ISIS leader Al Baghdadi appears for first time in five years

Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi claims Sri Lanka terror attacks in propaganda video

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The leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, has claimed the Sri Lanka terror attacks as he appeared for the first time in five years in a propaganda video released on Monday by the group.

The terrorist leader marked the end of the group's territorial grip in Syria and Iraq while referring to the recent attack in Sri Lanka that killed hundreds, and the fall of the presidents of Algeria and Sudan.

It is unclear when the footage was filmed but Al Baghdadi referred to the end of the months-long fight for Baghouz, the group's final bastion in eastern Syria, in March.

"The battle for Baghouz is over," he said, sitting cross-legged on a cushion and addressing three men whose faces were blurred.

Al Baghdadi then said the battle against the group's enemies had shifted into a “war of attrition”.

Speaking to a group of followers sitting around the sides of a white-walled room with an assault rifle by his side, Al Baghdadi also accepted oaths of allegiance from leaders of factions in Mali, Burkina Faso and Afghanistan.

While he bore no signs of injuries he had reportedly suffered during the last phase of fighting in Syria, he was notably aged from the appearance in a Mosul mosque in 2014.

The hair and beard that were black then were mostly grey with added dyes.

Al Baghdadi boasted that his loyalists did not hand over territory to the coalition. Many, he claimed, staged last-stand battles to the end, in places such as Manbij, Sirte, Mosul, Raqqa and Baghouz.

Al Baghdadi has not been seen since giving a sermon at Al Nuri Grand Mosque in Mosul in 2014. The video on Monday was broadcast on the group's Al Furqan media channel.

In an audio speech in August 2018, Al Baghdadi called on ISIS supporters to persevere, despite the losses the group suffered in Iraq and Syria.

He also released an audio message in September 2017, two months after the Iraqi government forces recaptured Mosul and a month before ISIS militants were driven from their Syrian stronghold of Raqqa by a US-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters.

Russia claimed last year that Al Baghdadi may have been killed in an air strike in Syria, but US commanders said they believed he was still alive and hiding in a remote area on the Syria-Iraq border.

Walid Phares, Fox News national security and foreign policy expert, said the ISIS leader was probably being hosted by a country bordering Syria or Iraq.

Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Programme for Scholars, said: "Perhaps it is part of an effort to demonstrate, after Sri Lanka, that ISIS has recovered and rebooted following the loss of its 'caliphate'.

"A big worry is all those foreign fighters returning home from Syria and Iraq. Unsettling times."

Al Baghdadi, an Iraqi whose real name is Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Al Badri, is perhaps best known for his Al Nuri speech in July 2014, when he announced the creation of a new “caliphate”.