The elusive chief of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has appeared for the first time in five years in a propaganda video released by the armed group.
ISIL’s Al Furqan media network published on Monday what it said was a video message from its leader, in which he said the group would seek revenge for the killing and imprisonment of its fighters.
It was unclear when the footage was filmed but Baghdadi referred in the past tense to the months-long fight for Baghouz, ISIL’s final bastion in eastern Syria that ended last month.
“The battle for Baghouz is over,” said the ISIL leader with a bushy grey beard and an assault weapon close by, sitting cross-legged on a cushion and addressing three men whose faces have been blurred.
Wearing a black robe with a beige vest, Baghdadi gave an 18-minute address.
The SITE Intelligence group said he also discussed the bombings in Sri Lanka that killed more than 250 people on Easter Sunday.
It was his first appearance in a video since delivering a sermon at the Great Mosque of al-Nuri, in Mosul, Iraq, in 2014. That speech marked the rise of the group and its self-declared “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria.
‘More to come’
The written script at the start of the video dated it to earlier in April. The authenticity and date of the recording could not be independently verified.
Baghdadi has periodically issued audio statements previously. His last voice recording to his supporters was released in August 2018 – eight months after Iraq announced it had defeated ISIL (ISIS), and as US-backed forces closed in on the group in Syria.
In the video published on Monday he insisted ISIL’s operations against the West were part of a “long battle” and the group would “take revenge” for its members who had been killed.
“There will be more to come after this battle,” said Baghdadi, apparently referring to the final fight in Baghouz.
In January 2014, ISIL took the Syrian city of Raqqa as its de-facto capital, holding it until Syrian forces reclaimed it in late 2017. By June 2014, ISIL also captured Iraq’s second city of Mosul, with a population of two million people, which it held until 2017.
At its peak, ISIL controlled a vast swath of territory that crossed the Syria-Iraq border, including key urban strongholds from Fallujah to Tikrit to Aleppo.