"Islamic State" has released a recording in which the terror group's leader al-Baghdadi broaches plans to expand into other countries beyond Iraq and Syria. The message follows rumors he had been wounded or killed.
In the 17-minute audio recording posted online on Thursday, a man purported to be "Islamic State" (IS) chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi vowed to press on with plans to extend his caliphate across the Arab world, and to continue fighting to the last man.
"God has ordered us to fight," he said, according to an English transcript of the message released together with the recording. "For that reason the soldiers of the Islamic State are fighting... they will never leave fighting, even if only one soldier remains."
The speech surfaced several days after al-Baghdadi was rumored to have been wounded or killed in a US-led airstrike targeting a gathering of IS leaders in northwestern Iraq. The US, which has offered a $10 million (8 million euros) reward for al-Baghdadi's capture, said on Tuesday it was not able to confirm the leader's fate.
It isn't clear when the recording was made. There is no mention of the recent bombing raid on IS commanders, although there is a reference to an announcement last Friday that US President Barack Obama had authorized the deployment of 1,500 more US troops in Iraq.
There was also no immediate confirmation of the recording's authenticity. News agencies, however, noted the voice matched previous al-Baghdadi recordings released by IS. The last al-Baghdadi recording came in the form of a video sermon posted online in July - shortly after IS declared a "caliphate" in parts of Iraq and Syria.
Plans to expand
If verified, this latest message would be the first public statement from al-Baghdadi since the US-led coalition of Arab and Western countries commenced airstrikes against IS fighters. In the recording, al-Baghdadi claims the military campaign is failing to defeat his group.
"Despite this Crusade campaign being the most fierce and severe of all, it is the greatest failure," the message said.
Al-Baghdadi says IS will continue to expand and calls on Muslims to wage holy war everywhere, particularly in Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
"O Muslims, we give you good news by announcing the expansion of the Islamic State to new lands, the lands of al-Haramayn Saudi Arabia and Yemen ... to Egypt, Libya and Algeria," he said.
IS fighters have made rapid territorial gains in Syria and Iraq, building a reputation for brutal tactics, including attacks on minority groups, torture and taking hostages. Experts say the militants are financed mainly through extortion of local populations, selling crude oil and ransoms for kidnappings.
On Thursday, the news agency AFP reported that IS would soon start minting its own coins for use in areas it has seized.
nm/kms (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)