Assessing the just-released 33-minute speech of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Benjamin Decker of the Levantine Group looks at the significance for Iraq, Syria, and beyond:
The Islamic State-affiliated al-Furqan Media Center distributed a new 33-minute audio message, allegedly featuring Abu Bakr al-Baghdadim entitled “March Forth Whether Light or Heavy”.
In the message, al-Baghdadi argues that the Islamic State’s jihad is one for all Muslims, urging them to emigrate to Islamic State-held territory or “fight in his land wherever that may be”. Al-Baghdadi argues that the casus belli of such a jihad has been established in the Western world’s crackdown against Muslims, as well as the failure of the Arab world to adhere to what he dubbed “true Islam”.
Al-Baghdadi accuses the current Coalition against the Islamic State, as well as the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen, of being a Zionist-backed plot to further enslave the Muslim community, “Where are the jets of the Arabian Peninsula’s rulers towards to Jews who desecrate al-Quds [Jerusalem]?” He closes by calling on Sunnis in Iraq and Yemen to continue to rise up against the ongoing Western military operations, while commending new provincial Islamic State cells in Khorasan [Afghanistan-Pakistan], Algeria, Tunisia, and West Africa.
A Revived Leader and Possible Lone-Wolf Attacks
The audio message was released in the wake of rumors regarding al-Baghdadi’s poor health following a back injury in a March airstrike by US warplanes in al-Qaim in Iraq, as well as additional rumors that his second-in-command Abu Ala al-Afri was killed on Thursday in Tal Afar.
While analysis could infer that the audio message was recorded some time ago, al-Baghdadi’s reference to the establishment of provincial cells throughout the Middle East and Africa, as well as his extended treatise on the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen, suggest that it was likely recorded recently.
The audio message is unlikely to have any short-term impact on active combat operations in areas surrounding Islamic State-held territory. However, it could encourage lone-wolf supporters in Europe, Australia, or the US to attempt attacks against civilians or soft political targets. At the same time, Western military and political targets in areas near ISIS-held territory or established ISIS cells are faced with a higher threat.