Isil leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi issues call to arms in ‘audio message’

16 May

Islamic State leader neither seen nor heard for months amid reports of his death or incapacitation in US-led air strike


Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi Photo: AP

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil), appeared to issue a defiant call to arms on Thursday in what would be the jihadist leader’s first audio recording in six months.

“There is no excuse for any Muslim who is capable of [emigrating] to the Islamic State, or capable of carrying a weapon where he is,” the voice, which cannot be verified as Baghdadi’s, said.

Calling Islam a “religion of war”, the voice describes the jihadist path as “obligatory”.

The message seemed intended as a rebuttal to media reports claiming that Baghdadi had been so badly injured in a coalition airstrike that he might never command Isil again.

It appeared to be a recent recording, referencing Isil’s presence in the oil-rich Kirkuk province, as well as the ongoing Saudi-led military campaign against rebel forces in Yemen.

The message was accompanied by translations in English, French, German, Russian and Turkish, a move apparently intended to guarantee maximum exposure.

Baghdadi has been a towering figure in the rise of Isil, and its al-Qaeda affiliated predecessor. It was reported last month that he had suffered spinal injuries in a March 18 airstrike, and that he was being treated by two ideologically sympathetic doctors who travel to his hideout from the group’s stronghold in the Iraqi city of Mosul.

Operational control of Isil has reportedly been passed to Abu Alaa al-Afri, a physics professor and longtime senior official, who had been appointed deputy leader when his predecessor was killed by another air strike late last year.

Although Iraqi authorities claimed on Wednesday that Afri had been hit by a coalition airstrike, the Pentagon has denied any knowledge of the attack.

The last known written communique bearing Baghdadi’s name was released in mid-April. It called on jihadists to send reinforcements to fighting fronts in the Iraqi provinces of Anbar and Salahedin. The terror group’s inner workings are opaque, and it is not known which Isil official was responsible for the message.

Isil swept across large swathes of Iraq and Syria last year, declaring the establishment of an Islamic caliphate.

Isil jihadists have pursued a policy of religious cleansing in areas they have captured, threatening to kill those who do not forcibly convert to Islam.

Tens of thousands of jihadist sympathisers have already heeded calls to travel to the so-called Islamic State, among them a growing number of young British men and women.

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