A modified obituary headline regarding Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the deceased commander-in-chief of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant who was allegedly killed by US security forces on Saturday, has caused outrage against the Washington Post.
Referring to al-Baghdadi as the "world's number one terrorist leader" and a "brutal killer", US President Donald Trump announced on Sunday morning that the elusive Baghdadi had been killed during a military strike in Syria.
While the news instantly grabbed international headlines around the world, the US-based Washington Post's coverage of the incident as drawn flak from netizens around the world. Initially, the Post's obituary headline read this way: "Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Islamic State "terrorist-in-chief", dies at 48". However, the Post later changed the headline to "Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, austere religious scholar at the helm of Islamic State, dies at 48".
The change in headline was widely criticized by people around the world, many of whom referred to the former ISIS leader as a sick and depraved man and stated that the Post had it right the first time.
They had it right the first time. The Washington Post changed the headline on its Al-Baghdadi obituary from “Islamic State’s terrorist-in-Chief” to “austere religious scholar at helm of Islamic State.” pic.twitter.com/cs243EVz7W— Yashar Ali 🐘 (@yashar) October 27, 2019
The new headline also drew flak from Indians. Biju Janata Dal spokesperson and Odisha MP Dr. Sasmit Patra called the headline "preposterous" but said that he wasn't surprised. "Pakistani headlines eugolise dead terrorists as freedom fighters...Headline could simply have read - - Most Wanted Terrorist Killed," Patra wrote.
#WaPoDeathNotices Such preposterous headlines should not surprise India. Pakistani headlines eugolise dead terrorists as freedom fighters. Most hilarious is referencing it under Obituaries. Headline could simply have read - Most Wanted Terrorist Killed. pic.twitter.com/YZFXJL95Tv— Dr. Sasmit Patra (@sasmitpatra) October 28, 2019
Others also trolled the Post and the hashtag #WaPoDeathNotices also started to trend in various counties on Twitter. Many used the allegory of popular pop-culture villains from films and books to make the point.
Famous, highly-prized, rebel, Gabbar Singh, passes away quietly in jail, mourned by his associates who ate his salt and bullets. He was known for his love of unusual dance forms, and for promoting a hands-free existence. #WaPoDeathNotices— Ramesh Srivats (@rameshsrivats) October 28, 2019
Not just fictional villains, Twitterati even dredged up the names of other extremists who have been killed in encounter or legally executed.
Osama bin Laden, father of 23, killed in home invasion #WaPoDeathNotices— Joe DeVito (@JoeDeVitoComedy) October 27, 2019
It was Baghdadi who in 2014 announced the the so-called Islamic caliphate in Iraq and Syria, and is often deemed as the founder of the ISIS. His death is the second most significant victory for the United states military forces since the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden in 2011 under then President Barack Obama.
Following backlash, however, it seems the Washington Post decided to change modified headline after all. The new headline referred to al-Baghdadi as "extremist leader of Islamic State". In fact, Washington Post even apologised for the headline in a later tweet.
2. Headline updated to “extremist leader of Islamic State” pic.twitter.com/qNAKWLuiru— Yashar Ali 🐘 (@yashar) October 27, 2019
Regarding our al-Baghdadi obituary, the headline should never have read that way and we changed it quickly.— Kristine Coratti Kelly (@kriscoratti) October 27, 2019