Cairo: Islamic State’s (IS) media network Monday published a threatening video message purporting to come from its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in what would be his first appearance since declaring the jihadists’ now-defunct ‘caliphate’ five years ago.
In the 18-minute video from the ‘Al Furqan network’, a bearded man with Baghdadi’s appearance says the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka were IS’s response to losses in its last territorial stronghold of Baghouz in Syria. The man states that the group will seek revenge for jailed and killed members. He has also called on militants operating in west Africa to multiply attacks against ‘Crusader France and its allies’.
The video would be the first from Baghdadi since he was filmed in the Iraqi city of Mosul in 2014. More recent speeches have been released as audio recordings.
The speaker appears to be in good health and looks like a slightly older version of Baghdadi than when he was pictured in 2014, addressing followers from a pulpit to declare a caliphate stretching across Iraq and Syria. In the footage released Monday, he is dressed in black robes and a beige waistcoat, with a long greying beard dyed red at the bottom. A rifle leans against the wall behind him.
“Our battle today is a battle of attrition with the enemy … Jihad continues until judgement day, and God ordered us to jihad, but not to victory,” he said.
In the video Baghdadi congratulated militants in Libya for a deadly attack earlier this month on the southern desert town of Fuqaha, where they later retreated, and militants in Burkina Faso and Mali for pledging allegiance to Islamic State. He also asked God to protect them and Abu Waleed al-Sahrawi, the leader of IS in the Greater Sahara. “We recommend the mujahideen to drain their enemies of all their human, military, economic and logistical capabilities,” he said.
At the height of its power, IS ruled over millions of people in territory running from northern Syria through towns and villages along the Tigris and Euphrates valleys to the outskirts of Baghdad. But the fall in 2017 of Mosul and Raqqa, its strongholds in Iraq and Syria respectively, stripped Baghdadi of the trappings of a caliph and turned him into a fugitive thought to be moving along the desert border between Iraq and Syria. There had been conflicting reports over whether Baghdadi, an Iraqi, is still alive. The video however is some proof that he is still alive.
The CIA had no immediate comment on the video. “We are aware of a video posted today reportedly showing Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,” said Pentagon spokesman Navy Commander Sean Robertson. “We are continuing to support partner forces in their mission of an enduring defeat of ISIS.”
US air strikes have killed most of Baghdadi’s top lieutenants, including ‘war minister’ Abu Omar al-Shishani, ‘governor of the Iraqi region’ Abu Muslim al-Turkmani, group spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani and ‘governor for Syria’ Abu Ali al-Anbari.
In the video, the speaker paid tribute to fighters who died in the Baghouz area (the last IS bastion), stating they included nationals from Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Belgium, France, Australia, Chechnya and Egypt. Baghdadi also said that Easter Sunday bombings that left more than 250 people dead in Sri Lanka were carried out ‘in revenge for their brothers in Baghouz’.
Baghdadi’s last known audio recording was released in August 2018. At the end of the video, one of the aides passes laminated files to Baghdadi labelled with some of the countries or regions in which IS has been active, including Somalia, Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, west Africa, Yemen, and Libya.