The Islamic State has released a new audio message from its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The public seldom hears from the reclusive Baghdadi, who last released a speech nearly a year ago. But in his latest message, Baghdadi downplays the loss of his territorial caliphate while claiming the US has entered a new stage of “weakness.” His talk takes its title from a Quranic verse that reads, “…but give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere.” This is supposed to reinforce the patience of the so-called caliphate’s rank and file, despite the setbacks and losses they have suffered.
Baghdadi specifically mentions the Eid al-Adha holiday, which just passed, meaning the message is likely current.
The so-called caliphate’s emir returns to a theme that the group has employed since losing much of the territory it once controlled, arguing that the mujahideen’s “trials and tribulations” are necessary to achieve divine glory. He dismisses the loss of cities and villages as inconsequential in the long run.
Baghdadi portrays America as a weakened power, saying the US is at the lowest point in its “contemporary history.” He specifically cites America’s recent dispute with Turkey and its inability to contain Iran, North Korea, and Russia. He makes much of the fact that Turkey was recently sanctioned by the Trump administration, claiming that this shows the US is at odds with its own allies.
Two of the nations mentioned by Baghdadi — Russia and Iran — have expanded their footprint in Iraq and Syria as a result of the US-led war on the Islamic State. And Baghdadi seeks to stoke sectarian anxieties within Sunni communities by highlighting the role of Iranian-backed Shiites in both countries. He also points to the role played by “Nusayri” forces (a derogatory reference to Bashar al Assad’s supporters) in Syria. Baghdadi vows that the Sunnis’ war will not end.
Specifically addressing rebel groups opposed to the Assad regime, Baghdadi criticizes insurgents in southern Syria, including in Suwayda, for surrendering. As with his mention of the Eid holiday, and America’s sanctioning of Turkey, the rebel surrenders in southern Syria were a recent event. Baghdadi says the anti-Assad forces should “open” their “eyes” to the reality of their situation and only fight to implement sharia in the Levant. Baghdadi also references the situation in Idlib province, where jihadists, Islamists and other rebels await a possible large-scale offensive by Assad and his international backers.
Baghdadi returns to another favorite Islamic State motif, imploring supporters of the group to strike in the West as this is supposedly the equivalent to “thousands” of attacks inside the lands the group once controlled. He mentions stabbings, bombings and vehicular assaults as preferred methods for spreading terror. The last method, running people over in vehicles, is regularly employed by the Islamic State’s international supporters. Baghdadi’s argument about the value of attacks in the West is reminiscent of Osama bin Laden’s own calculation, as files recovered during the May 2011 Abbottabad raid show that the al Qaeda founder believed the effects of such operations were far greater than others.
The Islamic State’s propagandists have warned in recent months that the group’s followers should only trust official statements. The repeated warnings indicate that the organization is concerned about the spread of fake news within its ranks. Baghdadi adds to this concern, calling on the “knights in the media” to only disseminate content produced by the group’s propaganda arms.
Baghdadi also lambastes the Saudis and other “apostate” Arab regimes, claiming they are in league with the “Crusaders.” This, too, is a regular theme in the Islamic State’s propaganda, as Baghdadi has repeatedly called for attacks inside Saudi Arabia.
Assuming the speaker in the 54-minute audio recording is Baghdadi, and there is no obvious reason to doubt that the voice is his, then the latest message is a reminder that the Islamic State’s most senior official has survived years of war. Despite being hunted by the US and its allies, Baghdadi fights on.