The Islamic State (IS, ISIS or ISIL) has released an unverified audio recording that it said was by its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who called on the armed group’s followers to “resist the infidels”. A speaker who sounds like the IS leader seems to refer to recent North Korean threats against Japan and the US.
The date of the 46-minute recording, released on Thursday via the ISIL-linked Al-Furqan news organization, was not clear. He also talks of battles for IS strongholds like Mosul, which was regained by Iraqi forces in July.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who has a $25m (£19m) US bounty on his head, has not been seen in public since July 2014, leading to much speculation about his fate. Baghdadi’s whereabouts have been the subject of intense speculation throughout the past three years, during which time Isis rampaged through large parts of Iraq and Syria. The last time he appeared was to preach at the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul after IS overran the city and a “caliphate” was proclaimed.
In the tape, Baghdadi refers to the “nearly year-long fight for Mosul”, from which Isis was ousted in August after nearly 10 months of fighting. He also referenced fights for Hama in Syria, where a push in recent weeks by Iranian-led militias has ousted the terror group from much of its stronghold in the countryside to the east of Syria’s third city.
He also referred to North Korean “nuclear threats to America” and “Russia taking control” of the Astana peace process between the Syrian opposition and regime. Both matters have been headline news throughout the year, but the North Korean standoff has been particularly potent in recent weeks.
“The fighters in Mosul refused to surrender the city at the cost of their flesh and blood,” said Baghdadi. “Only after a year of fighting.”
The newest audio footage was the first from the reclusive Baghdadi in nearly 10 months and it gave several clues that suggest Iranian and Russian claims that he was killed in May were incorrect. So the IS leader al-Baghdadi is still alive, or at least it appears he was still alive at least as recently as August.
This concurs with the views of western intelligence agencies and Iraq’s government, which were always skeptical of Russian claims to have killed him an air strike. His apparent survival to date will give some small morale boost to the beleaguered IS fighters still clinging on in Raqqa, but it is unlikely to make any strategic difference.