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I’m Back! Baghdadi Appeals to Muslims to Sign Up With Islamic State

The ISIS leader had reportedly been wounded in an airstrike.

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In recent weeks several reports have claimed that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was severely wounded in a Western air strike and that he may be on death’s doorstep. But on Thursday, the militant leader broke a prolonged period of silence with the release of a 35-minute audio message to his followers in which he urged Muslims around the world to travel to Iraq and Syria and join up with the Islamic State.

Baghdadi’s message comes as the Islamic State lost momentum in Syria to a coalition of rebel groups, including other Islamist militants, who have in recent weeks won a series of victories against the forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In Iraq, the Islamic State has also suffered some setbacks but continues to hold large chunks of the country and are currently fighting government forces for control of its largest oil refinery, at Baiji.

Baghdadi’s speech describes this fight in cataclysmic terms and makes an aggressive appeal for additional recruits. “It is the war of every Muslim, in every place, and the Islamic State is merely the spearhead in this war,” Baghdadi said, according to a translated version of his remarks provided by Site Intelligence, which monitors online jihadi message boards. “There is no excuse, for any Muslim is capable of performing hijrah to the Islamic State.” Hijrah is an Arabic term referring to the Prophet Muhammad’s migration from Mecca to Medina and which radical groups have appropriated to describe the journey to join up with guerrilla fighters.

In an indication of the Islamic State’s international ambitions, the message was disseminated along with translations of the address in English, French, German, Russian, and Turkish. While Baghdadi’s emphasis in the address was on international recruitment to the Islamic State’s core force, he also urged Muslims to “fight in his land wherever that may be.”

For Western officials puzzling over why thousands of their youths are signing up with the militant group, Baghdadi’s address provides a litany of reasons why it has become so appealing: “We call upon you so that you leave the life of humiliation, disgrace, degradation, subordination, loss, emptiness, and poverty, to a life of honor, respect, leadership, richness, and another matter that you love — victory from Allah and an imminent conquest.”

Baghdadi casts that fight as a civilizational struggle that is sure to inflame debates about the degree to which the Islamic State is an expression of the Muslim faith: “Islam was never for a day the religion of peace. Islam is the religion of war.”

With Iraqi forces preparing to broaden their offensive against the Islamic State, Baghdadi directly addressed the residents of western Anbar province, control of which will represent a key test for the central government’s efforts to expel the extremists from the country. Baghdadi lamented the plight of Anbar residents, most of whom are Sunni, like the extremist group itself, who have been forced from their homes and said that Anbar residents fighting against the Islamic State will be forgiven for their “crimes” if they repent.

It’s not clear when the address was made, but referenced recent events in the late March-early April timeframe. Baghdadi harshly criticized Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen, and referred to fighting for control of the Iraqi city of Tikrit, which was liberated from Islamic State control during the first days of April. Operation Decisive Storm, as the Saudi campaign in Yemen was known, began on March 25.

EPA/Islamic State Video

Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @EliasGroll

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