WASHINGTON (AFP, NYTIMES) – The United States vowed on Monday (April 29) that it would track down and defeat surviving leaders of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) movement after its elusive supremo Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi appeared to speak in a newly released videotape.
The US-led coalition against the group will fight across the world to “ensure an enduring defeat of these terrorists and that any leaders who remain are delivered the justice that they deserve”, a State Department spokesman said.
In Baghdadi’s first purported appearance in five years, a cross-legged speaker said to be the world’s most wanted man referred to the group’s defeat last month in its final redoubt of Baghouz and threatened revenge attacks.
US government analysts “will review this recording and we will defer to the intelligence community to confirm its authenticity,” the State Department spokesman said.
But regardless of the video’s authenticity, the spokesman said that ISIS had been battered.
“ISIS’s territorial defeat in Iraq and Syria was a crushing strategic and psychological blow as ISIS saw its so-called caliphate crumble, its leaders killed or flee the battlefield, and its savagery exposed,” he said.
In the 18-minute video released by an ISIS media group and distributed by the SITE Intelligence Group, al-Baghdadi sits on the ground in an Arab-style sitting room as he calmly speaks to a group of unidentified followers with an assault rifle at his side.
He praises the bombers who killed more than 250 people in Sri Lanka on Easter and vowed that his group would keep fighting until “Judgment Day".
He acknowledges that the group has lost its caliphate in Iraq and Syria but says the group’s battle with the West and its allies was far from over.
“Truthfully, the battle of Islam and its people with the crusader and his people is a long battle,” he said. He called on his followers to continue pursuing their enemies “with all of their abilities”. “Our battle today is a battle of attrition, and we will prolong it for the enemy, and they must know that the jihad will continue until Judgment Day,” he said.
As it lost territory in the Middle East, the Islamic State has expanded abroad, turning to its international affiliates to carry out attacks farther afield. The coordinated bombing attack in Sri Lanka last week was one of the group’s deadliest, causing nearly twice as many deaths as the 2015 Paris attacks did.
The authenticity of the video released on Monday could not be independently confirmed but most counter-terrorism experts who have reviewed it concluded that it was.
The video appeared to be an effort to demonstrate that despite his group’s tremendous losses, it is still active, and he is paying attention. He made passing references to the Israeli election and the toppling of long-time strongmen in Sudan and Algeria. Al-Baghdadi is believed to be in hiding somewhere in the sparsely populated desert spanning the border between Iraq and Syria.