The Islamic State group on Thursday released what appeared to be a rare recording of its cloistered leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi vowing to continue his group’s fight in Iraq and Syria as its self-proclaimed caliphate there crumbles.
The recording, which has yet to be verified, involved references to recent geopolitical developments, including U.S. tensions with North Korea, in an apparent attempt to dismiss persistent reports that Baghdadi had been killed on the battlefield.
Three years after seizing control of swaths of Syria and Iraq, Islamic State fighters have been reduced to defending a shrinking swath of territory from U.S. and Syrian-backed forces.
In Thursday’s recording, the voice purporting to be Baghdadi’s cast those defeats in a more generous light.
“This predicament is a generous gift from God,” he said. He also sought to console his followers over their recent defeats, saying the top priority for Muslims is to “satisfy” God.
“Victory against their enemies and the enemy of God comes next,” he said, and lauded what he called his fighters’ valiant defense of Mosul.
Russian officials said in June that there was a “high probability” that the Islamic State leader had died in an airstrike on Raqqa, the group’s de facto Syrian capital.
But U.S. officials have said as recently as August that they believed Baghdadi was alive. According to western diplomats, the Islamic State’s most senior leadership are mostly believed to be around Mayadeen in eastern Syria, now a key military target for the U.S.-led coalition.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Louisa Loveluck