This is the ISIS leader's first public appearance since his speech at the Nuri Mosque in Mosul declaring his so-called Islamic State.
Nearly five years after his first public appearance, ISIS’ leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has reappeared in a video released by al-Furqan Media, the ISIS channel responsible for many gruesome videos including the burning of the Jordanian pilot, Mua’th al-Qasasbah, in 2015.
Baghdadi who was filmed sitting on the ground this time, rather than the pulpit he took in 2014 when he announced the establishment of ISIS’ so-called caliphate, was surrounded by several of the militant group’s leaders, whose faces were blurred. To prove that this recording was not an old one, Baghdadi briefly discussed the recent political changes in Algeria and Sudan, and also accepted the allegiance that some groups made to him recently in West Africa.
Analysts say that the timing of this video is important as it is an attempt for Baghdadi to show his followers that he is still alive, despite the rumours that were spread of him being dead. Furthermore, it is an attempt by the militant group to reshape their image to its supporters following ISIS’ successive defeats in Iraq and Syria.
During his speech, Baghdadi confirmed to his followers that while the battle of Baghouz in Syria is now over, their fight against the west is a war of attrition. This confirms much speculation that claims that while ISIS has been defeated militarily, the battle with ISIS’ insurgency is not yet over.
Being his first video since 2014, observers were quick to point out Baghdadi’s appearance looked aged, including his reddish beard that he coloured with henna. The AKS 74U assault rifle laid next to him also sought to conjure images of al-Qaeda’s former leader Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda in Iraq’s leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Furthermore, observers say that Baghdadi’s weight gain and pale complexion shows that the militant leader lives in closed spaces and does not regularly move from one place to another.
While intelligence agencies continue their manhunt for Baghdadi along the Syrian-Iraqi border, some say this video can provide some indication of Baghdadi’s whereabouts, hoping that it will lead to his capture, especially since many of his top men have been killed or arrested in the past two years.