ISIS Leader Baghdadi Resurfaces in RecordingThe 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 continue attacks on Westerners that “break their hearts.”
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 extremists 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 Baghdadi was still alive, though repeated online rumors suggested he had died, including in a Russian airstrike.
Mr. Baghdadi also promised “dark days” for the group’s foes in Iraq and Syria, according to SITE’s translation, and called on followers to rise up in Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
Mr. Baghdadi, the self-declared caliph of the Islamic State, now presides over an organization that has lost all but 2 percent of the territory it once held in Iraq and Syria, a stretch of land that was once the size of the United Kingdom. However, new estimates from the Defense Department’s inspector general as well as the United Nations indicate that the terrorist group still has between 20,000 and 31,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria.
At the same time, the group’s caliphate was always a global project and its footprint in West Africa, Afghanistan and East Asia has continued to grow.
The speech, the first of him to be released since Sept. 1, 2017, was titled “Give Glad Tidings to the Patient” and was released on Eid al-Adha, a major holy day in the Muslim calendar. It appeared to indicate 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 was 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. 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.