ISIS Releases Video of Leader al-Baghdadi for First Time in Five Years

Leader says recent Sri Lanka bombings were revenge for the fall of the group's last stronghold in Syria

Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is seen in video recording released by the group's Al Furqan Network on April 29, 2019.

The shadowy leader of the Islamic State group appeared for the first time in five years in a video released by the extremist group's propaganda arm on Monday, acknowledging defeat in the group's last stronghold in Syria but vowing a "long battle" ahead.

The SITE Intelligence group said Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in the video, also discussed the Easter Day bombings in Sri Lanka which killed over 250 people and for which the group claimed responsibility.

>> Trump declares ISIS defeated, but what happened to its shadowy leader al-Baghdadi? ■  With victory over Islamic State, a new war begins | Analysis ■ ISIS’ ‘virtual’ caliphate may be its most bloody yet | Opinion

It is his first video appearance since he delivered a sermon at the al-Nuri mosque in the Iraqi city of Mosul in 2014. In that video, he appeared as a black-robed figure with a trimmed black beard to deliver a sermon from the pulpit of the mosque in which he urged Muslims around the world to swear allegiance to the caliphate and obey him as its leader.

Al-Bagdadi acknowledged that IS lost the war in the eastern Syrian village of Baghouz, which was captured last month by the U.S.-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.

"In fact, the battle of Islam and its people against the Crusaders and their followers is a long battle," he said, adding that the Sri Lanka attacks were to avenge the fall of Baghouz.

He said the battle of Baghouz demonstrated the "barbarism and brutality" of the West and the "courage, steadfastness and resilience of the nation of Islam."

"This steadfastness shocked the hearts of the Crusaders in what increased their rage," he added.

Referring to the setbacks in battle, he said the "brothers" of the many fallen fighters "will avenge that, as they will not forget as long as they have blood in their veins, and there will be a battle after this one."

It is unclear when or where the video was filmed, but written script at the start of the video dated it to earlier in April. Al-Baghdadi spoke slowly and haltingly in the video.

With a $25 million U.S. bounty on his head, al-Baghdadi is the world's most wanted man, responsible for steering his chillingly violent organization into mass slaughter of opponents, and directing and inspiring terror attacks across continents and in the heart of Europe.

Despite numerous claims about his death in the past few years, al-Baghdadi's whereabouts remain a mystery. He appeared in public only once, in 2014. Since then, many of his top aides have been killed, mostly in U.S.-led coalition airstrikes.

He is among the few senior IS commanders still at large after two years of steady battlefield losses that saw the self-styled "caliphate" shrink from an area the size of Britain to a tiny speck in the Euphrates River valley.

Although largely seen as a symbolic figurehead of the global terror network — he was described as "irrelevant for a long time" by a coalition spokesman in 2017 — al-Baghdadi's capture would be a coveted prize for the various players across both Syria and Iraq.

But so far, he has eluded the Americans, Russians, Syrians, Iraqis and Kurds.

In August, ISIS released a new militant audio recording, purportedly of al-Baghdadi, his first in almost a year. In the audio, al-Baghdadi urged followers to "persevere" and continue fighting the group's enemies everywhere.

The audio's authenticity could not be independently verified and there were no clues as to where it was recorded.

DPA contributed to this report.