ISIS has released a new audio recording that purportedly features its reclusive leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. If confirmed to be his voice, it would be his first recording to emerge in nearly a year.
The message runs almost an hour long and was released on Wednesday by the militant group’s propaganda outlet, al-Furqan Foundation, according to The Associated Press. When and where it was recorded is unknown.
The recording was released as the U.S. claims that ISIS has been greatly diminished or, in the words of President Trump, “absolutely obliterated.”
The man in the recording tells followers that he knows they’re suffering from “hunger and fear” but to persevere. He also calls on them to topple the leadership in Jordan, a U.S. ally in the fight against ISIS.
“America is going through the worst time in its entire existence” and Russia is challenging its influence, he says, according to the AP.
He also voiced a blessing for the “lone wolves in the lands of crusaders in Canada, Europe and elsewhere” and called on followers to engage in small-scale attacks, according to CNN. “A bullet or a stab or a bomb would be worth a thousand operations. And don’t forget to drive into crowds in the streets.”
Hisham al-Hashimi, a counter-terrorism expert with the al-Nahrain Centre for Strategic Studies in Iraq, told NPR’s Jane Arraf that the voice and manner of speaking are identical to previous recordings confirmed to be al-Baghdadi.
Four years since ISIS declared a stretch of land in parts of Iraq and Syria as its so-called caliphate, the militant group has been driven out of most the territory it occupied.
Last year, Russia’s Ministry of Defense said Baghdadi likely was killed in a Russian airstrike on the outskirts of Raqqa, Syria. But U.S. officials believe he is still alive and probably hiding in ISIS-controlled pockets in the desert between Syria and Iraq.
In 2017, the U.S. State Department offered a $25 million reward for information that leads to his capture or death.
Between 20,000 and 30,000 members of ISIS remain in Syria and Iraq, according to a United Nations report in July. “ISIL is still reverting from a proto-State structure to a covert network,” it said, adding that “its fragments of territory in the Syrian Arab Republic give it more options and strategic depth on the border.”
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