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ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi appears in video, first time in years

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Baghouz, Syria remains the last stronghold of the Islamic State (IS) as pressure mounts on the extremist group. Evacuated civilians have described terrible conditions inside the village, with food scarce and people forced to hide underground. (March 8)
AP

The Islamic State terrorist group released a new video Monday purportedly showing its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, for the first time in nearly five years.

In the video, Baghdadi praised the Sri Lanka attackers and called those deadly bombings revenge for ISIS’ defeat in Syria, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks extremist groups. Those attacks, carried out on Easter Sunday in Catholic churches and high-end hotels, killed more than 250 people, including at least four Americans.  

ISIS claimed responsibility for that attack. Sri Lankan officials have said that members of a local radical Islamic group carried out the bombings with the help of an international network.  

The new ISIS video was released by Al-Furqan, the terrorist group’s media outlet. It shows Baghdadi – whose whereabouts are unknown – seated on a rug or cushion with a machine gun propped up next to him and a black robe draped around his legs. His hair is covered with a black hood but face and bushy beard are clearly visible. 

Rita Katz, executive director and founder of SITE, said the video demonstrates that ISIS remains a “serious danger.” It shows not only that Baghdadi “is still alive,” she wrote in a tweet Monday, “but also that he is able to reemerge to his supporters and reaffirm the group’s us-vs-the-world message after all the progress made against the group.” 

ISIS lost control of its last patch of territory in Syria in late March, when the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces freed the eastern Syrian village of Baghouz, where jihadists had been mounting a last stand. That ended the self-declared “caliphate” that ISIS established in 2014, when the terrorist group controlled a large swath of territory in Syria and Iraq.

But as the April 21 attacks in Sri Lanka demonstrated, ISIS’ territorial defeat has not extinguished the group’s capacity to unleash death and destruction.

Charlie Winter, a senior research fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization,part of King’s College in London, said ISIS likely released the video now to prove Baghdadi is alive and portray him as a “hands-on” leader.

It also helps “reiterate that its jihad isn’t over,” Winter said in a series of tweets Monday. 

 

Contributing: Kim Hjelmgaard and Tom Vanden Brook

 

 

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