ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi re-appeared in a video at the end of April to show that he is still alive, tracking current events and urging his “jihadist” group on after its defeat in Syria.
The following are five important details from the video.
1. ISIS carried out 92 operations in eight countries
Baghdadi claims that ISIS carried out 92 recent operations in eight countries around the world. Among those he specifically mention are Afghanistan, Mali, Burkina Faso, Sri Lanka, Saudi Arabia. This is supposed to show that ISIS has “steadfastness” and is being revitalized after its recent setbacks. ISIS has already been bragging for months about its ability to carry out operations in Iraq, but this represents a new and clear concrete global threat. After Sri Lanka it is clear that even a local cell can have devastating effects.
2. Netanyahu ‘received the government of the Jews’
ISIS spends most of its propaganda rhetoric against Christians, “Crusaders” and its hatred for non-Muslims, but it particularly means groups such as the Yazidis in Iraq that it sought to obliterate through genocide. In the recent video, Baghdadi referenced the recent election of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He says that the returning prime minister “received” the government of the Jews. It is interesting because he contrasts this with the “tyranny” in Sudan and attacks on Muslims by the government there. Baghdadi doesn’t mention the State of Israel, rather seeing the country as simply “the Jews” and a government established by Jews.
3. ISIS ‘Game of Thrones’ style list of dead fighters
Baghdadi provides a long list of fallen comrades and also some who have survived recent battles, a bit like reading off a list of the dead from the last episode of Game of Thrones. He mentions a series of fighters who died in Baghouz, one after another. He also mentions several leaders that were killed in an April air strike carried out by Iraq. These include senior leaders in the province of Wilayah al-Baraka, which is in eastern Syria. He also mentions two French ISIS members who were brothers and a Chechan. In addition, he mentions several prominent Saudi-born ISIS members who rose to leadership positions, some of whom appear to have been killed recently. This included Abu Rajjib al-Dajjani and Abu Musab al-Hijazi.
Baghdadi mentions a series of Western volunteers, including a Belgian and Australian citizen named Abu Yasir al-Beljiki and Abu Abdullah Al-Australi. This shows the global reach of ISIS. More than 5,000 people from Europe joined the jihadist group. Some of them surrendered in Syria and are now held in detainee camps. More than 800 EU citizens who were ISIS members are thought to be held in eastern Syria.
4.Baghdadi wants to go big in Africa
The ISIS leader sees Africa as a major place for the group’s future operations. Preying off the weak states of the Sahel, ISIS has set down roots, cannibalizing existing Jihadist networks and expanding them. He says that it has operations in Mali, Burkina Faso and Libya. ISIS is able to operate in the Sahel region, in a band of states from the borders of Mali to Mauritania and Niger, across Nigeria all the way towards Somalia. It exploits the fact that these poor countries have their own internal problems and it also works with locals who have differences between tribes and groups. ISIS tentacles appear to be growing.
The US and France have been expanding operations in this band of countries in recent years. This is part of the US Special Forces deployment in 90 countries that has special operators training and aiding the fight against terrorism in countries like Niger. The French are also working closely to fight extremism with local countries – usually former colonies in French-speaking areas of West Africa. Baghdadi has other plans. He thinks these ISIS franchises have a major future.
5. ISIS wants to target Saudi Arabia
The ISIS leader mentions Saudi Arabia at least six times in his video, referring to it as Mohammed’s peninsula. He also references the Saudi royal family, whom he calls “Al-Salul,” a reference to an early Islamic figure who converted but whose conversion was seen as hypocritical. For Baghdadi, the leaders of Saudi Arabia are hypocrites, but he cares deeply for the birthplace of Muhammad. Like Osama Bin Laden before him, Baghdadi has this abiding interest in Saudi Arabia and also a respect for Saudi volunteers in his ranks.
He also sought to pose like Bin Laden in his video, with an AK-47 close at hand. In a sense, Baghdadi wants to take the mantle from Bin Laden.
Baghdadi mentions an April 21 attack in Zulfi near Riyadh. It shows that ISIS wants to strike at the Kingdom. “We do not forget our brothers’ blessed operation,” Baghdadi says. “Strive in your footsteps to reach the path of Jihad,” he urges his followers.