The leader of the Takfiri ISIL group broke a nearly year-long silence as Iraqi forces closed in on Mosul Thursday, urging his militants to hold their ground.
It was Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s first statement since Iraqi forces launched a massive operation on October 17 to retake Mosul, where the ISIL chief declared the group’s “caliphate” two years ago.
“Do not retreat,” Baghdadi said in a purported message released by an ISIL-affiliated outlet. “Holding your ground with honor is a thousand times easier than retreating in shame.”
The “caliphate” has been shrinking steadily since last year and Iraqi forces earlier this week reached the outskirts of Mosul, the terrorists’ last major stronghold in Iraq.
If authentic, the recording entitled “This is what God and his messenger has promised us”, would be Baghdadi’s first since December 2015 and a rare sign of life.
Rumors have swirled about the Takfiri leader’s health and movements but his whereabouts are unclear.
In his latest message, which is undated but makes reference to events that are at most a few weeks old, Baghdadi also calls for attacks against Saudi Arabia — a favorite target — and Turkey.
Ankara has troops stationed at a base just outside Mosul and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s escalating rhetoric has raised fears of a unilateral Turkish intervention in Iraq.
Baghdadi also said that his followers who could not travel to Syria or Iraq should aim for Libya and urged all ISIL insurgents to remain ‘united in adversity’.