Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the Islamic State group claimed to appear for the first time in five years in a video. The video was released by the extremist group’s propaganda arm al-Furqan and obtained by SITE Intelligence Group on Monday, April 29. The man said to be Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi in the video acknowledged defeat.
In the group’s last stronghold in Syria, he also claimed the Easter Day Bombings in Sri Lanka were “part of the revenge that awaits” the West. He also claims that the bombings were retaliation for ISIS being defeated in their Baghouz, their last stronghold in Syria, and refers to the recent ousting of leaders in Algeria and Sudan, meaning that the video must have been shot within the last week.
In the video Baghdadi reportedly claims that his followers died fighting to the end in territories and cities that have been routed by U.S.-backed coalition forces.
At its peak, the Islamic State ruled a vast swath of ungoverned space across Syria and Iraq, ruling a population of more than eight million people. Baghdadi’s stewardship of the caliphate was crucial to its governance structure, and his lofty jihadist rhetoric provided the inspiration necessary to draw in the hundreds of thousands of foreign fighters who joined the terrorist group.
Baghdadi – whose real name is Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim al-Badri – suffers from diabetes, high blood pressure and injuries sustained during an airstrike years ago. He remains the world’s most wanted man, with the United States continuing to offer up to $25 million for information leading to his location.
Baghdadi’s absence from the public spotlight has been causing deep fissures within the crumbling terrorist organization, which, though eroded, still boasts between 28,000 and 32,000 soldiers, Fox News reported in March.
Baghdadi, according to Max Abrahms, a terrorism expert at Northeastern University, “has been widely misunderstood in the media.”
He continued, “Baghdadi endeavored to create the most feared terrorist group by publicly advocating indiscriminate violence against civilians, decentralizing the organization to maximize the civilian bloodshed often by calling on Soldiers of the Caliphate to commit attacks anywhere in the world, and then bragging about them over social media to spread the terror.”
Without the spiritual and operational direction of Baghdadi, and the Islamic State’s ability to govern, which was a primary driver of its appeal and what set it apart from other terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda, the group’s future remains unknown.