Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the fugitive leader of the Islamic State (Isil) has appeared in a video for the first time in five years and claimed that the Sri Lanka terror attacks were revenge for the fall of the so-called caliphate.
The jihadist leader has not been seen since he proclaimed the creation of the caliphate in a Mosul mosque in 2014 and there have been persistent rumours that he was badly injured and in failing health.
But in a video released on Monday, Baghdadi appeared healthy. He sat cross-legged with an assault rifle at his side and the tips of his grey beard dyed orange as he spoke to several masked Isil fighters.
He vowed to carry out revenge attacks against the West in retaliation for the fall of Baghuz, the town in eastern Syria where his fighters made a last stand to defend Isil-held territory against advancing Kurdish forces.
“Your brothers in Sri Lanka have pleased the hearts of the believers with their [suicide] attacks,” he said. “This is only part of the revenge awaiting the crusaders and their followers.”
He said Isil supporters had carried out 92 attacks in eight countries in response to the defeat in Baghuz. He stressed that the jihadists had not retreated in the face of overwhelming odds and instead fought to the end.
"Your brothers will never forget you and they will avenge you," he said.
In reality, hundreds of suspected Isil fighters surrendered to Kurdish forces before Baghuz was captured in late March. Baghdadi acknowledged Isil’s defeat there but said the jihadist would continue “a war of attrition” against its enemies.
Baghdadi, who is in his late forties, is among the world’s most-wanted men and Western intelligence agencies will be scouring the video for any scraps of information which could reveal his location.
Analysts believe it is most likely he is hiding in the sparsely-populated desert in the west of Iraq, near the Syrian border. The US has offered a $25 million (£19 million) reward for information leading to his death or capture.
The was released by al-Furqan, Isil’s official media unit. Baghdadi has released several audio recordings through al-Furqan in recent years but Monday’s video was the first time he since 2014 he has appeared on video.
He made reference to recent events including the overthrow of the presidents of Algeria and Sudan and the re-election of Benjamin Netanyahu as the prime minister of Israel.
The video is set a room whose walls are covered in white cloth. As with many Isil propaganda videos, its appears to be a sophisticated production, with high-quality sound and lighting as well as graphics.
Meanwhile, a ban on women wearing burqas came into force in Sri Lanka on Monday. Maithripala Sirisena, the country’s president, said the ban was a necessary security measure in the wake of the Easter Sunday bombing.
Although the face veil ban will be automatically lifted with the emergency law, a presidential spokesman told The Daily Telegraph that the government is looking at imposing a more permanent ban on the Muslim face veil.
Gunmen also killed at least six worshippers at a church in the west African state of Burkina Faso on Monday. The attackers arrived on motorcycles and reportedly shot dead the church’s pastor along with five other people.
Jihadist groups linked to both Isil and al-Qaeda have been active in the area since 2016.
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