Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) – an al-Qaeda offshoot — has been careful to reveal little about himself and his whereabouts.
There are only two authenticated photos of him, and unlike al-Qaeda leaders such as Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, he does not appear in video messages.
Even his own fighters reportedly do not speak about seeing him face to face.
The ISIL chief also appears to wear a mask to address his commanders, earning the nickname “the invisible sheikh”.
But Baghdadi – a nom de guerre, rather than his real name – has good reason to maintain a veil of mystery.
One of his predecessors, Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi who headed the most violent terrorist group in Iraq until his death, was a high-profile showman whose secret location was eventually tracked down. He was killed in a US bombing raid in 2006.
The leader of al-Qaeda’s current incarnation in Iraq may be a shadowy figure, but his organization ISIL is pulling in thousands of new recruits and has become one of the most cohesive militias in the Middle East, reports say.
Baghdadi is believed to have been born in Samarra, north of Baghdad, in 1971.
Reports suggest he was a cleric in a mosque in the city around the time of the US-led invasion in 2003.
Some believe he was already a militant during the rule of Saddam Hussein. Others suggest he was radicalized during the four years he was held at Camp Bucca, a US facility in southern Iraq where many al-Qaeda commanders were detained.