ISIS has released a video of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, for the first time in five years.
The 20-minute video was released by ISIS-run media outlet Al-Furqan and shows al-Baghdadi with a bushy grey beard seated on the floor with what appears to be an AKS—74U rifle propped up next to him. He is speaking with three men seated opposite him whose faces were covered and blurred.
In the video Baghdadi acknowledges defeat at Baghuz, the group’s last stronghold in the Middle East. He said: “Our battle today is a battle of attrition, and we will prolong it for the enemy, and they must know that the jihad will continue until Judgment Day. Truthfully, the battle of Islam and its people with the crusader and his people is a long battle.”
The video also includes an audio only section where al-Baghdadi praises the attacks in Sri Lanka, which killed over 250 people. He said ISIS carried out the bombings as revenge for the fall of Baghouz, and called on his followers to continue pursuing their enemies “with all of their abilities”.
He added: “As for your brothers in Sri Lanka, they have put joy in the hearts of the monotheists with their immersing operations that struck the homes of the crusaders in their Easter.”
Al-Baghdadi also claimed to have received pledges of allegiance from militants in Burkina Faso and Mali and made repeated references to current events, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu winning the elections in Israel and the fall of long-time dictators Abdelaziz Bouteflika in Algeria and Omar al-Bashir in Sudan.
Despite several reports that al-Baghdadi had been killed in coalition led air strikes, his whereabouts remain a mystery, though he is thought to be hiding in the sparsely populated desert between the Syria and Iraq border area. In June 2017 the Russian military said it may have killed the ISIS leader during an airstrike in Syria in late May. Moscow said it had information that al-Baghdadi was among a gathering of up to 30 ISIS leaders in the city of Raqqa that was struck by its fighter jets just after midnight on 28 May.
BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner said that al-Baghdadi’s message is as much symbolism as content. He added: “The overriding aim of this video is clear: to show that despite its resounding military defeat IS has survived and that its leader, with a $25m bounty on his head, is still at large.”