In his first message in almost a year, Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi urged his followers to hold their ground rather than “retreating in disgrace” and to turn the blood of opponents into rivers. While he avoids directly addressing the current battle for control of Mosul, the IS leader urges fighters around the world to “turn the unbelievers’ night into a day, demolish their homelands, and turn their blood into rivers.”
The 34-minute audio recording, entitled “This Is What Allah and His Messenger Promised Us,” was released Thursday morning by IS media wing Furqan. It is the first statement by al-Baghdadi since Dec. 26, 2015.
Multiple experts are convinced that this is the voice of al-Baghdadi, helping dispel any rumors about his supposed death. The IS leader’s location is still unclear, but a senior Kurdish official told the Independent on Wednesday that al-Baghdadi is likely still holed up somewhere inside Mosul.
The recording was made in the last 10 days, according to IS expert Hussan Hussan, as al-Baghdadi references comments by former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that were made on Oct. 23.
The failure to mention Mosul will be seen as significant given how important control of the city has been for IS. Indeed it was in Mosul that al-Baghdadi first declared that he had established an Islamic caliphate.
Instead, Baghdadi’s message broadens the scope of the IS fight by mentioning Iraqi Sunnis, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the Muslim Brotherhood. He calls on IS fighters “to wage war inside Turkey,” calling the country apostate and double-faced. In recent days Turkey has amassed troops along the border with Iraq with the Turkish government saying it wants to be ready for all eventualities.
The IS leader made similar threats toward Saudi Arabia, noting the treachery of the regime there, urging IS supporters there to launch attacks against government and pro-government entities and personnel, according to analysis by MEMRI Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor sent to VICE News.
The message mentions the recent deaths of key IS leaders Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, killed in an airstrike on Aug. 30 and Abu Mohamed al-Furqan, who was killed on Oct. 11. However, Baghdadi says these deaths have not weakened the caliphate: “Death of leaders is a sign of empowerment.”
The audio message was released two days after Iraqi special forces breached Mosul’s city limits for the first time in two years, following a two-week campaign to clear the towns and villages surrounding Mosul of militants.
Baghdadi only mentioned the conflict in Mosul indirectly, when he cited a Quranic verse: “The coalition gathered to storm Mosul is an evidence of what God has promised us.”