For the first time in five years, the leader of the elusive Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL or ISIS), Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi has appeared in a propaganda video. In the 18-minute video released by the armed group, Al-Baghdadi acknowledges the defeat of the terror group in the battle of Baghuz in Syria in March. “Truthfully, the battle of Islam and its people against the cross and its people is a long battle,” he says. “The battle of Baghuz is over. But it did show the savagery, brutality and ill intentions of the Christians towards the Muslim community.”
This appearance confirms that Al-Baghdadi is still alive whilst acknowledging the loss of the former ISIS territory. He had not released audio sermons since August last year, fuelling rumours that he could be severely wounded or even killed.
The end of the video contains an audio segment praising the attackers who carried out the Easter Bombings in Sri Lanka. The attack targeted churches and mosques, killing at least 250 people. He referred to the attacks as revenge for the battle of Baghuz. “This is part of the vengeance that awaits the Crusaders and their henchmen,” Al-Baghdadi says. Although the Sri Lankan attackers pledged allegiance to ISIS, it remains unclear whether the group inspired or plotted the attack directly.
In the video Al-Baghdadi refers to the battle of Baghuz in the past tense, however it is unclear when the footage was filmed. The video acknowledges the resignation of the Algerian leader Abdulaziz Bouteflika, the fall of the Somalian dictator Omar Al-Bashir and Benjamin Netanyahu’s re-election in Israel. All of these events took place between April 9-22; an indication that the video was made during that time.
After the release of the video, the U.S. State Department declared they will hunt down the surviving ISIS leaders and fight across the world to ensure their defeat. Intelligence from the West and in the affected regions believe that Al-Baghdadi’s grip on ISIS has slipped since last year.
Al-Baghdadi’s praising of the Colombo attack appears to be an effort to emphasize the ISIS threat in the middle east despite its continued defeat. Judit Neurink, journalist and author of The War on ISIS: On The Road to a Caliphate believes this video was primarily meant to send the message that Al-Baghdadi is still at large. The message is clear from Al-Baghdadi: “there’s more to come.”
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