This week Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi put rumors of his death to rest when he released an audio recording urging the remaining ISIS followers to continue their fight in the name of Islam. The recording reminds followers and the rest of the world that ISIS is neither gone nor completely defeated. Its followers have dwindled since the peak of ISIS’s power and holding of territory the size of Britain in 2014. This week’s message is believed to be a last-ditch effort to rally followers to execute acts of terror and thus provide relevance to ISIS again. The message acknowledges losses over the past year and notes it is a test from God. In the last three years, the group lost 90% of its geographic holdings in Iraq and Syria.
The location and time of the recording are unknown, although Baghdadi mentions Eid al-Adha, which suggests the recording is recent. The message also congratulates those having led attacks in Canada and Europe and calls for followers to overthrow the governments of Arab nations like Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
The message is said to have sparked a few isolated incidents, but these could have been coincidental. In the message, al-Baghdadi says, “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.” The recent increase in vehicular terror acts, suggests the recording is new. There are rumored to be 20,000 to 30,000 ISIS true believers in Syria and Iraq. That the group has shrunk is undeniable, but it is premature to suppose they cannot regroup and trigger real harm.
Baghdadi rarely releases messages – the last one was a year ago – and so some analysts believe he’s desperate to re-create relevance for and re-build his army. He has only appeared in public once, which suggests he feels insecure about his security. The message is unlikely to advance large, orchestrated terror attacks. But it could prompt smaller attacks, and it could catalyze ISIS lone-wolf types. The recording is a reminder to the world that the fight against ISIS is not over.