Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi appeared Monday in a video for the first time in five years, indicating that he has survived the territorial defeat of the caliphate he proclaimed.
Seated on a flowered mattress in a bare white room, he spoke about the group’s losses in the recent battle of Baghouz, vowed that the fight is not over and congratulated the perpetrators of the Easter Sunday suicide bombing attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka.
His beard has grayed since his only other video appearance — at the al-Nuri Mosque in Mosul, northern Iraq, in July 2014 — when he first announced the Islamic State’s intention to re-create the Islamic caliphate. But otherwise Baghdadi looked to be in good health and showed no obvious sign of injury, despite numerous reports in recent years that he had been wounded in an airstrike.
The timing of the video, which was released Monday by the Islamic State’s Furqan channel, seemed to confirm the widespread belief that he survived the Islamic State’s final stand at the battle of Baghouz in eastern Syria last month. He is thought to be hiding out in the desert in either Syria or Iraq, but the video gave no apparent clues as to his current whereabouts.
Rita Katz, director of the SITE Intelligence Group, said the video illustrates the “serious danger” that Baghdadi still poses as the leader of the group.
His appearance demonstrates not only the fact that Baghdadi is still alive, “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,” she said in a posting on her Twitter account.