For the first time in five years, ISIS has released what it says is a new video message from its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
In the video, a man purporting to be Baghdadi appeared to be wearing a casual outfit, sitting on the ground next to an assault rifle. He said the “battle for Baghouz is over,” referencing the last town held by ISIS in eastern Syria.
Baghouz was liberated from the terror group in late March, marking the collapse of the group’s so-called Caliphate.
In the video, the man praised recent bombings in Sri Lanka, which killed more than 250 people and wounded at least 500 on April 21.
He also referenced recent political events, including Benjamin Netanyahu’s election victory in Israel, the resignation of Algeria’s president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, and the fall of Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir.
The video was published by ISIS media wing al-Furqan on Monday. If authentic, it would be the first time that Baghdadi has been seen since July 2014, when he spoke at the Great Mosque in Mosul.
ISIS, also sometimes referred to as Daesh, has since released various audio messages that it claims are from Baghdadi – most recently, one in August 2018 where the man on the recording admitted that ISIS groups were losing, as ISIS lost its grasp on territory in Syria.
A spokesman for the US-led coalition fighting ISIS told CNN that the US was working to gauge the authenticity of today’s video.
“At this time, we are working to independently corroborate the validity of the video posted today reportedly showing Abu Bakr al Baghdadi,” Col. Scott Rawlinson said.
“We are continuing to support partner forces in their mission of an enduring defeat of Daesh, which includes the capability to finance their operations, recruit new members, and collaborate to conduct violent extremist attacks.”
In February 2018, several US officials who spoke exclusively to CNN said Baghdadi had been wounded in an airstrike in May 2017 and had to relinquish control of the terror group for up to five months because of his injuries. The assessment of US intelligence agencies was based on reports from ISIS detainees and refugees in Northern Syria, the officials added.
According to US senator Angus King – who recently returned from a bipartisan congressional delegation to the Middle East – US military, Iraqi and Kurdish officials told him there are still an estimated 15,000 to 30,000 ISIS fighters remaining in Iraq and Syria despite coalition forces retaking control of the territory.
“Among the most important takeaways from this trip is the knowledge of the continuing danger that ISIS can pose if left unchecked, and the importance of our continued operation to ensure they do not gain a new foothold,” King said.
CNN’s Barbara Starr and Zachary Cohen contributed to this story.