The obituary, written by The Post’s National Security reporter Joby Warrick, followed confirmation of al-Baghdadi's death in a U.S. military operation in Syria on Saturday night. It detailed al-Baghdadi’s rise to the terrorist group's shadow leader from what the paper described as his origins as a "religious scholar with wireframe glasses."
The headline read: "Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, austere religious scholar at helm of Islamic State, dies at 48."
The story first appeared to run under a headline that referred to al-Baghdadi as the "Islamic State's 'terrorist-in-chief.'" It was unclear why or who decided to change the "terrorist" label to "austere religious scholar."
The Post then changed the headline again, settling on "extremist leader of Islamic State."
Washington Post Vice President of Communications Kristine Coratti Kelly told Fox News, "Regarding our al-Baghdadi obituary, the headline should never have read that way and we changed it quickly."
White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham tweeted that she had "no words" regarding The Post headline. Former Press Secretary Sean Spicer also responded, writing:
"Stop, read this & think about it: last night a ruthless, brutal terrorist who threatened our country & is responsible for the death of American citizens was killed in a successful operation by US military & @washingtonpost described #Albagdadi as an 'austere religious scholar.'"
Others on social media took notice of the bizarre headline changes, taking digs at the paper.
"They had it right the first time," Yashar Ali, New York Magazine and HuffPost contributor tweeted, alongside screenshots of the two headlines.
"@washingtonpost trying desperately to hold on to #ISIS on-line subscribers," Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., said.
Social media users mocked the paper by writing death notices for other historic figures who committed crimes and atrocities.
"#WaPoDeathNotices Genghis Khan, accomplished horseman and indefatigable traveler, breathes his last," Bard College professor and Wall Street Journal columnist Walter Russel Mead wrote.
Under Al-Baghdadi’s leadership, ISIS carried out a slew of barbaric atrocities, including the enslavement and rape of thousands of women from Iraq's Yazidi minority. They massacred captives and threw individuals believed to be gay from the rooftops of buildings.
Journalists and aid workers were beheaded, including Americans, in videos and photos the terror group broadcast with delight.
James Foley, an American journalist, was beheaded by ISIS terrorists in August 2014 while covering the Syrian civil war. Foley, 45, was the first U.S. citizen to be murdered by the terrorist group.
The beheadings of Steven Sotloff, another American journalist, and Peter Kassig, an American aid worker and former Army Ranger, followed the death of Foley. The beheadings of all three were broadcast on video.
Kayla Mueller, another American aid worker, was also killed at the hands of ISIS, after having been taken hostage in 2013 and forced to “marry” one of their leaders. Her death was confirmed in 2015.
The killings and barbaric treatment extended to citizens from other countries, including journalists from Britain and Japan, who were also beheaded.
In December 2014, Jordanian pilot Muath Al-Kaseasbeh was shot down and captured in Syria. He was taken hostage and months later seen on video being burned alive in a cage.
President Trump announced the death of al-Baghdadi Sunday morning, describing him as dying “in a vicious and violent way, as a coward, running and crying.”
Al-Baghdadi had retreated to a dead-end tunnel, taking three children with him, and detonated a suicide vest. He along with the children were killed in the blast.
Fox News' Nick Givas and The Associated Press contributed to this report.