IS leader breaks nearly year-long silence
Washington : The Islamic State (IS) terror group has released what it says is a new audio message from its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, for the first time in almost a year, a media report said on Thursday.
In the message published by IS' media wing al-Furqan on Wednesday, the man admits that IS groups were losing and that it was a test from Allah, saying they needed to stick together, CNN reported.
The man says his followers were being tested with "fear and hunger" but says "glad tidings" will be given to those who "patiently persevere".
The speaker also makes reference to recent events, including tensions between the US and Turkey. He also says that Russia and Iran were seeking to revolt against sanctions and avoid a similar situation to North Korea.
America is using "the gang policy" and it is a "sign of weakness", the man says.
However, the voice on the recording has not been confirmed to be al-Baghdadi's. The recording runs for about 55 minutes.
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 IS-held land in Syria continues to dwindle.
"US Central Command is aware of the alleged audio recording," CNN quoted 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."
Urban said that US officials believe that the IS leader is still alive.
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 2017.
IS 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.