The Islamic State released Thursday an audio recording allegedly of its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, dispelling rumors that he had been killed in battle.
The 46-minute recording was released by Al-Furqan news organization, marking the first time in nearly a year that Baghdadi’s voice has been broadcast to a public audience.
It is unclear exactly when the recording was made, but there is evidence that the message was recorded recently. Baghdadi makes reference to recent events, including North Korea’s threats against the U.S. and the taking of Mosul by American-backed Iraqi forces, Reuters reported Thursday.
The recording, that was disseminated in Islamic State chat rooms, begins with a narrator saying, “May Allah protect him.” This phrase is used as prayer for the living, New York Times correspondent and ISIS expert Rukmini Callimachi notes, indicating that Baghdadi was not killed as some previous reports had claimed.
Russian defense officials said earlier this year that Baghdadi might have been killed in an air strike on ISIS commanders near Raqqa, Syria. U.S. officials could not confirm the death, and Iraqi officials also remained skeptical. There were no photographs or other physical evidence of Baghdadi’s body.
Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the commander of coalition forces fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria, expressed doubts in August that the Russians had killed Baghdadi.
“Do I believe he’s alive? Yes,” he said, according to Fox News.
Baghdadi no longer appears to be directing the day-to-day operations of ISIS as it struggles to hold on to remaining territory in Iraq and Syria, Pentagon officials have said.
The recording appears to be an attempt to boost the morale of ISIS fighters. U.S.-backed forces drove them out of their stronghold in Mosul, Iraq, last month and ISIS militants are on the verge of losing Raqqa.
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