Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi Photo: Supplied
London: The FBI "most wanted" mugshot shows a tough figure, his hair in a jailbird crew-cut. The $US10 million ($11.1 million) price on his head, meanwhile, suggests that whoever released him from US custody four years ago may now be regretting it.
Taken during his years as a detainee at the US-run Camp Bucca in southern Iraq, it is the only known photograph of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the new leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq and Syria. But while he may lack the photogenic qualities of his hero, Osama bin Laden, he is fast becoming the new poster-boy for the global jihadist movement.
Well-organised and utterly ruthless, the former preacher is the driving force behind al-Qaeda's resurgence throughout Syria and Iraq, putting it at the forefront of the war to topple President Bashar al-Assad and starting a fresh campaign of mayhem against the Western-backed government in Baghdad.
Last week, his forces fought open clashes with Iraqi army troops around the city of Fallujah - once known as the graveyard of the Americans - after brazenly attempting to seize control there the weekend before.
"They turned up in convoys waving their black flags and saying that Fallujah belongs to al-Qaeda again," said Ayad Dulaimi, a resident. "With God's help, the army will destroy them."
For Washington, the fact that it is now Iraqi troops who are confronting Baghdadi's fanatics rather than American ones is of limited comfort. For just like bin Laden, whose death he has vowed to avenge, his ambitions go well beyond the Middle East.
"You will see the mujahideen [holy warriors] at the heart of your country," he warned the US in an audio-taped statement. "Our war with you has only started now."
So who is the man who now so worries America, and why has he become so effective?
As with many of al-Qaeda's leaders, precise details are sketchy. His FBI rap sheet offers little beyond the fact that he is aged around 42, and was born as Ibrahim Ali al-Badri in the city of Samarrah, which lies on a palm-lined bend in the Tigris north of Baghdad. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is a nom de guerre, as is his other name, Abu Duaa, which translates roughly as "Father of the Summons".
Some describe him as a farmer who was arrested by US forces during a mass sweep in 2005, who then became radicalised at Camp Bucca, where many al-Qaeda commanders were held. Others, though, believe he was a radical even during Saddam Hussein's rule, and became a prominent al-Qaeda player very shortly after the US invasion.
"This guy was a Salafi [a follower of a puritan brand of Sunni Islam], and Saddam's regime would have kept a close eye on him," said Dr Michael Knights, an Iraq expert at pro-Israel think tank the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
"He was also in Camp Bucca for several years, which suggests he was already considered a serious threat when he went in there."
That theory seems backed by US intelligence reports from 2005, which describe him as al-Qaeda's point man in Qaim, a fly-blown town in Iraq's western desert.
"Abu Duaa was connected to the intimidation, torture and murder of local civilians in Qaim," says a Pentagon document. "He would kidnap individuals or entire families, accuse them, pronounce sentence and then publicly execute them."
Why such a ferocious individual was deemed fit for release in 2009 is not known. One possible explanation is that he was one of thousands of suspected insurgents granted amnesty as the US began its draw down in Iraq. Another, though, is that rather like Keyser Söze, the enigmatic crimelord in the film The Usual Suspects, he may actually be several different people.
"We either arrested or killed a man of that name about half a dozen times. He is like a wraith who keeps reappearing, and I am not sure where fact and fiction meet," said Lieutenant-General Sir Graeme Lamb, a former British special forces commander who helped US efforts against al-Qaeda in Iraq. "There are those who want to promote the idea that this man is invincible, when it may actually be several people using the same nom de guerre."
What does seem clear, however, is that al-Qaeda now has its most formidable leadership since Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian who kidnapped the British hostage, Ken Bigley, and who died in a missile strike in 2006.
When Baghdadi was announced as a new leader in 2010 - following the killing of two other top commanders - al-Qaeda was seriously on the back foot, not just in Iraq but regionwide. In former strongholds like Fallujah, its fighters had been routed after their brutality sparked a rebellion by local tribes. In Pakistan and Afghanistan, drone strikes were destroying the cream of its senior leadership. And the following year the onset of the Arab revolutions, with their emphasis on democracy and human rights, made it look simply irrelevant.
Indeed, when bin Laden himself was killed in May 2011, Baghdadi's pledge to avenge his death with 100 terrorist attacks across Iraq looked like little more than bluster.
His greatest coup so far was to free some of his most loyal supporters during a spectacular jailbreak at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison, supposedly the most-heavily guarded facility in the country. Last July, a combined assault involving suicide bombers and 50 crack militiamen saw around 1000 prisoners freed, half of them al-Qaeda members.
Many are believed to have headed to neighbouring Syria, where they have proved decisive in turning al-Qaeda into the pre-eminent rebel movement in the fight against the Assad regime.
Baghdadi himself is also believed to have relocated there, and last year renamed his group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Already the group has about 7000 fighters in northern Syria, including volunteers from Britain and Europe.
Some, though, believe that events of the past week suggest Baghdadi has already made the mistake of many of his predecessors, by over-flexing his muscles.
In northern Syria, nearly 200 of his men are reported to have died last week in fighting with opposed rebel groups. One Aleppo-based activist said that "90 per cent of people" in rebel-held areas have now swung against the group's Taliban-style regime. "Al-Qaeda may be better organised under Baghdadi," said Dr Toby Dodge, an Iraq expert at the London School of Economics. "But as soon they hold territory, their popularity tends to disappear."