The leader of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, resurfaced on Wednesday in the first audio recording of him to be released in nearly a year, one in which he called on followers to attack Westerners with knives, guns, cars and bombs, The NY Times reports.
Based on events cited in the recording, it appears to have been made within the past few weeks, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks the group’s propaganda online and provided a translation.
If deemed authentic, the speech should serve to quell rumors of Mr. Baghdadi’s death. Counterterrorism officials in the United States and Europe have long said that they believed Mr. Baghdadi was still alive, though repeated online rumors suggested he had died, including in a Russian airstrike.
In the nearly one-hour speech, Mr. Baghdadi sought to shift attention away from the group’s battlefield losses and his shrinking caliphate. In Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State has lost all but 2 percent of the territory once held, an area the size of Britain.
He tried to focus instead on the harm the group has caused the United States.
“The mujahedeen have the credit in breaking the halo of its power,” Mr. Baghdadi said, urging followers to focus on long-term gains. The United States “boasted of its so-called victory in expelling the state from the cities and countrysides in Iraq and Syria, but the land of Allah is wide and the tides of war change.”
Mr. Baghdadi also promised “dark days” for the group’s foes, according to SITE’s translation, and called on followers to rise up in Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
Even though the Islamic State’s territorial holdings have dwindled, estimates from the Defense Department’s inspector general and the United Nations indicate that the terrorist group still has between 20,000 and 31,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria.
The group’s caliphate beyond the Middle East has continued to grow, with ISIS outposts in West Africa, Afghanistan and East Asia becoming more potent.
Entitled “Give Glad Tidings to the Patient,” the audio recording was released to coincide with Eid al-Adha, a major holy day in the Muslim calendar. The tone indicated that Baghdadi was trying to reassure his followers, encouraging them to hold out and plan for the long term.
The Islamic State, or ISIS, arose from Al Qaeda in Iraq, a group that was founded by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and nearly decimated during the American military’s surge in Iraq, which began in 2007. It had dwindled to fewer than 1,000 fighters by the time the United States pulled the majority of its troops from Iraq in 2011. But it came roaring back to life, rebranded as the Islamic State, and succeeded in taking Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, just three years later.
As in previous speeches, Mr. Baghdadi called for attacks in Europe and North America.
“We bless those who are in the countries of the crusaders, in Canada, Europe and elsewhere,” Mr. Baghdadi said. He urged individual followers to carry out attacks against Westerners and “rip them apart, either with gunfire, or a stab to their bodies, or a bombing.”