Monday October 14, 2019
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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: Small Group of Young Students Create Secret Library Deep Underneath Bullet-Ridden Building

Amid the bombing campaign between the Syrian regime and rebel forces in the Damascus suburb of Daraya

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Some members of the secret library team gather in their underrground sanctuary in Daraya, Syria. (Photo courtesy of Ahmad Ma'dmani). VOA

Amid the bombing campaign between the Syrian regime and rebel forces in the Damascus suburb of Daraya, a small group of young students tried to bring normalcy to the chaos by creating a secret library deep underneath a bullet-ridden building.

The library was built to create a safe shelter for residents to gather and read.

For months, Mike Thomson, a British-based journalist, documented the students’ efforts in his book “Syria’s Secret Library: Reading and Redemption in a Town Under Siege.”

“Most of the town was under sniper fire from the government soldiers who were based in high-rise buildings near the front lines,” Thomson told VOA about the operation.

Syria, Students, Library
Damaged buildings line the street in Daraya after bombardment by the Syrian regime. VOA

“They gathered these books under sniper fire and sometimes under shell fire. They brought ladders with them to climb from windows. It was a dangerous exercise they often did during the night,” Thomson said.

Daraya, a suburb located 8 kilometers to the southwest of the Syrian capital, was one of the first areas to witness protests against the Syrian regime in 2011. It soon became a rebel stronghold and a major center of battle. The town suffered a brutal siege and ongoing bombardment by Russian-backed Syrian government forces and allied militias from 2012 to 2016.

Collecting books

During the middle of the siege, basic needs such as food, water and medical supplies were banned from entering the town. It was then that a group of volunteer students teamed up to stock the underground library.

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For months, they stowed over 1,400 books for public access, with volumes rescued from Daraya’s public library that was destroyed in a fire caused by a shelling in 2013.

“The library had become everything from a meeting place, tea room, education center, community center and a book club, where everyone discussed a book they read. Because of the lack of books, not everyone could read the same book,” Thomson said.

The library contained a wide collection of local and world literature, covering areas of history, science, religion and culture, and complete sets of encyclopedias. It included popular plays of Shakespeare, books by Syrian poets like Adonis and Maram al-Masri, Agatha Christie’s translated works, and a Marxist interpretation of Islam by author Muhammad Imara.

‘The soul needs food’

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Books are rescued from a bombed and abandoned building to be taken to a secret library in the town of Daraya, Syria. (Photo courtesy of Daraya Council Media Team). VOA

When asked by Thomson why a group of young Syrians living under daily bombardment decided to risk their lives searching for books, Abdul Basit, a lead volunteer, said reading served as a spiritual salvation for many.

“I asked Abdul Basit, ‘You are living on a cup of watery soup every day. Why aren’t you out looking for food instead of books?’ Abdul Basit answered, ‘Like the body, the soul also needs food,'” Thomson said.

“They had hope all through this, and they still have hope, because at the end, rebel forces in Daraya had to surrender, and most of these people had to go to Idlib,” he added.

The siege on Daraya ended in August 2016 after the rebels made a deal with Syria that allowed them to evacuate with their families. The agreement reportedly allowed about 700 fighters and 4,000 civilians to leave the suburb before regime forces entered.

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Left behind

Basit and his team of volunteers were among those who had to flee Daraya to northern Syria, leaving the library behind. Unable to take the books, the members tried to conceal the library by blocking its entrance with pieces of shattered concrete.

Despite their efforts, Syrian government forces were able to find the makeshift library. The fate of thousands of books remains unclear, according to Basit, who has been unable to return home due to the regime’s fierce control.

“I miss everything about that special place,” Thomson said in his book. “It wasn’t just a repository of books. It was another world, a world we shared together. And while outside was destruction and pain, inside was creation and hope. …  I felt inspired inside these walls.”

With Syria going into its ninth year of conflict, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and injured, and millions have been displaced.

Over half of all Syrians have been displaced from their homes. Forty percent of them are living in northwest Syria and over 3.6 million are refugees in Turkey, according to a report published last April by the World Health Organization. (VOA)