So-called Islamic State Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has appeared in a video released by the group's media arm on Monday, for the first time in five years amid widespread speculation about his death.
He appears to have gained some pounds since his first and previously only public video from 2014 in Mosul, and also seems to be channeling Osama bin Laden in his sitting pose while beside a Kalashnikov AKS-74U submachine gun, characteristic of the late al-Qaeda leader as well as Ayman al Zawahiri, whose most famous videos featured the same weapon leaned up against a wall.
The 18-minute video was titled by ISIS as “In the Hospitality of the Emir of the Believers," and shows Baghdadi sitting next to ISIS members giving a casual talk focused on the general state of affairs in the Islamic world. A rifle and ammunition belt can be seen beside the terrorist leader, something military analysts have said is reminiscent of old al-Qaeda propaganda videos.
According the Long War Journal's Thomas Joscelyn, Baghdadi acknowledges ISIS losses in Syria but outlined ways the group has hit back in revenge attacks of late.
As suspected, reporting about Baghdadi that he was slim & ailing (recurrent in captured commanders’ testimonies, who claimed to have met him) were inaccurate pic.twitter.com/jSRa4LqNxl— Hassan Hassan (@hxhassan) April 29, 2019
Joscelyn translated and summarized the contents of Baghdadi's words as: "Baghdadi praises attacks launched as revenge for the Islamic State's loss of territory in Sham (Syria), accepts oaths of allegiance from groups in West Africa (Burkina Faso and Mali), and specifically mentions attacks in Sri Lanka."
The Middle East analyst noted further that, "This was recorded fairly recently" — though the precise date and location remains unknown.
BREAKING: Video appearing to show Islamic State leader, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi emerges.— Sky News (@SkyNews) April 29, 2019
In the propaganda clip, he praises those behind the Sri Lanka attacks.
Full story here: https://t.co/FhDCu9IyDn pic.twitter.com/8QQSGExZGU
It comes following years of widespread media reports and speculation that the 'caliphate' head could be dead, and other contradictory reports that he was in hiding somewhere in the desert regions along the Iraq-Syria border.
He was last seen announcing the establishment of the Islamic caliphate in July 2014, after his fighters took Mosul, Iraq. At that time the younger and thinner ISIS leader was filmed addressing a congregation at the al-Nuri Mosque in the northern Iraqi city.
In the latest video he also appears to have colored his beard, perhaps to look younger. Though the footage can't be confirmed as many media reports suggest, analysts say it's recent given he acknowledged "The battle for Baghouz is over" — in reference to the last ISIS stronghold in Syria, which was only in the past months taken over US-backed SDF Syrian Kurdish forces after an over week long battle with hundreds of ISIS fighters.
"And as for our brothers in Sri Lanka, I was overjoyed when I heard about the suicide attack, which overthrew the cradles of the Crusaders, and avenged them for our brethren in Baghouz," he said.
"It was by the grace of god that there were Americans and Europeans in Sri Lanka. They questioned God, who answered in the form of bringing the suicide attackers." — Middle East Eye translation of video contents
He warned in the video of a "long battle" against the western "crusaders," and promised ISIS would "take revenge" for western coalition attacks on ISIS forces. "There will be more to come after this battle," he said, according to a translation by Middle East Eye.