In hiding and defeated, ISIS leader purportedly resurfaces in 1st video in 5 years
A purported new appearance on video by the fugitive leader of the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) has observers denouncing his attempt to rally the remnants of his shattered so-called "caliphate".
ISIS posted the video online on Monday (April 29), saying it was shot in April, according to the BBC.
The video is more than 18 minutes long and shows a man said to be Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi talking to other ISIS members, Voice of America (VOA) reported.
In the video, the man identified as al-Baghdadi acknowledges the fall of Baghouz, Syria, the group's last scrap of territory, which was seized by coalition-backed forces in March.
"The battle for Baghouz is over," he said.
In an attempt to rally his followers now in disarray around the world, he claimed the Easter Sunday (April 21) massacres in Sri Lanka were meant to avenge Baghouz's fall.
"We are aware of the video that surfaced today," US State Department spokesman Michael Lavallee said, according to VOA. "Analysts will review this recording, and we will defer to the intelligence community to confirm its authenticity."
If the video is authentic, it will be the first sighting of al-Baghdadi since July 2014, when he spoke in Mosul, Iraq.
ISIS's collapse gathered speed over the years as coalition forces pounded it on the ground and from the air.
At its peak in late 2014 and early 2015, it controlled 88,000 sq. km in Syria and Iraq, according to the BBC. It lost both Mosul and al-Raqa, Syria, in 2017 before eventually being reduced to a last stand on a scrap of land -- the village of Baghouz.
Observers were quick to denounce the ISIS leader, who went into hiding years ago while his followers died by the thousands in combat against overwhelming US-backed forces.
"How can someone take revenge for losing territory when that territory wasn't his property?" asked Peshawar political analyst Khadim Hussain. "If someone can't appear in public, how can he fight organised and lawful armies?"
Al-Baghdadi's fate will resemble that of Pakistani terrorists, whose activities have plummeted in recent years, he told Salaam Times.
The public worldwide, having seen ISIS trumpet its atrocities against civilians in its own propaganda, will reject any attempts by the terrorist group to rebuild, Dr. Attaullah Khan, an international-relations instructor at the University of Peshawar, told Salaam Times.
He cited "the ruthlessness that ISIS showed against unarmed populations".
The purported al-Baghdadi video is "reprehensible", Peshawar religious leader Maulana Jamil Qureshi told Salaam Times. "ISIS's activities are contrary to the teachings of the Koran."
Afghanistan no haven for ISIS
If al-Baghdadi thinks his battered movement can regain its footing by basing itself in Afghanistan, he is deluded, said Afghan analysts who watched the video.
"Such videos will only be considered propaganda because Daesh has lost its ability to gather its fighters," Kabul political analyst Aziz Stanekzai told Salaam Times, using an alternate name for ISIS.
The group suffered "heavy defeats in Iraq and Syria" and was "defeated by Afghan and coalition forces" in Afghanistan, he noted. "The past two to three years showed that Afghans did not allow his insurgents anywhere in the country."
"First, al-Baghdadi is trying to strengthen the morale of his defeated fighters," Nasrullah Musadiq, an adviser to Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, told Salaam Times. "Second, he wants to show that the group is reviving."
"The Afghan government and international community should prepare ... to destroy this group," advised Musadiq, agreeing with Stanekzai that coalition and local forces have thrashed ISIS in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.
[Ashfaq Yusufzai from Peshawar and Sulaiman from Kabul contributed to this report.]