In an audio message posted to social media Thursday, a man suspected to be Islamic State of Iraq and Syria leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi urges his followers to “erupt volcanoes of jihad” to counter U.S.-led air strikes against the terror group, which has seized territory throughout Iraq and Syria.
If verified, this is the first public statement from Baghdadi since an on-camera appearance in July. Speculation circulated over the weekend that the ISIS leader had been wounded as a result of U.S.-coalition airstrikes, although the details – whether Baghdadi was actually hit, where he was located in Iraq, and which country’s strike dealt the blow – remain murky. The U.S. has not confirmed that Baghdadi was attacked, contrary to statements made by the Iraqi defense and interior ministries.
In the 17-minute message, Baghdadi issues a rallying cry to ISIS troops, saying God is on the militants’ side. He calls the opposing Western coalition “terrified, weak and powerless” and says they will be “forced” to “send ground forces to their death and destruction.” The self-declared caliph says coalition airstrikes “have not prevented [ISIS’s] advance, nor weakened its resolve.”
In his call to action, Baghdadi urges other militant groups worldwide to wage jihad in their home countries. Earlier this week, the Egyptian group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis pledged support to Baghdadi, rejecting its home country’s “blasphemous democracy.” Supporters in Eastern Libya, Jordan, and Pakistan have also pledged allegiance to the terrorist group – along with a mosque in Denmark and a man in Texas.
The audio message references the support of the Egyptian group, indicating that it was recorded recently, although not by whom. It also mentions the Obama administration’s decision to send an additional 1,500 troops to Iraq “under the claim they are advisers.” President Obama announced the deployment, which would nearly double the number of American soldiers in the country, on Friday.
In a hearing Thursday morning on Capitol Hill, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel testified that ISIS “still represents a serious threat and wields influence over a wide swath of Iraq and Syria,” despite being stalled in some parts of the region by Kurdish forces supported by U.S. coalition airstrikes.
The Obama administration is requesting an additional $5.6 billion in the fight against ISIS, including funds to bolster the Iraqi military and Kurdish forces, and to support State Department initiatives. NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel reported Thursday that Kurdish and Free Syrian Army fighters in Kobani are running low on ammunition.
As a former member of al Qaeda, Baghdadi spent four years in a U.S. prison camp during the Iraq War. The U.S. is offering a $10 million reward for information leading to his capture. He has led ISIS since 2010.