A new video featuring Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was released on Sunday by the group’s propaganda arm al-Furqan. This is the first time the IS leader has been seen since July 2014. In the video, Baghdadi asserts that his followers fought till the end in territories and cities where they were forced out by US-backed coalition forces. Baghdadi also claims that attacks on Christians in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday were in retaliation for the defeat of IS in Baghouz, the group’s last stronghold in Syria.
Baghdadi remains the world's most wanted man, despite the jihadists' "caliphate" imploding and shrinking significantly having given away control of eastern Syria. After declaring himself caliph in 2014, Baghdadi held sway over seven million people across swathes of Syria and Iraq, where IS implemented its brutal version of the Islamic law.
Nicknamed "The Ghost", he made no public appearances since he delivered a sermon at Mosul's famed Al-Nuri mosque in 2014. In the latest video, Baghdadi is seen wearing a black robe and sitting cross-legged with a gun propped behind him, telling a roomful of followers, “Our battle today is a war of attrition to harm the enemy, and they should know that jihad will continue until doomsday."
Reclusive even when IS was at the peak of its power, the 47-year-old Iraqi, who reportedly suffers from diabetes, was rumoured to have been wounded or killed several times. However, his whereabouts have never been confirmed, the Jakarta Post reported and the Pentagon confirmed.
A spokesman for the US-backed group which pushed the caliphate to its doom in March said the elusive leader was likely not likely in Syria."We do not think he is in Syria," Mustefa Bali told AFP as the fall of Baghouz neared.
“IS has morphed into a less pressing force, but it has not completely gone away,” Col. Julian Cheater, 432nd Wing commander, who oversaw the US Air Force drone operations told TIME magazine. “While the caliphate has been defeated, we still need to work with our ground partners to make sure that the remaining embers don’t flare up again.”
Brett Velicovich, who hunted Baghdadi in Iraq while serving as an intelligence specialist in the US Army in his book Drone Warrior explains how difficult it was to get hold of Baghdadi due to his smart ways despite Velicovich's team having eliminated all his close associates.
Keeping a low profile — in contrast to slain Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden — has helped Baghdadi survive for years, the Jakarta Post report highlights. The terrorist group has released around six audio messages of their leader since his first video address in 2014, but his re-emergence with a video message is being read as the organisation's attempt to establish that it far from done and its leadership is intact.
Baghdadi is believed to have been born in Samarra, north of Baghdad, in 1971 and went on to become a cleric, reports suggest.
After US-led forces invaded Iraq in 2003, Baghdadi founded his own insurgent organisation but it never carried out major attacks. However, the report states, in 2004, when he was arrested and held in a US detention facility in southern Iraq, he was still very much a second or third-tier jihadist. It was only in Camp Bucca — later dubbed "the University of Jihad" — where Baghdadi came of age as a jihadist.
He was released at the end of 2004 for lack of evidence. And later, Iraqi security services arrested him twice subsequently, in 2007 and 2012, but let him go because they did not identify him.
In 2005, he pledged allegiance to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the brutal leader of Iraq's Al-Qaeda franchise. Zarqawi was a high-profile showman whose secret location was eventually tracked down and he was killed in a US bombing raid in 2006. Thereafter, Baghdadi took the helm in 2010. He revived the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), expanded into Syria in 2013 and declared independence from Al-Qaeda.
In April, the Iraqi army announced that it is offering a reward of $25 million for information about the location of Daesh leader. An official in Anbar province, Ibrahim Al-Awsaj, told Xinhua news agency that the Iraqi army has dropped leaflets over Anbar’s provincial capital, Ramadi, to make people aware of the reward.
“The leader of Daesh and his fighters stole your land and killed your people, and now he is hiding in safety away from the death and destruction that he planted. With your intelligence reports, you can avenge,” the leaflets said.
Earlier, in October 2011, the US officially had designated Baghdadi as "terrorist" and offered a $25 m reward for information leading to his capture or death.
Location not known
In 2018, Iraqi intelligence officials and a number of experts believed that Baghdadi was hiding in IS's then de facto capital of Hajin, in the Middle Euphrates Valley Pocket in Syria. Even though no direct evidence was found to corroborate the claim, experts noted that the remaining IS leadership was concentrated in Hajin, and that IS was persistently launching a strenuous defence.
However, Hajin was captured by the Syrian Democratic Forces on 14 December 2018, but still, the whereabouts of Baghdadi was unknown.
Media reportage of his death and arrest
According to media reports, Baghdadi was wounded on 18 March, 2015 during a coalition airstrike on the al-Baaj District, in the Nineveh Governorate, near the Syrian border. His wounds were apparently so serious that he had a meeting to discuss who would replace him if he died. According to reports, by 22 April, 2015 Baghdadi had not yet recovered enough from his injuries to resume daily control of IS.
However, the US Department of Defense said that Baghdadi had not been the target of the airstrikes, and "we have no reason to believe it was Baghdadi." On 22 April, 2015, Iraqi government sources reported that Abu Ala al-Afri, the self-proclaimed caliph's deputy and a former Iraqi physics teacher, had been installed as the stand-in leader while Baghdadi recuperated from his injuries.
But with the latest video, the group which looking to expands its fans and deepen its presence in South Asia, have reinstated the faith in their leader and confirmed the re-emergence of Baghdadi which is not a good news for the various intelligence agencies across the globe which have been on a lookout for the most-wanted terrorist for more than decade now.
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Updated Date: May 01, 2019 15:09:44 IST