The fugitive leader of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) appeared in a video released yesterday (Monday), the first time he has been seen in five years, and claimed that the Sri Lanka terrorist attacks were revenge for the fall of the so-called caliphate.
Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi has not been seen since he proclaimed the creation of the caliphate in a Mosul mosque in 2014, and there have been persistent rumours that he was badly injured and in failing health.
However, in the new video he looked healthy, sitting cross-legged with an assault rifle at his side and the tips of his grey beard dyed orange as he spoke to several masked Isil fighters.
He vowed to carry out revenge attacks against the West in retaliation for the fall of Baghuz, the town in eastern Syria where his fighters made a last stand to defend Isil-held territory against advancing Kurdish forces.
“Your brothers in Sri Lanka have pleased the hearts of the believers with their [suicide] attacks,” he said. “This is only part of the revenge awaiting the crusaders and their followers.”
He said Isil supporters had carried out 92 attacks in eight countries in response to the defeat in Baghuz and that the jihadists had not retreated in the face of overwhelming odds but fought to the end, adding: “Your brothers will never forget you and will avenge you.”
In fact, hundreds of suspected Isil fighters surrendered to Kurdish forces before Baghuz was captured in late March. Baghdadi acknowledged defeat there but said jihadists would continue “a war of attrition” against enemies.
Baghdadi, who is in his late forties, is one the world’s most wanted men, and Western intelligence agencies will be scouring the video for scraps of information which could reveal his location.
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Analysts believe he is most likely hiding in the sparsely populated desert in the west of Iraq, near the Syrian border. The US has offered a $25 million (pounds 19 million) reward for information leading to his death or capture.
The video was released by al-Furqan, Isil’s official media unit. Baghdadi made reference to recent events such as the overthrow of the presidents of Algeria and Sudan and the re-election of Benjamin Netanyahu as the prime minister of Israel.
The video is set a room whose walls are covered in white cloth. As with many Isil propaganda videos, it looks a sophisticated production, with high-quality sound, lighting and graphics.
Meanwhile, a ban on women wearing burkas came into force in Sri Lanka yesterday. Maithripala Sirisena, the country’s president, said it was a necessary security measure in the wake of the Easter Sunday bombings.
Although the face veil ban will be automatically lifted with the emergency law, a presidential spokesman told The Daily Telegraph that the government is looking at imposing a more permanent ban on the Muslim face veil.
Gunmen, who arrived on motorcycles, also killed at least five worshippers and the pastor at a church in Burkina Faso yesterday. Jihadist groups linked to both Isil and al-Qaeda have been active in the area since 2016.