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IS Claims Video Shows Reclusive Leader Saying, Terror Group’s Fight Now As A “Battle of Attrition”

"He's obviously the face of ISIS and we hadn't seen him in sometime," he said, using an acronym for the terror group. "Now he's out there saying Sri Lanka, that's what we want — more of it."

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This image made from video posted on a militant website July 5, 2014, purports to show the leader of the Islamic State group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, delivering a sermon at a mosque in Iraq. VOA

In the video issued Monday, the man claiming to be Baghdadi praised the IS fighters who defended the northeastern Syrian town of Baghuz, the last to remain under IS control, before succumbing to U.S.-backed forces last month seek revenge for the fall of the terror group’s self-declared caliphate In Iraq and Syria.

The more than 18-minute-long video posted to the internet by IS’s al-Furqan media division shows a man, allegedly Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, sitting cross-legged against a white backdrop with a machine gun and a couple of pillows by his side.

The man is seen speaking with other IS members, whose faces are blurred or covered with masks, acknowledging the recent fall of the last IS-held territory in Baghuz, Syria, and praising the Easter Sunday terror attack in Sri Lanka that killed more than 250 people.

FILE - Funeral banners hang across the street in front of St. Anthony's Shrine, days after a string of suicide bomb attacks on churches and luxury hotels across the island on Easter Sunday, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, April 26, 2019.
Funeral banners hang across the street in front of St. Anthony’s Shrine, days after a string of suicide bomb attacks on churches and luxury hotels across the island on Easter Sunday, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, April 26, 2019. VOA

​He described the terror group’s fight now as a “battle of attrition” and “stretching the enemy,” and promised IS will seek revenge for the killing and imprisonment of its fighters.

“Jihad continues until judgment day,” he warned.

U.S. reaction

Officials at the Pentagon and the State Department, as well as at U.S. intelligence agencies, said they were aware of the tape but had yet to verify the man in the video is actually the IS leader.

“We are aware of the video that surfaced today,” State Department spokesman Michael Lavallee said. “Analysts will review this recording and we will defer to the intelligence community to confirm its authenticity.”

If confirmed, the video would be the first to show the 48-year-old Baghdadi since the IS leader gave a sermon at the al-Nuri Mosque in Mosul, Iraq, in July 2014.

Since then, Baghdadi’s efforts to communicate with a mass audience have been limited to audio recordings posted online in September 2017 and August 2018.

In a 2018 recording, Baghdadi urged followers to persevere even as IS was losing ground to U.S.-backed forces.

“For the mujahedeen, the scale of victory or defeat is not dependent on a city or town being stolen or subject to that who has aerial superiority, intercontinental missiles or smart bombs,” he said at the time.

The lack of public appearances and the sporadic messages have led to speculation about his whereabouts while also sparking numerous rumors of his death. But U.S. military and intelligence officials have long believed Baghdadi is alive, hiding in remote areas of Syria or Iraq where IS remains entrenched, possibly with local support.

Since 2016, the United States has offered a reward of up to $25 million for information that helps bring Baghdadi to justice. Only one other person, al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, has a reward that high.

Praised IS fighters

In the video issued Monday, the man claiming to be Baghdadi praised the IS fighters who defended the northeastern Syrian town of Baghuz, the last to remain under IS control, before succumbing to U.S.-backed forces last month.

“The battle of Baghuz had ended and in it the barbarity and savagery of the nation of the Cross towards the Ummah of Islam was clear,” Baghdadi said, according to a translation by SITE Intelligence. “At the same time, the bravery, steadfastness and endurance of the Ummah of Islam was evident.”

Baghdadi also praised IS fighters “in the provinces” for seeking revenge, claiming they had carried out almost 300 operations across eight countries, before addressing the Easter Sunday terror attacks in Sri Lanka.

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In the video issued Monday, the man claiming to be Baghdadi praised the IS fighters who defended the northeastern Syrian town of Baghuz, the last to remain under IS control, before succumbing to U.S.-backed forces last month. Pixabay

“As for your brothers in Sri Lanka, they have put joy in the hearts of the monotheists with their immersing operations that struck the homes of the Crusaders in their Easter, in vengeance for their brothers in Baghuz,” Baghdadi said.

“This is part of the vengeance that awaits the Crusaders and their henchmen, Allah permitting,” he added. “Praise be to Allah, among the dead were Americans and Europeans.”

Baghdadi also praised IS fighters in Libya and welcomed pledges of allegiance from jihadists in Mali and Burkina Faso.

Some former counterterror officials caution the release of the new video is worrisome, as it could serve to lift the spirits of IS supporters.

“It is important because he came out,” said retired Col. Chris Costa, who served as the senior director for counterterrorism at the start of the Trump administration.

“He’s obviously the face of ISIS and we hadn’t seen him in sometime,” he said, using an acronym for the terror group. “Now he’s out there saying Sri Lanka, that’s what we want — more of it.”

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But Costa and others are cautious about giving IS or Baghdadi too much credit, cautioning that even if Baghdadi was to be removed from the battlefield, a difficult fight remains.

“That’s a key piece of dismantling or degrading an organization, but it is not a cure-all,” former National Counterterrorism Center Director Nicholas Rasmussen said at a conference Monday in Washington. “We still would very much be confronting an ideological narrative that still finds resonance across conflict zones all across the world.” (VOA)

Next Story

Syria Uses Familiar Tactic in Rebel Idlib: Bombing Civilians

The United Nations is demanding an immediate end to indiscriminate attacks against civilians

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Syria, Rebel, Idlib
FILE - Destruction is seen around the Udai hospital following airstrikes on the town of Saraqeb in Syria's northwestern province of Idlib, Jan. 29, 2018. VOA

The United Nations is demanding an immediate end to indiscriminate attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure in northwest Syria, warning the warring parties their actions might amount to war crimes.

U.N. agencies say an intense military escalation by Russian-backed Syrian forces and armed rebels in northwest Syria is having a catastrophic impact on the civilian population. Agencies confirm at least 160 civilians have been killed and hundreds more wounded in fighting over recent weeks.

They say 3 million people in Idlib need protection and 300,000 civilians who have fled their homes in the past two months are in imminent danger.

 

Spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Jens Laerke says civilians and civilian infrastructure are coming under daily attack by airstrikes, artillery shelling and barrel bombs.

Syria, Rebel, Idlib
FILE – Damage is seen at a hospital after an airstrike in Deir al-Sharqi village in Idlib province, Syria, April 27 2017. VOA

“Since the 28th of April, there have been 25 confirmed attacks on health care in the northwest, including on 24 health facilities and one ambulance,” he said. “Two of the attacked health facilities were hit more than once, and at least six health workers have been killed.”

Laerke says health care facilities are fully protected under international humanitarian law, and it is illegal to target them. Few health facilities remain intact to care for the sick and wounded, he told VOA.

“Already before the recent months of escalation, the status of health care in Syria at large, and in particular in Idlib, was already appalling,” he said. “Even though those facilities have not been hit, they fear that they may be hit. So, the doctors, the health care personnel are leaving, the patients are not going to those hospitals. Understandably.”

Also Read- Five New Non-Permanent Members Elected to Security Council

Laerke says aid agencies are providing food and health services through mobile clinics to people who are newly displaced in northwest Syria. In addition, many schools in the region have been attacked, he says, so catch-up classes are being provided for thousands of children who have been out of school since May. (VOA)