Published by the terror group’s media arm on Monday, the video depicts a greying Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi calmly seated next to a rifle, discussing jihad with his cohorts.
“The video shows Baghdadi in a casual conversational setting with others (their faces blurred),” said Rita Katz, executive director of the SITE Intelligence Group, a company that tracks the activities of terror groups. “He talks about war against ‘Crusaders’ and about battles in Baghouz, Syria being over, indicating that this interview was filmed somewhat recently.”
The militant, known by his nom de guerre, has not been spotted in video footage since his infamous 2014 sermon at the al-Nuri mosque in Mosul, Iraq, where he announced the creation of his group’s ‘Caliphate’. Rumors of his death or arrest have percolated in that time, but the video is the latest proof the jihadi commander lives on.
Baghdadi praised the recent Easter bombings in Sri Lanka, claiming the attacks as “revenge” for battles lost in Syria, and commended militants in Mali and Burkina Faso.
Islamic State itself apparently saw the appearance as a big deal as well, as IS-linked accounts across social media hyped up the video. Katz said the group’s thriving social media presence was “troubling.”
“In anticipation for the video, announced a day prior, ISIS support network hyping it [with] nonstop creation of social media accounts and channels on Telegram,” said Katz. “Scale of the activity definitely exceeds that of recent releases, showing troubling resiliency of the group’s online network.”
Islamic State once had big ambitions. After its 2014 debut in Mosul, the group captured large swathes of territory across Syria and Iraq, at one point controlling a land area the size of Britain. For years the group survived on the proceeds from stolen oil, but was finally crushed after an arduous multinational effort led by Syria, Russia, Iran and a smattering of militias, as well as a coalition led by the United States.