The Islamic State group on Thursday released what appeared to be a rare recording of its cloistered leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The video showcased Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi sending out a telling message to the terror group supporters, vowing to continue the group's fight across Syria and Iraq as its self-proclaimed caliphate has been reduced to a mere shadow of its self.
The video has left many flabbergasted as it was the first public message of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi since last 11 months. ISIS media released a 46-minute audio message that plays a speech by Baghdadi, according to the militant group.
It remains unclear when the message was recorded. But its release comes at a troubled time for the Islamic State, whose territorial claims have eroded significantly since Baghdadi was heard from last. The Islamist militants, who once laid claim to a wide expanse of land straddling the border between Iraq and Syria, lost the major Iraqi city of Mosul — where Baghdadi declared the group's caliphate in 2014 — earlier this summer to the Iraqi military.
And U.S.-backed rebels are now racing against the Syrian regime to retake the oil-rich province of Deir ez-Zor in Suria. Rebel forces have also pushed progressively deeper into Raqqa, ISIS' so-called capital.
Peppered with references to current geopolitical flash points, including North Korea and Iraqi Kurdistan, the unverified 46-minute speech seemed partly intended to silence reports that Baghdadi has been killed on the battlefield.
It has been almost a year since his last message to followers, recorded as Islamic State militants girded themselves for a U.S.-backed assault on Mosul, their largest stronghold.
Now fully under control of the Iraqi government, the city's mosque - from which Baghdadi made his only public appearance as the militant group's leader - lies in ruins, a shattered reminder of the dominance the Islamic State once held over a swath of land that once spanned almost a third of Syria and Iraq.
Three years on, the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, is defending a shrinking stretch of territory. In Iraq, the group is down to two last strongholds after losing a grueling, nine-month battle for control of the city of Mosul. In Syria, the Islamic State has all but lost its grip on its onetime de facto capital of Raqqa and is now facing down parallel U.S. and Syrian-backed offensives in the oil-rich eastern province of Deir Ezzor.
In Thursday's recording, the voice purporting to be Baghdadi's cast those defeats in a more charitable light. "This predicament is a generous gift from God," he said.
He also consoled foot soldiers and supporters over their recent defeats, saying the top priority for Muslims is to "satisfy" God. "Victory against their enemies and the enemy of God comes n