The Islamic State on Thursday released a recording from its leader, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, that appeared to put to rest persistent rumors that he had been seriously wounded in a coalition airstrike two months ago and was incapacitated.
In the 35-minute audio posted on the Internet, which multiple experts identified as Baghdadi’s voice, the leader sounded in good health. He made reference to events, including the campaign in Yemen led by Saudi Arabia and Islamic State offensives in Baiji and Anbar province in Iraq, that began after the date in mid-March when he was supposedly wounded.
He called on all Muslims to join the caliphate he leads in Iraq and Syria.
“There is no excuse for any Muslim not to migrate to the Islamic State,” he said. “Joining is a duty on every Muslim.”
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Those who cannot travel to Syria or Iraq should “carry weapons wherever you are,” he said, an apparent call for Islamic State sympathizers to carry out attacks at home.
“O Muslims, do not think the war we are waging is the Islamic State’s alone,” he said in classical Arabic, an English translation of which was also made available. “Rather it is the Muslims’ war altogether . . . the war of every Muslim in every place.”
Iraqi government spokesmen have been the primary sources for claims that Baghdadi had been wounded in an airstrike in mid-March, and in April they insisted that another militant was acting in his place at the top of the organization.
But the audio’s reference to fairly recent events suggests that those claims were without foundation, a cautionary reminder that much of what passes for information about the Islamic State’s inner workings is rife with speculation and rumor.
In the audio, Baghdadi condemns the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen, which began March 26, and he addresses ongoing Islamic State campaigns in Salahuddin and Anbar provinces, which began in early April.
At one point, he argues that no Muslim can live in peace within a non-Muslim state without becoming an apostate, a position designed to incite Muslims living in the West to take violent action and to justify the deaths of Muslims in such operations.
“(The) crusaders today have begun to bother the Muslims who continue to live in the land of the cross by monitoring them, arresting them and questioning them, then soon they will begin to displace them and take them away either dead, imprisoned or homeless,” he said. “They will not leave anyone among them except one who apostatizes from his religion and follows theirs.”
He also directly threatens Saudi Arabia, specifically promising to free “the seekers of knowledge in the prisons of al Salul,” a derogatory reference to the Saudi royal family. He pointedly asks what Saudi Arabia has done for Muslims in Palestine, Myanmar, where the Royhingya Muslims are not recognized as citizens and have been subject to attacks by Buddhists, and Syria, where he said the government of President Bashar Assad has used barrel bombs to “demolish the Muslims’ homes upon the heads of their occupants.”
“The Arabian peninsula’s rulers have been exposed and disgraced and have lost their supposed legitimacy,” he said.
He suggests that talk of an effort to liberate Mosul, the Iraqi city the Islamic State seized 11 months ago, was really an effort to distract Islamic State supporters from what he says were the more likely targets of Aleppo and Raqqa in Syria. “So be careful,” he advises.
Aymenn al Tamimi, who tracks jihadist groups and has organized a huge archive of Islamic State documents, said that much of the speech appears designed to rally the group’s supporters after the loss of Tikrit in April to Iraqi government forces, by far the worst military setback for the group in Iraq. Tamimi said the group released a document in April that made similar arguments.
“The speech corroborates an earlier document in late April that emerged unofficially with a Baghdadi mobilization call to IS’ Syrian provinces to reinforce the Anbar and (Salahuddin) fronts,” Tamimi said in an email. “This should put to rest claims that he has been (killed or) incapacitated, which were always suspect in nature.”