For the first time in almost a year, ISIS has released what it says is a new audio message from its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
In the message, the man on the recording admits that ISIS groups are losing and that it is a test from Allah, saying they need to stick together.
The man says his followers are being tested with “fear and hunger” but says “glad tidings” will be given to those who “patiently persevere.”
The audio message was published by ISIS media wing al-Furqan on Wednesday.
CNN cannot independently confirm the voice on the recording is that of al-Baghdadi.
“US Central Command is aware of the alleged audio recording,” Central Command spokesperson Capt. William Urban said. “I am not going to comment on our assessment of the recording. We do not know where Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is at this time, but he continues to be someone that we are interested in removing from the battlefield.
“I do not believe that any official US government source has ever claimed that he is dead.” When asked whether that meant US officials believe the ISIS leader is alive, Urban said, “Yes.”
If it is from Baghdadi, this is the first audio message from him to be released since the fall of Raqqa in October 2017, as ISIS-held land in Syria continues to dwindle.
The man in the recording references massive losses by ISIS. “For the believer Mujahideen, the scale of victory or defeat is not counting on a city or town being stolen or subject to those who have aerial superiority, or intercontinental missiles or smart bombs, and not how many followers they have,” he says.
“The scale depends on how much faith the worshipper has,” he adds.
The audio recording runs for about 55 minutes.
The speaker makes reference to recent events, including tensions between the United States and Turkey. He refers to the sanctions the United States imposed on Turkey on August 1, “just to release the pastor,” referring to US pastor Andrew Brunson, who is detained in Turkey.
The man also says Russia and Iran are seeking to revolt against sanctions and avoid a similar situation to North Korea. The voice says America is using “the gang policy” and it is a “sign of weakness.”
The man mentions the Syrian city of Idlib, saying Russian and Syrian military are about to storm it “with the help of traitors,” a reference to some Syrian rebels. And the speaker calls on Sunni Muslims to topple the government of Jordan, which is an ally of the United States and the United Kingdom.
The speaker also gave his blessing to “lone wolves in the lands of crusaders in Canada, Europe and elsewhere for their work in supporting their brothers,” and called on ISIS supporters to carry out similar, simple attacks: “A bullet or a stab or a bomb would be worth a thousand operations. And don’t forget to drive into crowds in the streets.”
Baghdadi has made only one public appearance, in July 2014, in the al-Nuri Mosque in Mosul, which was retaken by Iraqi security forces in June last year.
ISIS has since released various audio messages that it claims are from Baghdadi – most recently, one in September 2017 that appeared to make reference to news events that happened after Russia claimed he was dead.
In February, several US officials who spoke exclusively to CNN said he had been wounded in an airstrike in May 2017 and had to relinquish control of the terror group for up to five months because of his injuries. The assessment of US intelligence agencies was based on reports from ISIS detainees and refugees in Northern Syria that emerged months after the airstrike, the officials added.
It’s believed the airstrike occurred close to the date offered by the Russian military in June, when they claimed to have killed or injured the ISIS leader.
At the time, Russia’s Defense Ministry said it was investigating reports Baghdadi had been killed in an airstrike on May 28, on the outskirts of Raqqa, the group’s primary stronghold, which US-backed forces took back in October.
Analysts warned at the time that reports of Baghdadi’s death should be treated with skepticism given the high number of previous false reports.
CNN’s Barbara Starr and Nick Paton Walsh contributed to this report.