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‘OpsLens Terms to Know’: KUNYA

Who is Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al-Badri? Most of you will not know the answer, because this individual, like so many in the Middle East, are better known by another name(s).

The answer:  Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al-Badri is leader of the Islamic State and their self-declared caliphate, better known as ISIS.  He is also known as Abu Du’a, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi al-Husseini al-Hashimi al-Qurashi, Amir al-Mu’minin and a host of other names.  You likely have heard his name as ‘Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’.

The media frequently reports on terrorism and the key players that are involved.  In doing so, the names for individuals that are most frequently reported in the press are their KUNYA (koon-ya), or AKA (also known as).  While both males and females receive these honorary names, we are going to highlight the basic essence of the format, and more importantly why they make our ongoing counterterrorism efforts difficult.

In the simplest of terms, a kunya is a nickname, typically Abu (his father) followed by his father’s name, i.e. “Abu Muhammad’.  However, in many cases these honorific titles take on a different form, particularly within the world of extremism.

Why this matters is the fact that individuals with so many names makes it difficult to narrow down not only where a target is located, but in fact who he is.  Logically speaking, an individual’s true given name, i.e. what is on his passport, is the most helpful information to have, as official registrations will not have his or her kunya listed.  Extremists are aware of this and as such almost exclusively use their kunyas.

Furthermore, given the complexity and spelling variations of Arabic names, identifying and tracking an individual with multiple names logically makes things more difficult on government officials and distorts information in our databases that our used to monitor such individuals.  Obviously in the case of Abu Du’a (above) authorities across the globe are well aware of his names, physical descriptions; however, in the case of many lower level operatives who stand to harm us, we remain in the dark.

Look for more ‘OpsLens Terms to Know’ on a frequent basis.

By OpsLens Staff