BAGHDAD — Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi appears to have resurfaced weeks after he was reported incapacitated in an attack, with an audio message Thursday in which the leader of the Islamic State purportedly urges Muslims worldwide to fight on behalf of his extremist group.
The remarks, which could not be verified, would be the first to be released from Baghdadi in months. A report in a British newspaper said that he had been seriously wounded in Iraq on March 18 by an airstrike launched by the U.S.-led coalition.
In the 35-minute address that was posted on militant Web sites, Baghdadi criticizes the Saudi Arabia-led military offensive in Yemen, which began in late March. He also mentions the flight of residents from the Iraqi province of Anbar last month after fighting that involved Islamic State militants.
If confirmed, the message would suggest that Baghdadi still may be leading the radical Sunni group, which controls vast territory stretching across parts of Syria and Iraq
A flurry of unconfirmed reports have said that Baghdadi effectively had been replaced by his deputy, known as Abu Alaa al-Afri, following the March attack.
In the audio address, a voice resembling Baghdadi’s is heard exhorting “every Muslim in every place” to either migrate to Islamic State-held territory or to “fight in his land wherever that may be.”
“Oh, Muslims, Islam was never for a day the religion of peace. Islam is the religion of war,” the voice says, according to a translation by the SITE Intelligence Group. The voice also warns Muslims that they will be persecuted if they stay in the West, saying that if authorities monitor or question Muslims, “soon they will begin to displace them [Muslims] and take them away either dead, imprisoned or homeless.”
Calls for carrying out attacks in foreign countries are not new for Islamic State leaders.
In November, Baghdadi purportedly called on followers to attack Saudi Arabia, which has joined the U.S.-led coalition targeting the Islamic State.
Britain’s Guardian newspaper reported last month that Baghdadi had been wounded badly in an airstrike in western Iraq, near the city of Baaj. The report, which cited an unidentified source in Iraq linked to the Islamic State, a Western diplomat and an Iraqi official, said Baghdadi was no longer in charge of the group’s day-to-day affairs.
Pentagon officials have not confirmed the report.