ISIS leader breaks silence as Mosul offensive progresses

Getty Images

Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has broken a nearly yearlong silence as Iraqi forces entered Mosul for the first time in two years, telling his followers not to retreat.

{mosads}“Know that the value of staying on your land with honor is a thousand times better than the price of retreating with shame,” he said in an audio recording, according to a translation from The New York Times.

“This war is yours. Turn the dark night of the infidels into day, destroy their homes and make rivers of their blood.”

Baghdadi, whose whereabouts are unclear, has not addressed ISIS followers since December 2015, when he warned Western nations not to send troops into the group’s territory and threatened to attack Israel.

The new message comes days after Iraqi special forces entered Mosul’s city limits for the first time since ISIS took control of the city and made it its Iraq stronghold in June 2014.

Baghdadi’s message does not mention Mosul by name, but does address fighters in Nineveh province, where the city is located.

“To all the people of Nineveh, especially the fighters, beware of any weakness in facing your enemy,” he said, according to The Guardian.

He also expressed confidence that his group would ultimately prevail.

“This raging battle and total war, and the great jihad that the state of Islam is fighting today only increases our firm belief, God willing, and our conviction that all this is a prelude to victory,” he said, according to Reuters.

He called on his followers to attack Turkey and Saudi Arabia, saying the Sunni countries sided with the enemy in a war against Sunni Islam.

“Turkey entered the zone of your operations, so attack it, destroy its security, and sow horror within it. Put it on your list of battlefields. Turkey entered the war with the Islamic State with cover and protection from Crusader jets,” he said.

In Saudi Arabia, he called for “attack after attack.”

A spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition said Thursday the military hasn’t verified the recording’s authenticity. But, he added, it’s evidence of ISIS losing its grasp on its fighters.

“One of the interesting things that we’ve seen in this English translation of this is that Baghdadi is saying, don’t fight amongst yourselves,” Col. John Dorrian told reporters at a briefing. “This is the type of thing that a leader who’s losing command and control and ability to keep everybody on the same page says. We don’t believe that it’s going to work.”

The United States does not know Baghdadi’s location, Dorrian added.

“if we knew where he was,” Dorrian said, “he would be killed at once.”

Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, is ISIS’s last major bastion in the country, and losing it would be a crucial defeat.

U.S. and Iraqi officials have been describing the offensive as progressing well. 

“That is proceeding according to plan,” Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Wednesday. “The character of the tactical situation will obviously change day to day, but as you indicated, also changes as the cordon gets closer, the noose gets tighter and tighter around Mosul. The enemy might choose various tactics. We don’t know which ones they will, but we’ll be ready for anything. And the Iraqi Security Forces are ready for anything.”

Updated at 3:10 p.m.

See all Hill.TV See all Video