Islamic State released a video Monday of a man the militant group identified as its chief, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in what would be his first appearance in five years, a month after the militants were driven out of their last stronghold in Syria.
In the 18-minute video, the man resembling Baghdadi is seen sitting on the ground amid other men whose faces are blurred as he discusses the war against “crusaders” and the recent battle of Baghouz in Syria, Rita Katz, director of SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist social media, said in a series of tweets.
The Islamic State leader hasn’t been seen since his infamous appearance in a video from the Grand Mosque in Mosul, Iraq, where he announced the creation of the so-called Islamic State caliphate, which once held swaths of land in Iraq and Syria. Several reports had emerged in the past years that Baghdadi had been either injured or killed as his whereabouts remained unknown.
Baghdadi praised the Sri Lanka attackers, calling the bombings revenge for Baghouz, the group’s last pocket of territory, according to SITE. More than 200 people, including as many as 30 foreigners, were killed in a series of coordinated explosions on Easter Sunday at churches and luxury hotels across Sri Lanka.
U.S.-backed Kurdish forces said last month that they had completely eradicated the Islamic State from its last pocket of control on the Euphrates River.
In December, President Donald Trump announced that Islamic State had been defeated and that he was bringing U.S. troops home from Syria, a decision that prompted Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to resign. The president later acknowledged that Islamic State remained a threat, and his administration said as many as 400 troops would stay.
The group’s potential to inspire terrorist attacks even without holding territory has been underscored in recent attacks, such as that in Sri Lanka — blamed on a local jihadist group and claimed by Islamic State — and an armed assault claimed by the group in the Democratic Republic of Congo earlier this month.