Sri Lanka Attack Revenge for Syria: ISIS Chief Baghdadi Reappears
Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was presumed dead, has appeared for the first time in five years in a video released by the extremist group’s propaganda arm on Monday, 29 April.
According to a transcript from the US-based SITE Intelligence Group, in the video al-Baghdadi praised the Easter suicide bombings that killed more than 250 people in Sri Lanka and called on militants to be a "thorn" against their enemies.
The video of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, to whom the suicide bombers in last week’s attack apparently pledged their loyalty, came as the top official in the Catholic Church urged Sri Lanka to crack down on Islamic extremists “as if on war footing.”
"The battle for Baghouz is over," he said, sitting cross-legged on a cushion and addressing three men whose faces have been blurred.
He referred to a string of IS defeats, including its onetime Iraqi capital Mosul and Sirte in Libya, but insisted the jihadists had not "surrendered" territory.
"God ordered us to wage 'jihad.' He did not order us to win," he said, according to SITE.
"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," al-Baghdadi said, according to a transcript from SITE Intelligence Group.
"There will be more to come after this battle," he said.
He also called on Islamic State-pledged militants in the island nation off the southern tip of India to be "a thorn in the chests of the crusaders.
Authorities initially blamed the Easter attacks, targeting three hotels and three churches, on a local militant named Mohammed Zahran and his followers. Then the Islamic State group on 23 April released images of Zahran and others pledging their loyalty to al-Baghdadi.
Police conducted a later raid in eastern Sri Lanka that saw militants detonate suicide bombs in violence that killed at least 15 people, including six children. Explosives recovered by authorities bore hallmarks of the Islamic State group as well.
What Does the 18-Minute Video Show?
The video shows Baghdadi sitting on a mattress dressed in black and a beige jacket, talking to three others whose faces cannot be seen. What seems to be a machine gun is propped up next to him.
Baghdadi, 47, had a long grey beard that appeared dyed with henna and spoke slowly, often pausing for several seconds in the middle of his sentences.
But the US-led coalition, which has backed operations in both Iraq and Syria to defeat IS, said it was still trying to "independently corroborate the validity of the video posted today reportedly showing Abu Bakr al Baghdadi."
Who is al-Baghdadi?
Born Ibrahim Awad al-Badri in 1971, Baghdadi came from modest beginnings in Samarra, north of Baghdad.
After US-led forces invaded Iraq in 2003, he was detained in the American-run Camp Bucca, where is believed to have come of age as a jihadist.
He later rose through the ranks of Iraq's Al-Qaeda franchise and eventually took the helm in 2010, expanding into Syria in the midst of that country's war in 2013.
The following year, Baghdadi declared himself "caliph" of IS's sprawling territory in an infamous sermon from Mosul's famed Al-Nuri mosque.
He then lay low for years, earning him the nickname "The Ghost" amid repeated reports he had been killed or injured as IS's territory shrunk.
The SDF at the time said it did not believe Baghdadi was in Syria.
The United States has a $25-million US bounty on his head.
(With inputs from AP, AFP)