Islamic State’s (IS) chief Abu Bakr Baghdadi made his first video appearance in almost five years on Monday, vowing to continue the battle against the U.S. and Coalition countries in a propaganda video released by official al-Furqan Media of IS.
In the 18-minute video, Baghdadi, who appears to have fully recovered from the alleged injuries sustained in a 2015 airstrike, repeatedly praises the “steadfastness” of his fighters and says that even though Islamic State has lost territory, “jihad is ongoing until the day of judgment.” He later praises the attackers in Sri Lanka who killed more than 250 on Easter Sunday and rejoices that Americans and Europeans were among the dead. In the video, he also recognises the terror group’s defeat in the Syrian town of Baghuz and says the Sri Lanka attacks were in response to that.
Titled “In the Hospitality of the Emir of the Believers,” the video depicts a slow-speaking Baghdadi addressing a group of what are presumably his lieutenants, with a Kalashnikov rifle and an ammunition belt laid casually at his side.
The appearance is only Baghdadi’s second on video, and comes weeks after the remnants of IS were ousted from their last organised stronghold in the eastern Syrian desert. Looking heavier than when he proclaimed the existence of the now collapsed caliphate in mid-2014, Baghdadi blames its demise on the “savagery” of Christians.
“We also congratulate the unified in Sri Lanka for their allegiance and joining the caliphate. We recommend them to stay with God the Almighty and the One, and be thorns in the hearts of the Crusaders,” Baghdadi was heard saying.
The footage shows 47-year-old Baghdadi seated next to an AK-47 assault rifle – a pose reminiscent of images of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
— Baxtiyar Goran (@BaxtiyarGoran) April 29, 2019
In the video, Baghdadi emphasizes that his fighters did not hand over any area and died fighting to the end, citing Bayji, Sirte, Mosul, Raqqa and Baghuz.
“The war against our enemies today is a war of attrition,” he said.
In the message, Baghdadi accepts the pledges of allegiance (bayah) from jihadists in Mali, Burkina Faso and Afghanistan. Additionally, he also accepted the pledge of Sri Lankan fighters under Zahran Hashim, which all but confirms that Hashim’s National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ) is directly connected with IS core and has been recognized as a franchise of IS in Sri Lanka.
The ISIS chief is also seen examining “monthly reports” about the group’s activities in different countries, including Yemen, Sudan, and even Turkey.
In the message, Baghdadi also praises the failed attack in Saudi Arabia and calls on IS fighters to continue jihad against “Saudi tyrants”.
In the message, Baghdadi also talks of Algeria and Sudan and the fall of the leaders in the two countries, praising the uprisings and exhorting people there to return to jihad and that “nothing works with [dictators] other than the sword” but at the same time saying that “sadly the people have not understood until this moment why they revolted and what exactly they want. They replace one tyrant for another.” He goes on, saying that “only Jihad will suppress tyrants. With jihad you can get dignity and honour. Nothing will influence the tyrants except the sword.”
Baghdadi also discussed the re-election of Netanyahu in Israel.
Three other men are also seen in the video, which has been filmed in a casual conversational setting.
Baghdadi also specifically mentioned some IS members by name, including: Abu Abdul Rahman al 3angari al Tamemi (Saudi), Abu Hajar Abdul al Samad al Iraqi al Talibi (Iraqi), Abu Yasser al-Belgiqi (Belgium), Fabien Clain (France), Abu Abdullah al-Australi (Australia) and Abu al Waleed al Sinawi (Sinai).
Baghdadi says that 92 operations in 8 countries were carried out to avenge what happened to IS in Syria. He also sent greetings to the “Mujahideen in Libya for their steadfastness”.
Baghdadi also directly addresses Abu waleed al-Sahrawi, head of IS in the Greater Sahara, specifically asking him to intensify attacks against France to avenge the losses of IS in Syria and Iraq.
Following are some quotes from Baghdadi’s message:
“The battle of Islam and its people with the battle of the Cross and its people is a long one. The battle of Baghuz is over and in it we saw the barbarity and brutality of the nation of the cross.”
“And 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, in vengeance for their brothers in Baghuz. The number of dead Crusaders had reached a thousand or more
casualties. This is part of the vengeance that awaits the Crusaders and their henchmen, Allah permitting. Praise be to Allah, among the dead
were Americans and Europeans.”
“As for the pledge of allegiance of your brothers in Burkina Faso and Mali, we congratulate them for this pledge of allegiance, and we congratulate
them for their joining the convoy of the Caliphate. We ask Allah to preserve them and our brother Abu Walid al-Sahrawi, and we
recommend to them to intensify their attacks on Crusader France and its allies, and to take revenge for their brothers in Iraq and Syria.”
“And they should know that the Muslims have their blood united, and they seek to help the weak among them, and they are one hand against those
who are not them. They should feel that the Muslim is for the Muslim like one body, where if one complains of disease then the whole body falls
with fever and sleeplessness.”
“And it was also told to us that Allah had guided a few of those who are part of the parties and organizations in Khorasan, and they pledged
allegiance to the Caliphate and joined the convoy of the mujahideen. We ask Allah, for them and us, for steadfastness, accuracy, and success, and
loyalty to the covenant, and to be a support for their brothers.”
“I believe you kept up with what happened after Netanyahu received the government of the Jews, and also the bigger event, which is the fall of
the tyrant of Algeria, and the tyrant of Sudan. But unfortunately and sadly, the people did not learn. As of this moment, why did they come
out and what do they want? So they replaced one tyrant with another, who is even worse in criminality and lethality against the Muslims.”
“And we say to them, and remind them, that the only path that works with those tyrants is jihad in the cause of Allah. Through jihad the
tyrants, are stifled, and through jihad, the doers receive dignity and honor. As it relates to those tyrants, nothing works with them other than
the sword. So they must return to Allah, and to seek legitimate paths in changing regimes and tyrants, and for all the religion to be for Allah.”
While talking to ITCT Newsdesk about the new video of al-Baghdadi, ITCT Deputy Director Faran Jeffery said,”The new video of al-Baghdadi appearing at this time is very significant. This is a time when everyone has been claiming that IS has been defeated. US President Trump said IS has been defeated. In 2015 we heard Baghdadi has been injured in an airstrike. In 2017 we heard from Russia that he has been killed in an airstrike. We heard other reports from journalists, quoting sources from Middle East, that Baghdadi is not in good health. Well, now we have a video that proves almost all those claims were false. If Baghdadi was injured at any point, he doesn’t look injured anymore. He has fully recovered from his alleged injuries and has in fact gained weight. This also shows that he has been holed up and doesn’t get to go out very often, which is understandable since he is the world’s most wanted man. Just few days ago while talking to ITCT Newsdesk I said that Baghdadi is not only very much alive but is also actively leading the terror group. This new video confirms that. He looked very much in control of the group in the video in which he’s surrounded by his loyal lieutenants. In fact, he looks more calm than you’d expect a man, who is close to an ongoing battle or close to being captured, to be. The room in which the video has been filmed also looks clean and maintained. This tells us that he is likely holed up in a safe house somewhere very far away from the ongoing fighting in Syria. Baghdadi’s video also comes at a time when we have seen the biggest attack by IS outside of Middle East in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday. In the video, he not only praises the Sri Lankan fighters led by Zahran Hashim but also accepted their bayah, which tells us that those attacks were not IS-inspired but in fact IS-directed. I have repeatedly told plenty of confused journalists over the past week that just by looking at the scale and depth of the Sri Lankan operation, it simply can’t be an inspired operation. And so this new message from Baghdadi proves beyond any doubt that Zahran Hashim was not the top guy in the Sri Lanka cell and there has to be an enabler who is the main contact between Sri Lanka fighters and a representative from IS core. It also tells us that NTJ – which has already been banned by the Sri Lanka government – should now be essentially seen as IS franchise in the country. Baghdadi also specifically said that the Sri Lanka attacks were in response to Coalition’s attacks against IS, and against what happened to IS in Baghuz in particular. This proves many experts wrong who initially believed some IS fanboys on Telegram and said that the attacks were in response to the New Zealand mosque shootings. Additionally, he also accepted the bayah of Burkina Faso, Mali and Khorasan franchises. Also interesting is the fact that he poses with an AK like Osama bin Laden, which will certainly woo some non-IS jihadis. This new video will breath a new life into IS members as well as supporters and sympathizers around the world, which should be a cause of concern for not only the Coalition countries but also other states like Sri Lanka, that are clearly not prepared to handle such a kinetic threat. To sum it up, the new Baghdadi video has proved that not only he is alive and fully in control, but his ambitions are far from over and IS is far from militarily defeated, let alone ideologically.”
At the height of its power between 2014 and 2016, IS controlled an area roughly the size of Great Britain, spread across Iraq and Syria. The group was declared defeated in Iraq in December 2017. However, a spate of attacks, kidnappings, and ambushes suggest an insurgency is already underway.