A recording purportedly from the Islamic State’s shadowy leader circulated through the international media Thursday, calling on the terror group’s fighters to hold their ground as campaigns mount against territory held by the group in Syria and Iraq.
“Do not retreat,” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi says in the recording, the first in nearly a year by the reclusive figure that U.S. and other international intelligence officials say heads the group also known as ISIS and ISIL.
“Holding your ground with honor is a thousand times easier than retreating in shame,” he says, according to Agence France-Presse, which said the recording was released by an ISIS-affiliated outlet.
U.S. officials would not confirm the recording’s authenticity.
However, the Pentagon was quick to seize on the development, claiming Thursday that it may be proof of growing discord and confusion between top ISIS leaders and the group’s rank-and-file fighters.
“This is probably excellent evidence that their command and control and ability to communicate directly with their fighters and control them has been severely reduced,” said Air Force Col. John Dorrian, the top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq.
“One of the interesting things that we’ve seen in this English translation of this is that Baghdadi is saying, don’t fight amongst yourselves,” Col. Dorrian told reporters in Washington via teleconference from Baghdad on Thursday.
“This is the type of thing that a leader who’s losing command and control and ability to keep everybody on the same page [would say],” he said. While the colonel added that U.S. military officials “don’t believe that it’s going to work,” he also said that the Pentagon could not verify the authenticity of the recording.
A report by the Wall Street Journal citing the SITE Intelligence Group, an organization that monitors Islamic extremist outfits online, quoted Baghdadi as calling on his followers to “Start your actions” with attacks against forces challenging ISIS’ so-called “caliphate” spanning the border between Syria and Iraq.
“Decimate their territories, and make their blood flow like rivers,” says the voice in the recording, which specifically calls for ISIS — a Sunni Muslim extremist group — to carry out attacks against the armed forces of Saudi Arabia and Turkey, two majority Sunni nations aligned with Washington and other Western powers in fighting the terror group.
If authentic, the audio recording titled “This is what God and his messenger have promised us,” would be the first from Baghdadi since December 2015, according to Agence France-Presse.
A video of the terrorist leader also circulated in June 2014, days after ISIS fighters had swept across northern Iraq, seizing the the city of Mosul and declaring the establishment of the so-called “Islamic State” in the region.
The video showed Baghdadi preaching from the minbar, or pulpit, of a mosque purported to be in downtown Mosul. Rumors have swirled during the more than two years since about his health and movements, but officials say his whereabouts are unclear.
• Carlo Muñoz contributed to this report.