The declared leader of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is spinning critical ISIS military losses as a “blessing from Allah,” while continuing to summon Muslims around the world to enlist in the jihadist group.
In recent days, the Islamic State has suffered defeat after defeat, including the strategic loss of a key dam in Syria and the liberation of the important city of Ramadi by Iraqi forces. A new online video shows Kurdish freedom fighters blowing up a TNT-loaded pickup truck on Christmas Eve.
Nonetheless, in an audio message released Saturday, the Islamist leader interpreted the stunning losses as a “blessing from Allah” that are part of a “pre-destined ordeal.”
Various reports have interpreted the rambling message as “unhinged,” “a desperate call for support,” and an attempt “to boost the sagging morals” of ISIS fighters, while al-Baghdadi continues to insist that his Caliphate is “fine and expanding every day.”
Sounding a bit like a football coach trying to rally a losing team at halftime, the Islamic State leader downplayed the damage from Western-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. “Be confident that God will grant victory to those who worship him, and hear the good news that our state is doing well. The more intense the war against it, the purer it becomes and the tougher it gets,” he said.
“Be reassured, for your state is still good,” he told supporters. “Whenever the conspiring of the nations increases against it, the more certain (is) the support of Allah.”
Last week, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), backed by the U.S. and allies, recaptured the Tishreen Dam on the Euphrates River, further impeding Islamic State access to the Turkish border through the town of Manbij.
Earlier this month, Islamic State militants were routed after launching one of their largest offensives in many months. According to U.S. defense officials, the ISIS assault struck multiple sites near the northern city of Mosul, but the jihadists were beaten back by a Peshmerga counterattack that left more than 200 Islamic State militants dead.
In his 24-minute audio message, al-Baghdadi warned of difficult times ahead, saying that “the whole world” is united against the Islamic State.
“Do not be amazed by the meeting of the nations of disbelief and groups against the Islamic State,” he said. “If we are killed and the wounds are numerous and the problems amassed against us and the hardships are great, then it is no surprise either.”
Despite al-Baghdadi’s bravado, anti-ISIS forces have drawn encouragement from their recent victories. In an online message, Sherfan Darwish, spokesman for an Arab rebel group in the SDF, wrote, “Congratulations to our peoples. … The battles are ongoing, the operation is ongoing, and the victories are ongoing.”
In his message, al-Baghdadi went on to threaten the Jewish people, promising to establish the Islamist Caliphate in Israel.
“God caused the Jews of the world to gather in Israel, and the war against them has become easy. It is the obligation of every Muslim to carry out jihad,” he declared.
While promising further attacks against Israel and the West, Baghdadi calls on the “sons of immigrants” to rise up against their adopted countries and wreak bloodshed.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.