, millions of people are on the move across the country this week to celebrate the Chinese New Year with family and friends.

More

Norway's government breaks up over ISIS returnee – Norway's right-wing Progress Party said it will resign from the country's four-party coalition government over the prime minister's decision to bring home a Norwegian woman affiliated with the Islamic State in Syria. The woman, who left Norway for the conflict zone in 2013, was arrested shortly after arriving in Oslo with her two children, on suspicion of being a member of ISIS. Prior to her return, she had been held in the Al-Hol refugee camp in northeastern Syria, along with thousands of other family members of ISIS fighters. The defection of Norway's anti-immigrant Progress Party undercuts Prime Minister Erna Solberg's parliamentary majority, likely making it hard for her to pass laws in parliament. This case reflects an increasingly common problem for European countries: the Islamic State's self-proclaimed caliphate has largely collapsed but what should countries do about the return of former fighters and their families to societies that don't want them?

More

20,000: Sri Lanka's president has acknowledged for the first time that some 20,000 people who disappeared during the country's brutal civil war are dead, dashing the hopes of families who had held out hope that their relatives were alive and in military custody. The conflict, which ended in 2009, split the country according to ethnicities, killing around 100,000 people, mostly Tamil rebels.

More

Since Martin Luther King Jr delivered his iconic "I have a dream" speech in August 1963, the number of Black Americans elected to the United States Congress has dramatically increased. Still, it wasn't until last year, more than half a century later, that the share of Black members serving in the House of Representatives reflected the percentage of Black Americans in the broader population —12 percent. To date, only six states have sent a Black representative to serve in the US Senate, and many states have never elected a Black representative to either house of Congress. Here's a look at Black representation in every US Congress since 1963.