Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in his first purported speech in nearly a year, has called on followers to persevere, according to a statement posted on the group’s media outlet.
“For the Mujahideen (holy warriors) the scale of victory or defeat is not dependent on a city or town being stolen or subject to that who has aerial superiority, intercontinental missiles or smart bombs,” Baghdadi said in a recording posted on the jihadist group’s propaganda outlet.
Reuters was unable to verify whether the voice on the recording was Baghdadi’s.
IS group controlled large areas in Syria and Iraq until last year, when it was driven out of Mosul and Raqqa — the twin seats of power of the Sunni extremist group. It has since been driven into the desert.
Baghdadi, who declared himself ruler of all Muslims in 2014 after capturing Iraq’s main northern city Mosul, is now believed to be hiding in the Iraqi-Syrian border region after losing all the cities and towns of his self-proclaimed caliphate.
The secretive IS group leader has frequently been reported killed or wounded since leading his fighters on a sweep through northern Iraq. His whereabouts are not known but Wednesday’s message appears to suggest he is still alive.
One of his sons was reported to have been killed in the city of Homs in Syria, the group’s news channel reported earlier this year.
Baghdadi’s last message came in the form of an undated 46-minute audio recording, released via the group’s propaganda outlet in September, wherein he urged followers across the world to wage attacks against the West and to keep fighting in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere.
A United Nations report released last week estimated that between 20,000 and 30,000 Islamic State group fighters remain in Iraq and Syria despite the jihadist group’s defeat and a halt in the flow of foreigners joining its ranks.
The report by the UN sanctions monitoring team, which submits independent reports every six months to the UN Security Council on IS group and Al-Qaeda, estimated that between 3,000 and 4,000 IS jihadists were based in Libya while some of the key operatives in the extremist group were being relocated to Afghanistan.
Member-states told the sanctions monitors that the total IS group membership in Iraq and Syria was “between 20,000 and 30,000 individuals, roughly equally distributed between the two countries.”
“Among these is still a significant component of the many thousands of active foreign terrorist fighters,” said the report.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)