The fugitive Islamic State leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has appeared in a propaganda video for the first time in five years, in which he recognises the terror group’s defeat in the Syrian town of Baghuz.
The appearance is only Baghdadi’s second on video, and comes weeks after the remnants of Isis 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.
Sitting cross-legged alongside a Kalashnikov rifle, he speaks for no more than 40 seconds, and appears to be limited in his movements. “Truthfully, the battle of Islam and its people against the cross and its people is a long battle,” he says. “The battle of Baghuz is over. But it did show the savagery, brutality and ill intentions of the Christians towards the Muslim community.”
The appearance seemed designed to acknowledge the loss of the remaining pockets of Isis territory and to demonstrate that Baghdadi is still alive. He has released several audio sermons in recent years, the last of which was in August last year, but his long absence from public view had fueled speculation that Baghdadi remained impaired from wounds or may have been killed.
Written in text on the video, but not spoken by Baghdadi, is a reference to the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka, which killed more than 250 people in churches and hotels. The attacks’ plotters claimed allegiance to Isis, but it remains unclear whether the group inspired, or directly plotted the carnage.