ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on Monday released a new propaganda video for the first time in five years — revealing that despite the terrorist organization’s loss of its so-called caliphate in Iraq and Syria, its self-proclaimed leader is still alive and well.
In an 18-minute video posted online by ISIS’s al-Furqan Media, al-Baghdadi praises the perpetrators of the Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka, discusses the recent battle of Baghouz in Syria in which ISIS lost its final territorial holdout, and vows to continue the fight, declaring “the battle of Islam and its people with the Crusader and his people is a long battle.”
Dressed in a grey thobe (a long, robe-like garment commonly worn by men in many parts of the Middle East) with a khaki military-style vest over it and sporting a gray beard half-dyed with orange henna, al-Baghdadi, 47, appears to be in good health. The video shows him sitting on the floor of what looks like a tent, addressing a small handful of followers whose faces are blurred out.
Though he released an audio message back in 2018, this is the first time the reclusive terror leader has been seen on video since July 2014, when he first declared the creation of the ISIS caliphate from the pulpit of the al-Nuri Mosque in Mosul, Iraq. In that speech, al-Baghdadi proclaimed to his followers, “You will conquer Rome and own the world.”
But although the organization did succeed in capturing a huge swath of territory in the coming months and years — ultimately controlling a parcel of land roughly the size of Great Britain and a population of some 10 million people at its peak — the group never came anywhere close to conquering Rome, let alone the world.
Over the past several years, ISIS has seen a huge reversal of fortunes, as US-backed forces in the region and other groups steadily clawed back every single inch of land the terrorists once controlled.
Today, the group is a mere shadow of the terrorist juggernaut it once was. Yet it still remains a potent force capable of carrying out or inspiring terror attacks both in the region and around the world — as the Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka, believed to have been carried out by ISIS-affiliated militants in the country — made painfully clear.
Al-Baghdadi’s video, then, is meant to underscore this fact: Yes, we may be on the run, we may have faced massive setbacks, but we’re not gone yet. Whether that message will have the same persuasive power as the group’s previous messages, given how much weaker the group is now, remains to be seen.