The leader of the Islamic State terror group Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is showing his face for the first time in five years, appearing on a video posted to the internet Monday by the terror group’s al-Furqan media division.
The more than 18-minute-long video shows the reclusive IS leader sitting against a white backdrop, speaking with other IS members, whose faces are blurred or covered with masks.
Baghdadi acknowledges the fall of the last IS-held territory in Baghuz, Syria and also talks about the Easter Sunday terror attack in Sri Lanka that killed more than 250 people.
He describes the terror group’s fight now as a “battle of attrition” and promises IS will seek revenge for the killing and imprisonment of its fighters.
“The battle of Baghuz had ended and in it the barbarity and savagery of the nation of the Cross towards the Ummah of Islam was clear,” Baghdadi said, according to a translation by SITE Intelligence. “At the same time, the bravery, steadfastness, and endurance of the Ummah of Islam was evident.”
“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,” he added.
The video is the first from Baghdadi since he addressed a crowd at the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul, Iraq in 2014. More recent messages from the IS leader were audio recordings posted online in August 2018 and in September 2017.
In the most recent audio recording, Baghdadi urged followers to persevere even as the group was losing ground to U.S.-backed forces.
“For the mujahedeen, the scale of victory or defeat is not dependent on a city or town being stolen or subject to that who has aerial superiority, intercontinental missiles or smart bombs,” Baghdadi said in August of last year.
U.S. intelligence officials are aware of the new video but have yet to verify its authenticity.
Baghdadi’s lack of public appearances and sporadic messages have led to speculation about his whereabouts and has also sparked numerous rumors of his death. But U.S. military and intelligence officials have long believed Baghdadi is alive, hiding in remote areas of Syria or Iraq where IS remains entrenched, possibly with local support.
Some former counterterror officials caution the release of the new video is potentially worrisome, as it could serve to lift the spirits of IS supporters.
“It is important because he came out,” said ret. Col. Chris Costa, who served as the senior director for counterterrorism at the start of the Trump administration.
“He’s obviously the face of ISIS and we hadn’t seen him in sometime,” he said, using an acronym for the terror group. ““Now he’s out there saying Sri Lanka, that’s what we want – more of it.”