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First Public Recording Of ISIS Leader Released

Despite reports that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been killed, the group released an audio statement on Thursday that purports to be him – alive and well. 

The 34-minute recording is the first public address by the leader in six months. 

Nytimes.com reports:

In the recording, the speaker identifies himself as Mr. Baghdadi and tells Muslims that they have two choices: Either travel to join the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, or else carry out attacks in their home countries.

That admonition is a continuation of the group’s call for so-called lone-wolf attacks that was first articulated by the Islamic State’s spokesman last year — a call that has been answered by gunmen in Australia, France, Canada and, possibly, in Garland, Tex.

Every Muslim in every place needs to “migrate to the Islamic State or fight in his land wherever that may be,” the speaker says, according to a translation provided by SITE Intelligence, which tracks extremist propaganda.

The Islamic State released the recording online on Thursday with translations in English, French, German, Russian and Turkish, an unusual move suggesting that the group was hoping for maximum exposure.

In Washington, American officials reached for comment said they had no reason to believe that Mr. Baghdadi was not the speaker in the recording, and added that there was no evidence he had been significantly injured, despite news reports saying that he had been hurt.

The fact that such reports have remained in the news, along with other claims of setbacks, may have been enough to prompt the terrorist group to release the speech in an effort to avoid the appearance of a leadership crisis, said Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a terrorism expert and author of a book on Al Qaeda.

“It is almost certainly a signal to their ranks,” said Mr. Gartenstein-Ross, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, who was in Florida to brief Defense Department officials on the Islamic State and Al Qaeda. “They understand that internal dissension and lack of internal messaging is a disadvantage.”

In the message, the man purporting to be Mr. Baghdadi cites Quranic verses to claim that violent jihad is an obligation for all Muslims: “O Muslims,” he says, “Islam was never for a day the religion of peace. Islam is the religion of war.”

“Your Prophet,” he said, “was dispatched with the sword.”

Much of the speech focused on portraying the actions of the United States and coalition partners as being against Muslims over all, rather than aimed at the terrorist group: “If the crusader today claims to avoid the Muslim public and to confine themselves to targeting the armed among them, then soon you will see them targeting every Muslim everywhere,” the speaker says, adding, “This war is only against you and your religion.”

The speech also emphasized the group’s growing reach, including mention of the “soldiers of the caliphate” in Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt and Yemen and in West Africa.

Earlier on Thursday, Al Akhbar, a Mauritanian website that has previously carried jihadist statements, published an audio message from the militant leader Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi claiming his group had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.

Mr. Sahrawi was formerly the spokesman of the Movement for Oneness and Jihad, also known as Mujao, a Qaeda splinter group that succeeded in conquering and ruling the region of Gao in northern Mali in 2012. The group tried to establish its own Islamic state there before being flushed out by a French-led military intervention in 2013.

The oath of allegiance, which could not be independently verified, follows reports of suspected jihadists beheading civilians in northern Mali.

The audio recording is not dated. However, a passing reference to the Saudi-led strikes in Yemen, known as Operation Decisive Storm, has led Mr. Gartenstein-Ross to posit that the message is several weeks old.

Mr. Baghdadi refers to the strikes as “the storm,” and speaks of the operation in the present tense, suggesting it was still going on. That in turn suggests the message was recorded before April 21, when Saudi Arabia officially ended the operation.

Similarly, Mr. Baghdadi makes no reference to the May 3 attack in Garland. That assault was the first time that the Islamic State claimed responsibility for an operation on American soil, and given its significance, it appears to be an important omission in the speech — again suggesting that the recording was made earlier.

Aaron Y. Zelin, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Studies, said the recording was one of just a few public addresses by the shadowy leader since he became the leader of the Islamic State in 2010. Mr. Zelin, who maintains an online archive of jihadist statements, said that Mr. Baghdadi addressed his followers four times in 2014, twice in 2013 and once each in 2012 and 2011.

Mr. Zelin cautioned against reading too much into the timingof the speech , saying that rumors of Mr. Baghdadi’s demise were circulating last year as well. And he noted that terrorist leaders can sometimes go years without a statement. “It just depends,” he said.