Baghdadi video is ominous

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

If the recent video released by the Islamic State’s (IS) al-Furqan media network is genuine — independent confirmations of the authenticity of the video are awaited — then its founder-leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is alive and well. The last time al-Baghdadi was seen in a video was in 2014, when he proclaimed from Mosul the creation of a ‘caliphate’ across parts of Syria and Iraq. In the five years since, the IS did not release any propaganda videos featuring al-Baghdadi, triggering speculation that he may have died in an aerial strike. Indeed, Russia’s defence ministry claimed in 2016 that the world’s most wanted terrorist was killed in airstrikes. However, audio clips of al-Baghdadi’s speeches were released sporadically over the years — the most recent in August 2018 — suggesting that for some reason IS did not want the world to see its chief. Was the man who carried a $25 million bounty on his head seriously injured or ailing? The latest video of al-Baghdadi, the first to be issued in five years, suggests that he survived the many bombs that rained down on IS territory over the past five years, including the IS' final stand at the battle of Baghouz last month.

In the video recording, al-Baghdadi acknowledges the IS defeat at Baghouz. He warns that there is “more to come after this battle” for Baghouz and swears that he will “take revenge” for IS fighters who fell in the battlefield. He praises the suicide bombers who carried out the attacks in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday and describes the bombings there as “vengeance” for IS fighters who were killed while defending Baghouz. Interestingly, al-Baghdadi’s image disappears when he discusses Sri Lanka, suggesting that this part was recorded after the video was made. The video featuring al-Baghdadi underscores the fact that the IS chief has not just survived but that he is alive and kicking. Following the defeat of the IS in March, the Trump administration boasted that the war was over. The suicide bombings in Sri Lanka indicated that it was not. It had only taken a new form. The IS has admitted to defeat in one battle. The war, as al-Baghdadi reminds us in the video, is not over.

IS has made major inroads in South Asia, including India. With the IS’ strategy changing, and especially in the context of the recent suicide bombings in Sri Lanka, India must wake up to the possibility of IS sleeper cells here being activated to carry out attacks. In Sri Lanka, IS and its local links struck at soft targets. Similar targeting of soft targets in India cannot be ruled out. India must be on guard.

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