Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in his first purported speech in nearly a year, has called on followers to persevere, according to a statement posted on the group`s media outlet.
“For the Mujahideen (holy warriors) the scale of victory or defeat is not dependant on a city or town being stolen or subject to that who has aerial superiority, intercontinental missiles or smart bombs,” Baghdadi said in a recording posted on his al-Furqan media group.
Reuters was unable to verify whether the voice on the recording was Baghdadi`s.Islamic State, which until last year controlled large areas in Syria and Iraq, has since been driven into the desert following successive defeats in separate offensives in both countries.
Baghdadi, who declared himself ruler of all Muslims in 2014 after capturing Iraq’s main northern city Mosul, is now believed to be hiding in the Iraqi-Syrian border region after losing all the cities and towns of his self-proclaimed caliphate.
The secretive Islamic State leader has frequently been reported killed or wounded since leading his fighters on a sweep through northern Iraq. His whereabouts are not known but Wednesday`s message appears to suggest he is still alive.
One of his sons was reported to have been killed in the city of Homs in Syria, the group`s news channel reported earlier this year.
Baghdadi`s last message came in the form of an undated 46-minute audio recording, released via the al-Furqan organisation in September, where he urged followers across the world to wage attacks against the West and to keep fighting in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere.
$25 million reward
Baghdadi has been pronounced dead on several occasions, but an Iraqi intelligence official said in May that he remains alive in Syrian territory by the Iraqi border.
Baghdadi was said to move around with only a small group of followers.
Originally from Iraq, Baghdadi has been dubbed the “most wanted man on the planet” and the United States is offering a $25 million reward for his capture.
The Iraqi official said the noose was closing around the jihadist leader after Iraqi forces captured five top IS commanders in an unprecedented raid in Syria on March 24.
In July, Iraqi intelligence services said Baghdad’s son Hudhayfah al-Badri had been killed in Syria by three Russian missile targeting a cave where he was hiding.
In September 2017, in a voice message attributed to Baghdadi, the ISIS leader called on his fighters in Syria and Iraq to “resist” their enemies.
Today, after a vast military campaign by Iraqi forces backed by a US-led coalition, the jihadist group only has sleeping cells in Iraq.
In Syria, ISIS has faced two separate offensives by Russia-backed regime forces and another by a Kurdish-Arab alliance supported by the US-led coalition.
They hold a few pockets in the far east of the country near the Iraqi border, and retain a presence in the vast desert stretching from the capital to the frontier.
ISIS has claimed a string of deadly attacks in the West in recent years.
Baghdadi claimed responsibility for a July attack in Canada in which a gunman killed two people.
The jihadist group had already said they were behind the shooting, but Canadian police said there was nothing to substantiate it.
Baghdadi called on followers to carry out more attacks in the West.
In Syria, the group killed around 250 people in attacks in the southern province of Sweida last month and still holds dozens of hostages, mostly women and children.