Decoding ISIS leader’s new video – Washington Examiner

In his first video in five years, Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on Monday was shown talking to three followers. I am highly confident that it is indeed Baghdadi in the video and not a impersonator. The video is specifically notable for two reasons.

First, its nature and recording date.

The video is very recent: almost certainly recorded after March 23 and before April 21. On video, Baghdadi references ISIS’ late March loss of its remaining Syrian stronghold Baghuz, but only references the April 21 Sri Lanka church and hotel attacks in an audio-only interlude about two-thirds through the tape. This proves that Baghdadi was recently alive and in at least somewhat good health.

More importantly, coming from an established ISIS media house, al-Furqan, the video intends to show that Baghdadi retains organizational as well as symbolic authority over ISIS. Releasing the video itself rather than, as al Qaeda likes to do, sending it to a third-party media outlet such as Al Jazeera, ISIS lends credibility to the mythos of its organized caliphate. But the group also risks compromising the network which delivered the video to its final upload location. If anyone in that network is identified, they can be back-traced (hence why ISIS tried to conceal the identities of the fighters alongside Baghdadi).

Second, the video proves Baghdadi will be front and center in ISIS’ evolving strategy.

That strategy will focus on carrying out transnational terrorist attacks (including in the West), while fueling sectarian hatred in Iraq.

Following the Sri Lanka audio element of the recording, Jihadist music is overlaid to Baghdadi in discourse with the men. He even appears to receive a briefing with document folders from one man. All of this is very deliberate. Even amid defeats, Baghdadi aims to present himself as the durable leader: the man destined to serve God’s will to its ordained conclusion.

Combined with his repeated references to Islam and global struggle, ISIS wants to show Baghdadi as a leader who retains a divine right to be obeyed not just by ISIS followers, but by the world. This is a crucial ingredient of ISIS ideology, which is uniquely authoritarian. But it also supports ISIS recruitment efforts to offer a credible cause to both Salafi-Jihadists and social malcontents.

Baghdadi’s last message was in August 2018. We should expect more messages in the months ahead.

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