WASHINGTON — A video with a man purported to be ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi — absent from the world stage for five years — is being studied by the Pentagon and intelligence agencies today to confirm who the individual is and when the video was created.
Pentagon officials said Tuesday that the video, released by the ISIS propaganda wing and then provided to the media by SITE Intelligence Group on Monday, was likely made recently because of references to the Sri Lanka terrorist bombing on Easter Sunday and the end of the ISIS land caliphate in March.
However, they said confirmation of the individual’s identity was still being studied. That work is being led by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Pentagon officials said.
Al-Baghdadi has not been seen in public since July 2014. A series of radio broadcasts in August 2018 were attributed to him. Several rumors of his death or him being injured in air attacks have circulated since then.
The U.S. is offering up to $25 million for information leading to his location.
In the video, the individual said the bombings in Sri Lanka were retaliation for ISIS being defeated in the Baghouz, their last redoubt in eastern Syria. He also refers to the recent removal of leaders in Algeria and Sudan, underscoring the timing of the video.
Participants at the Future Security Forum on Monday warned that ISIS could emerge stronger than ever through the internet as a provocateur, provider and protector of local terrorist groups around the globe.
“ISIS is not defeated and the idea of ISIS is not defeated,” Jen Easterly, former senior director for counterterrorism, National Security Council, said at the Forum in Washington. “The idea continues and we see it again in Sri Lanka and attacks around the world.”
Joshua Geltzer, a Future of War fellow at Arizona State University, said ISIS’s prowess at using the Internet to recruit and to direct terrorism is gaining strength.
“It’s not only driving what they were already doing but it played an even broader role in a geographic strategy role as well,” Geltzer said during the forum. “They do more with the internet (today) than they did then (when they started).”
He said ISIS deftly uses the internet to see “what sort of attacks they want to launch ( and) link up with local terrorist groups and bring them into the ISIS fold.”