Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi praises the Islamic State’s global operations

Undeterred by the loss of his territorial caliphate in Iraq and Syria, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi preaches patience in a newly released audio message.

Baghdadi’s message was released online yesterday via various social media sites. The production was recorded and distributed by Al Furqan Establishment for Media Production, which has long served as the propaganda arm for the Islamic State’s central leadership. The Islamic State’s chief last addressed the public in a video released in late April. Baghdadi returns to some of the same themes in his latest audio address.

The disintegration of his nascent state hasn’t led Baghdadi to walk away from his caliphate claim. To the contrary, he presents the so-called caliphate’s men as the “sole” carriers of the “banner” of faith, as they fight a mighty “atheist Crusader campaign.” The contradiction in terms — that is, between atheists and Christians — is of no concern to the man who was declared “Caliph Ibrahim” by his loyalists. He sees all of these parties as members of a global conspiracy.

Baghdadi peppers his message with references to Koranic verses and hadith. For instance, he cites Surah An-Nisra 4:74 of the Koran, which reads: “So let those fight in the cause of Allah who sell the life of this world for the Hereafter. And he who fights in the cause of Allah and is killed or achieves victory – We will bestow upon him a great reward.”

This, Baghdadi tells his audience, is an “enticement from Allah for the believers to wage jihad at all times against His enemies who disbelieve in Him.” And the believers should continue to carry out jihad “whether they win or lose,” a phrase that Baghdadi repeats twice for emphasis.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as seen in a video released in April.

His injunction is clear: The Islamic State’s men should continue to fight the “polytheists” and other enemies regardless of whether or not they taste victory in the here and now. This they should do with the “certainty that no one gets killed in war or dies” during his struggle unless Allah has determined that his “time has come.”

For Baghdadi, the conflict is one between his supposed believers and the “heads of Jahiliyah” — a reference to the pre-Islamic state of affairs when the world lived in an alleged state of ignorance. He repeatedly reminds listeners that the caliphate was declared “half a decade” ago and claims that it remains the “leader of the conflict” despite all of its setbacks. Baghdadi goes so far as to claim that the “sons of the caliphate are rising and progressing toward the [caliphate’s] ultimate goal.”

Claims his men have conducted unprecedented global campaigns this year

Baghdadi boasts that his men have launched “unified raids” across all of the Islamic State’s “wilayat,” or provinces. He specifically lauds the wilayat in the Khorasan (Afghanistan, Pakistan and parts of the surrounding countries), Central and West Africa, North Africa (namely, Libya and Tunisia), East Asia (Philippines), Somalia and Yemen. Baghdadi praises the men in these wilayat alongside the “knights” operating in the “home of the caliphate in Iraq and Syria.”

Collectively, he says these jihadists have dragged America and its allies into a war of attrition that is depleting their resources and willpower. He points to three separate campaigns launched this year as proof that the Islamic State remains a “unified” force.

The first was the Islamic State’s worldwide revenge campaign for the loss of its territory in Syria. This campaign began shortly after the group lost its last strip of territory in Baghouz, Syria. In his new audio message, Baghdadi repeats the claim he made in late April, saying his men conducted 92 total operations across eight countries.

He adds that the Islamic State then conducted two subsequent “Raid[s] of Attrition,” the first of which included 61 total operations across 11 nations in just three days. The second “Raid of Attrition” purportedly involved 10 wilayat carrying out 152 attacks across 10 days.

Baghdadi boasts that these three campaigns — the first to avenge Syria followed by two “Raids of Attrition” — are the very “first of their kind” for jihadists in “modern” times. He claims that these operations are evidence of the “expansion” of the caliphate after it was first declared in Iraq.

These figures aren’t even the sum total of the Islamic State’s activity across these three campaigns, according to Baghdadi. He says the “published” statistics are only those that were “provided to the committees” that track such matters. Even more operations go uncounted, he claims.

Baghdadi offers this version of recent events in order to underscore the idea that the Islamic State retains command and control over its worldwide operations. Indeed, there is independent evidence showing that the group’s central leadership continues to exercise its influence far outside of Iraq and Syria. Baghdadi uses also these figures to buttress his claim that America and its allies are “being exhausted” by the conflicts raging from West Africa, through the heart of the Middle East and into the Khorasan.

The Islamic State’s emir argues that the House of Saud and the alleged apostates ruling over the Gulf States are also instrumental in this imagined Crusade against Sunni Muslims.

Issues for the “builders of the caliphate” to “focus” on

Baghdadi tells his men that there are several issues they should concentrate on. With respect to the first issue, Baghdadi sounds an awful lot like al Qaeda’s commanders. Al Qaeda’s leaders have long argued that most Muslims are not ready for their draconian version of Islamic law, or sharia. So al Qaeda recommended tolerance when it came to meting out punishments (or hudud) under sharia. The Islamic State has often behaved in the opposite fashion, reveling in its application of sharia on the Muslim populace, including the harshest punishments imaginable.

But Baghdadi now tells his men that they should be “gentle” with the Sunni population, because a “great ignorance” has across the “entire ummah,” or worldwide community of Muslims. Baghdadi attributes this ignorance of his version of Islam to “polytheistic innovations” and calls on his followers to preach their doctrine — that is, to do dawa — so they can win over more followers for their cause.

The “second issue” to “focus” on is related to the first. The Islamic State’s members should accept the “repentance” of those who abandon their irreligious ways prior to capture. The jihadists should let their captives go only after they have received “guidance” and learned why the so-called caliphate fights and why these accused apostates or infidels found themselves the group’s crosshairs in the first place. The third and fourth issues are religious mandates concerning how the jihadists should conduct themselves in relation to others, while avoiding the pitfalls of “oppression” among themselves.

Calls for freeing prisoners

The Islamic State and its predecessor organizations have used prison breaks to replenish their ranks in the past. And Baghdadi calls on the “caliphate soldiers” to “rescue” their “brothers and sisters” detained in various prisons controlled by the “Crusaders,” the “rejectionist Safavids” (meaning Shiites), and “apostate tyrants.” He asks how it is possible that Muslims can enjoy their lives while Muslim women are held in such “humiliating prisons” and camps. Baghdadi threatens the judges who are in charge of the captives’ proceedings, as well as others involved in the detention system.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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