The Islamic State released a 16-minute voice recording Thursday of its leader, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, welcoming new followers in what amounted to a refutation of persistent news reports that he’d been killed or severely wounded in an airstrike a week ago.
It was impossible to verify the identity of the speaker, but the voice matched Baghdadi’s earlier recorded speeches and the recording was released through a known channel used for official Islamic State pronouncements. The Islamic State has a reputation for credibility in discussing the actions of its leadership.
Baghdadi sounded in good health in the recording, and he addressed the swearing of allegiance to the Islamic State of several jihadist groups throughout the region this week, which occurred after the airstrikes that Iraqi state television, citing unnamed Iraqi officials, has claimed killed or injured him.
Aymenn al Tamimi, an expert on the Islamic State for the Middle East Forum, a Philadelphia-based research center, said the recording was likely made after Monday, because Baghdadi refers to pledges of allegiance that a variety of groups made to the Islamic State that day.
“Glad tidings, O Muslims, for we give you good news by announcing the expansion of the Islamic State to new lands, to the lands of . . . Yemen, Egypt, Libya and Algeria,” Baghdadi said.
“This is well after the first reports of his being critically wounded or killed,” Tamimi said.
Tamimi was critical of the reports of Baghdadi’s death or wounding, which were carried by some prominent U.S. news outlets despite contradictory information and the lack of confirmation from American officials.
“Local media have been peddling and recycling rumors since the summer of the killing of high-profile IS figures, including spokesman Abu Muhammad al Adnani, which have consistently proven unfounded,” Tamimi said. “The best confirmation for any stories of this sort is to wait to hear something from IS.”
In Thursday’s speech, Baghdadi spoke powerfully about the desire of the U.S.-led coalition to destroy his nascent caliphate, which controls a large swath of northern and western Iraq as well as most of eastern Syria.
He said the decision by the United States to send additional soldiers to Iraq, which President Barack Obama announced last Friday, proved that the U.S. campaign against the Islamic State was failing.
“Here is Obama, who has ordered the deployment of 1,500 additional soldiers, under the claim that they are advisers, because the crusaders’ airstrikes and constant bombardment – day and night – on the positions of the Islamic State have not prevented its advance nor weakened its resolve,” he said.
He dismissed the military contribution of Arab members of the anti-Islamic State coalition, which include Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, saying they’d been brought into the coalition simply for public relations reasons. He referred to them as the West’s “slaves and dogs.”
“The Jews and crusaders don’t need the effeminate pilots of the Gulf rulers nor are they in need of their planes,” he said. “The story of their participation in the crusade is a media farce.”
He called on fighters everywhere to “continue to harvest soldiers.”
“Erupt volcanoes of jihad everywhere,” he urged. “Set fire to the Earth, to all the nonbelievers, their soldiers and supporters.”
While the reappearance of Baghdadi ends the discussion of his possible death, it leaves some mystery about what was hit by airstrikes last week near the Islamic State-controlled city of Qaim on Iraq’s border with Syria. U.S. officials said the strikes, which took place last Friday or Saturday, had hit an Islamic State armored vehicle and two Islamic State checkpoints and that the only American strike over the weekend that might have targeted top-level leaders hit a 10-vehicle convoy 170 miles to the north, near Mosul in Iraq.
But witnesses in Qaim reached by phone described widespread panic among Islamic State fighters amid claims that one of the strikes there had hit a safe house that local police told McClatchy was being used for a leadership meeting.
One hospital worker reached in Qaim on Thursday said Islamic State fighters had taken over a floor of the hospital to treat their wounded. The worker claimed that hospital staff were threatened with death if they revealed the identities of those being treated or their injuries.
A McClatchy special correspondent who cannot be identified for security reasons contributed to this report from Irbil.