Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi is the leader of Daesh, aka ISIS. He is a mysterious figure, having rarely been seen in public. Armies fighting in Syria have claimed his death a number of times, only to be proven wrong. I wrote of two of these rumor, once in 2014, and again in 2017. Now, new video has surfaced of al-Baghdadi, suggesting he is still alive, and that all the previous rumors were mistaken. The Wall Street Journal’s Raja Abdulrahim and Nazih Osseiran report:
Islamic State released a rare recorded video that purports to show its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, following the complete collapse of the extremist group’s self-declared caliphate last month when its last outpost in Syria was captured.
In what would be the first known video footage of him in nearly five years, the 47-year-old terror group leader appeared with a graying beard as he urged his followers to fight on despite the setbacks and praised the Easter attacks undertaken by the “brothers in Sri Lanka.”
“The truth is the battle of Islam and its people with the crusaders and their people is a long battle,” says Baghdadi in the 18-minute video, according to monitoring group SITE Intelligence.
The Wall Street Journal couldn’t independently confirm that the figure in the video was Baghdadi. Army Col. James Rawlinson, a spokesman for the anti-Islamic State coalition, said U.S. officials were working to validate the video.
“There is serious danger not only to the fact that Baghdadi, #ISIS’ so-called Caliph, is still alive,” said Rita Katz, director of SITE Intelligence, on Twitter, “but also that he is able to re-emerge to his supporters and reaffirm the group’s us-vs-the-world message after all the progress made against the group.”
In the latest video, the man purported to be Islamic State’s leader discusses the Sri Lanka Easter bombings, saying they were an act of revenge following the caliphate’s loss of its last strip of territory in Syria.
To elude capture, Baghdadi, who has a $25 million bounty on his head, has gone low-tech, according to the officials, shunning trackable communications devices, moving in a single vehicle to avoid attention and trusting only a small circle of close aides.
Some terrorism experts suggest Baghdadi had another reason to go quiet lately: He would have had difficulty crafting an inspirational message after so many defeats. But with the deadly attacks in Sri Lanka, Islamic State has what it regards as something positive to talk about, they said.
“Its hard to send out a message when they’ve been doing so much losing,” said Seth Jones, a former Pentagon adviser now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank in Washington. “But it is another thing to wait for an attack like this, one that did succeed in killing a large number of individuals. The group thinks that is has gotten some traction.”
Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington, said the Sri Lanka bombings ranked in what Islamic State might consider its top five all-time accomplishments. “So it is a great time to brag, and to use the opportunity to declare that this whole thing ain’t over—and to inspire future recruits and operatives,” he said. “And maybe Baghdadi is also feeling more secure in a new location.”
Read more here.