The release of new audio purportedly from the leader of ISIS is filled with soaring rhetoric, promising "volcanoes of jihad" and dismissing the United States as "terrified" and meek.
But what is he really saying?
Since late last week, it hasn't been clear if Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the rarely seen leader of ISIS, had been killed, mortally wounded or even hurt in an air strike near Falluja, Iraq. Then Thursday, a recording emerged that appeared to be genuine according to Flashpoint Intelligence, a global security firm and NBC News counterterrorism consultancy. The message, shared on jihadi websites, seems recent, as it included a reference to Egyptian militant group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, which pledged allegiance to Baghdadi on Monday.
Experts say that the real message al-Baghdadi is sending is: I'm still standing — and we're still growing.
"By releasing this statement he is really putting a challenge to the U.S. and its allies. He’s effectively saying, ‘I’m not trying to hide, I am releasing this audio statement,’" said Laith Alkhouri, the director of Middle East and North Africa research for Flashpoint Intelligence, which studies and consults on global security.
"He is solidifying that he is still leading the group, that he has not been killed as some media outlets reported, and that the U.S. is not causing damage. It is somewhat of a big blow to the coalition campaign, which really wanted to get him and get him fast. Whereas the evidence is that the Islamic State is not being vanquished."
The speech made reference to a Nov. 7 U.S. announcement that President Barack Obama had approved sending up to 1,500 more U.S. troops to Iraq.
“Here is Obama who has ordered the deployment of 1,500 additional soldiers under the claim that they are advisers because the crusaders’ airstrikes and constant bombardment — day and night — upon the Islamic State have not prevented its advance, nor weakened its resolve," says al-Baghdadi.
Veryan Khan, editorial director of TRAC: Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium, notes that the shadowy terror leader last made an appearance in July — just after other rumors of his death.
"Islamic State’s release of this audio is focusing on momentum that they have recently gained in areas outside of the Sham (Syria), said Khan, who said that ISIS now has pledges of allegiance from terror groups in Egypt, Libya and even Boko Haram in Nigeria — with active ISIS-related "brigades" in various countries.
"As of today, there are at least 30 separate regions that have active militant organizations that have pledged support to Islamic State, a total of 60 distinct groups world wide," said Khan. "The audio is inspirational, whether Baghdadi was wounded or not."
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