Analysis: IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi appears alive and well in video

The Islamic State group, just weeks after it was supposedly crushed for good in Syria, has released a new video featuring recent comments by its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In his first appearance in five years, he sits cross-legged on a floor with a rifle nearby, and talks about the recent terror attack in Sri Lanka, among other operations.

Al-Baghdadi is dressed in a dark robe and light-colored vest, and wears a scarf. The ends of his long salt-and-pepper beard have been colored with henna. He has gained weight since his last video in 2014.

In the years since then, numerous reports speculating about injuries, illness and his death have surfaced. But, in the video, he shows no outward signs of illness or injury.

In the 18-minute production, the video fades to black at several moments; the camera angle is changed and a new scene commences. That typically suggests one camera is being used. The video takes place in a cream-colored room with a carpeted floor. It is not clear where the room is located. 

In one scene, al-Baghdadi talks in a very relaxed manner with other men, whose faces are obscured, sitting near him. They are all armed. In one scene in the video, al-Baghdadi reviews what appears to be a stack of reports, clearly staged for the camera.

He talks about attacks and operations in places such as Baghouz, which was where ISIS made its last stand in Syria. And, as usual, he talks about the ongoing war against the crusaders.

Those comments are extremely troubling for authorities around the globe, because not only does his appearance potentially re-energize die-hard ISIS sympathizers willing to conduct destructive attacks, but ISIS still has significant resources to fund such attacks.

Experts tell WTOP that up to $300 million believed to be in ISIS’ possession was never recovered after the so-called caliphate in Iraq and Syria fell.

J.J. Green

JJ Green is WTOP's National Security Correspondent. He reports daily on security, intelligence, foreign policy, terrorism and cyber developments, and provides regular on-air and online analysis. He is also the host of two podcasts: Target USA and Colors: A Dialogue on Race in America.

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