The elusive leader-at-large of the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) has appeared in a new clip released by the jihadi organization, appearing to disprove long-standing rumors about his death or failing health.
In a roughly 18-minute video released by the ISIS-affiliated Al-Furqan media outlet, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi could be seen seated on a mattress in front of a plain white background and beside an Kalashnikov-style assault rifle. Speaking to followers whose faces are obscured, Baghdadi proclaims that “the battle of Islam and its people against the cross and its people is a long battle,” but concedes his group’s loss against a U.S.-led coalition and mostly Kurdish allies in a small town in Syria’s far east.
“The battle of Baghouz is finished, but it demonstrated the barbarity and savagery of the crusader community towards the Muslim community,” said Baghdadi, adding that “at the same time” the battle proved the “courage” and “resilience” of his hard-line Islamist followers in the face of Christianity.
“There will be more to come after this battle,” he said, vowing to “drain” his enemies “of all their capabilities—human, military, economic, logistic, in everything—today’s battle is a battle of attrition.”
Numerous reports emerged suggesting he was killed by airstrikes or that his health had deteriorated to the point where he was no longer in control of his global jihadi network; the only evidence of his continued survival were several audio messages attributed to him. A month before his August message, Baghdadi’s son was reported to have died in a suicide operation in Syria.
Late last month, James Jeffrey, U.S. special envoy for Syria, admitted, “We don’t know where he is, and finding the top leadership of ISIS or other terrorist groups is always a priority.”
Idlib, the last bastion of the 2011 Islamist-led insurgency in Syria that predated ISIS’ formation, remained dominated by other jihadi groups ideologically closer to ISIS’ parent group, Al-Qaeda. The northwestern province has seen low-level fighting between those groups and the Syrian military, but the latter was restrained from waging an all-out offensive by a September ceasefire agreement signed by Russia and Turkey, which continued to support the armed opposition against Assad.