On Wednesday, ISIS released a new audio recording from Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi — the first we’ve heard from the hermit leader in almost a year. Baghdadi rose from self-chosen solitude, ending all rumours about his death. Baghdadi has been reported wounded in air strikes multiple times, and once that he poisoned in a feast. The claims have never been verified, and his apparent survival has added to his mystique and created suspicion.
Speaking in Arabic, he proclaims:
“To all the people of Nineveh, especially the fighters, beware of any weakness in facing your enemy, Do not retreat … Holding your ground with honour is a thousand times easier than fleeing in shame,”
The recording was the reclusive al-Baghdadi’s first released message to supporters since Iraqi forces launched the decisive battle to retake Mosul, the country’s second-largest city, from IS. Using a derogatory term for Shias, he says followers of the Muslim sect want to drive “empty Iraq of Sunnis and replace them with the worst of people.”
The world shattered by his remarks and agenda. In the recording, al-Baghdadi rallies his fighters especially in Mosul and is calling on them to obey orders while remaining resilient and steadfast. He urges others to carry out attacks in Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
“Oh, you who seek martyrdom! Start your actions! Turn the night of the disbelievers into the day,” he says. “Totally decimate their territories, and make their blood flow like rivers!”
The city of more than one million people and surrounding territory fell to IS fighters during a surprise attack in June 2014. ISIS Baghdadi visited the town after the takeover, and from inside Mosul, declared an Islamic caliphate that at one point covered nearly a third of Iraq and Syria.“It is rather remarkable that the leader of the most image-conscious terrorist group ISIS Baghdadi is so low-key regarding his publicity,” said Patrick Skinner, an analyst with the Soufan Group intelligence consultancy.
This message serves several purposes: First, it helps to dispel rumours about Baghdadi’s death. It also sends a message to the far-flung ISIS “provinces” in places like Libya, Afghanistan, and Somalia. Some of inhabitants threw their lot in with ISIS because the group seemed to be on the rise, even though the heart of the caliphate in Iraq and Syria is under siege, ISIS followers should stay faithful and not bail on him.
ISIS Baghdadi rises to fame doesn’t compare to other more publicised terror leaders. Bin Laden was famous by his name, and he made a show of his piety and low-key demeanour. The pronouncement of a caliphate led by the Islamic State is not a fulfilment of an Islamic injunction, nor is it in the methodology of the Prophet Muhammad, as ISIS claim. It is the success of horrifying violence, exercised by an extremist group.