Baghdad, Iraq (BBN)-The Islamic State Saturday released an audio recording of a speech purportedly made by the organization’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in which he implored more Muslims to fight on behalf of his increasingly besieged group.
The authenticity of the recording could not be confirmed. It appeared to be al-Baghdadi’s first public address since May, and it followed reports that he had been either killed or gravely wounded by airstrikes, reports the NDTV.
The speech was released on jihadi social media accounts after a string of defeats for the Islamic State in Iraq and amid intensifying bombardment by a US-led military coalition in both Syria and Iraq.
In the speech, al-Baghdadi acknowledged escalating pressure on the Islamic State, also referred to as ISIS or ISIL, but framed it as a worldwide attack by “disbelievers” against Muslims.
And while he referred to several recent developments, including the entrance of Russia’s military into the Syrian war and the claim by Saudi Arabia to be forming a military coalition of Muslim countries, al-Baghdadi did not refer to recent mass killings in Paris and San Bernardino, California, that were connected to the Islamic State.
In the last few days, Iraqi government forces have mounted a major offensive to recapture the city of Ramadi from the Islamic State, hoping to deal the group a major blow in the western province of Anbar, a stronghold.
On Saturday, Iraqi officials said they had cleared one central district in the city and had advanced within a mile of a militant redoubt in a government complex.
A defeat in Ramadi would be the fourth major loss for the Islamic State in Iraq since April, when Iraqi forces and Shiite militias drove the group out of Tikrit.
Security officials in northern Iraq said Saturday that Kurdish and US forces had carried out a major assault on Islamic State-held territory west of Kirkuk, in a town called Al Riyadh.
Two senior militant leaders were killed and several others were captured, Gen. Sarhad Kadir, a police commander in Kirkuk, said.
Two US defense officials said that US forces did not take part in the raid.
Officials said that more than two dozen families had taken advantage of the confusion caused by the raid to escape.
Ahmed al-Jiboor, 42, said he fled after hearing planes flying over the area after midnight, and then panicked calls by Islamic State militants over mosque loudspeakers telling fighters to mobilize.
Another resident, Sana Ibrahim, 26, said her family escaped south, toward Tikrit, when it was clear the Islamic State forces were in disarray.
Abandoning their posts, fighters surged toward the front line or were busy carrying wounded or dead colleagues to hospitals, she said.