The elusive chief of the Islamic State group Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has appeared for the first time in five years in a propaganda video released Monday by the jihadist organisation. It is unclear when the footage was filmed, but Baghdadi referred in the past tense to the months-long fight for Baghouz, ISIS's final bastion in eastern Syria, which ended last month.
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
"The battle for Baghouz is over," he said, sitting cross-legged on a cushion and addressing three men whose faces have been blurred.
In the 18-minute video, titled "In the Hospitality of the Emir of the Believers," Baghdadi can be seen sitting alongside three other ISIS members whose faces are blurred, next to a rifle and ammunition belt. He praises the recent terror attacks in Sri Lanka, which targeted churches and hotels and left more than 250 people dead, calling it "revenge" for Baghouz — the small Syrian village where Isis made its last stand.
"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, as the video showed footage from the atrocities and the pledge of allegiance by the attackers.
Nine suicide bombers carried out a series of devastating blasts that tore through three churches and three luxury hotels on the Easter Sunday, killing 253 people.
The Islamic State claimed the attacks, but the government has blamed local Islamist extremist group National Thowheeth Jamaath (NTJ) for the attacks. Sri Lanka on Saturday banned the NTJ and a splinter group linked to the ISIS.
A total of 106 suspects, including a Tamil medium teacher and a school principal, have been arrested in connection with the Easter Sunday blasts.
According to Sri Lanka's Foreign Ministry, the number of foreign nationals who have been identified as killed remained at 40, including 11 from India.
On March 22, President Donald Trump announced that all Islamic State-held territory in Syria has been eliminated, though officials said sporadic fighting continued on the ground between coalition forces and the group's holdouts.
The complete fall of the last ISIS stronghold in Baghouz, Syria, would mark the end of the Islamic State group's self-declared caliphate, which at its height stretched across large parts of Syria and Iraq. Controlling territory gave the group room to launch attacks around the world.
President Donald Trump said "it's about time" that the group no longer controlled territory in the region, after a campaign by US and coalition forces that spanned five years and two US presidencies, unleashed more than 100,000 bombs and killed untold numbers of civilians.
The ISIS "territorial caliphate has been eliminated in Syria," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters aboard Air Force One.
(With AFP inputs)