Iraqis see Baghdadi’s video as threat of more terror
BAGHDAD - The release of a video purportedly showing Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi sparked concern among Iraqis who say the recording indicates that more terror is to come.
The video shows Baghdadi for the first time since his 2014 appearance at al-Nuri mosque in Mosul, Iraq, when he declared the Islamic State (ISIS) caliphate. Iraqi forces, backed by an international coalition, declared victory against ISIS in 2017 and Baghdadi has been reported to have been killed on more than one occasion.
The sight of Baghdadi on the video was unwelcome news to Iraqis, particularly those in areas liberated from ISIS control. Some Iraqi refused to comment when asked about Baghdadi, fearing being targeted with revenge attacks by ISIS sleeper cells. Others were more open about their concerns regarding the message.
Ahmed Mohammed, a human rights activist from Basra, said there is fear of an ISIS comeback in Iraq. He said Baghdadi released the video to support ISIS sleeper cells.
Saoud Omar, a resident of Mosul, said the video aims to encourage ISIS militants “to implement more destruction against our city. I think that there will be unexpected attacks on Mosul again.”
Fahad Anter al-Dukhi, a writer from Kirkuk, agreed, saying: “The video is an attempt to give a sign [to ISIS supporters] to renew their state again. More attacks could be coming.” It is also a message that the rest of the world could be a target for ISIS after the Sri Lanka bombings, he added.
Iraqis in the West are fearful of ISIS attacks, too. “There are many sleeper cells here in Europe, so I am afraid,” said Noor Alattar, an Iraqi journalist in the Netherlands.
“I fled home (in 2017) seeking a safer life but I think the terrorism might rise here in Europe if ISIS’s ideology still exists.”
Not everyone is fearful of a return of ISIS. Some who have suffered from ISIS said the group’s days of darkness are over.
“We had lived a dark age under ISIS control for more than three lean years, which resulted in enormous damage. Our houses were destroyed, thousands of people were killed and hundreds of thousands were displaced,” said Ayman Saad Zuhair, a university graduate from Mosul. “They were really unforgettable memories, still in our minds but the video no longer frightens us. ISIS is a film and it has ended.”
Abdul-Hadi al-Saadawi, a member of the State of Law coalition, said the video did not make a direct threat against Iraqi security, adding that the country was ready to counter its enemies.
“They (ISIS fighters) do not have military strength on the ground. The Iraqi forces are experienced in street battles with ISIS and they (Iraqi forces) are able to counter any future security threat,” said Saadawi. “The video is just a storm in a teacup, no more, no less.”
Political analyst Omar al-Azi disagreed. “The video is an indirect threat to Iraqi forces and the government,” he said. “Baghdadi intentionally did not mention Iraq, to deflect attention from his real objective, which is trying to activate ISIS sleeper cells in Iraq by all means.
“He (Baghdadi) wants to resume his activities in Iraq as well as other countries, such as Turkey, Mali and Libya.”
The video’s apparent threat to other countries in the region was not missed.
“The footage shows Baghdadi holding files, one of its covers included the word ‘Turkey.’ It is a clear message that ISIS will target Turkey,” said Hamza Tekin, a Turkish journalist.
“Turkey had played a vital role in fighting ISIS … [and] ISIS had targeted Ataturk’s airport in 2016 but Turkish security forces are cracking down on their (ISIS) sleeper cells wherever they find them.”