The Islamic State (ISIS) released a previously unheard audio recording Thursday of its “caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who has been missing for the better part of a year as ISIS loses territory in Iraq and Syria, fueling speculation that he had been killed.
According to Reuters, the new Baghdadi recording is 46 minutes and includes references to North Korea’s threatening Japan and the United States, which suggests the recording was made recently. The audio clip was released by ISIS on the encrypted messaging platform Telegram and described by the terror state’s media wing in terms that imply Baghdadi is still alive.
The BBC notes that Baghdadi also “refers to battles in Raqqa and Hama in Syria, Ramadi in Iraq, and Sirte in Libya, saying the bloodshed would not be in vain” and mentions Russian efforts to broker a peace deal in Syria.
The Syrian military is currently using Hama as a base to prepare an assault on the besieged ISIS capital of Raqqa. Sirte was officially liberated from ISIS by Libyan forces in December, although Islamic State militants remain camped in the area; President Trump ordered airstrikes against their camps this week. Iraqi forces appear to have thwarted an ISIS offensive against Ramadi on Wednesday; it was overrun by ISIS in 2014 but liberated at the end of 2015.
The current status of Hama, Ramadi, and Sirte makes it difficult to establish the exact date of the Baghdadi recording using his references to them.
The Hill notes that the recording, which is entitled “Sufficient Is Your Lord as a Guide and a Helper,” primarily deals with religious matters. The BBC’s analysis finds attacks on “Jews and Crusaders” and assertions that only the Islamic State fights to defend Muslims among Baghdadi’s rhetoric.
The Russians judged it was “highly likely” they killed Baghdadi in an airstrike on Raqqa in May, with observers ranging from the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights to the Iranian government eventually concurring.
However, the U.S. military never expressed confidence Baghdadi was dead. Fox News recalls U.S. Army Lt. General Stephen Townsend saying in August that he believed Baghdadi was still alive, citing “some indicators in intelligence channels” to that effect.