Dec 08, 2021

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Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has made his first video appearance in five years, following the release of a 40-second message to his supporters.

Al-Baghdadi has not been seen publicly since a 2014 sermon at the Grand Mosque, Mosul – the so-called Caliphate’s former Iraqi stronghold.

It seems to put to an end rumors that the leader had either died through ill-health or been killed amid ongoing fighting in neighboring Syria. A clue as to his survival was provided by Imam Mohamad Tawhidi – a moderate Shia cleric who was formerly radicalized in Iran but now spreads a message of peace among all – who commented on a video that the suicide bombers who attacked churches and hotels in Sri Lanka at Easter posted. They pledged their allegiance to the ISIS Caliph, with Tawhidi explaining that this could not be done to a dead leader.

In the video discussing the Islamic State’s ongoing war against ‘crusades’, al-Baghdadi calls for revenge after defeat in Syria’s Baghouz, suggesting the video had in fact been filmed in recent months and was not archival footage of the reclusive chief.

“The battle of Baghouz is over,” he admitted, but he blamed ISIS’ defeat in its last Syrian stronghold on the “savagery, brutality and ill intentions of the Christians toward the Muslim community.” He also claimed the deadly terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka as revenge.

Rumors of Al-Baghdadi’s death first surfaced in July 2017,  a day after Iraq declared it had driven the jihadists from what was once their largest stronghold in Mosul.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a longtime monitor of the country’s conflict, said it had information from top IS leaders confirming Baghdadi’s death. However, such claims could not be independently verified.

Al-Baghdadi’s current whereabouts are unknown, although Iraqi intelligence sources – according to DEBKAfile – assess that he is in hiding in the small village of Jabal Abu Rajmin near the Syrian town of Palmyra.

The reappearance of the Islamic State leader only reinforces that the organization and ideology is far from a spent force and has not – as the most optimistic commentators would have had us think – been defeated.