ISIS purported leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi disappeared from public view for five years, but in April, he starred in a video released by the Islamic State, sporting a beard that may have been half-colorized.
The video’s release comes at a pivotal point for Islamic State. As it has lost all of the territory it once governed under its brutal interpretation of Islam in Iraq and Syria, the extremist group is eying footholds elsewhere in the world from which it can orchestrate large-scale attacks.
Despite the fall of Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate, Baghdadi remains at large, having for years evaded a manhunt by the U.S. military and intelligence agencies.
In the video, Baghdadi discusses the Sri Lanka Easter bombings, saying they were an act of revenge following the caliphate’s loss of its last strip of territory in Syria.
“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 Baghouz,” he said. “This is part of the vengeance that awaits the crusaders and their henchmen, Allah permitting. Praise be to Allah, among the dead were Americans and Europeans.”
Bakr claimed Islamic State followers carried out 290 such vengeance attacks in eight countries. The extremist group has sometimes claimed attacks, but provided no proof it was linked to them.
Islamic State remains a potent threat around the world despite reduced capabilities, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said Tuesday, adding its leader Baghdadi has made his latest video appearance in a “remote area.”
Abdul Mahdi did not say which country that area was in.
The authenticity and date of the recording could not be independently verified.
Abdul Mahdi said Baghdadi’s appearance was an attempt to boost militants and that Islamic State would attempt to carry out more attacks.
“Regarding the location of Baghdadi, we can’t give intelligence information right now, but it’s clear from the video that he’s in a remote area,” Abdul Mahdi said at a news conference on a visit to Berlin.
Baghdadi, an Iraqi, is believed to be hiding in an isolated area of either Iraq or Syria, part of vast desert regions Islamic State once held and from where it is thought the jihadists are now waging regular insurgent attacks against both countries.
The U.S.-backed campaign ended Islamic State’s control of territory in Iraq in late 2017 and in Syria last month, nearly five years after the group took over vast areas in both countries.