Baghdad: Islamic States top leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who is reportedly hiding out in the besieged Iraqi city of Mosul, released his first message since 2014, urging followers to wage all-out war and take the fighting into Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
In his first statement since the major offensive began, Baghdadi implored jihadis to attack the “enemies of God” in what is seen as an all or nothing battle by fanatics.
He urged suicide bombers all over the world to “destroy the cities of the unbelievers”.
“Turn the nights of the unbelievers into days, to wreck havoc in their land and make their blood flow as rivers,” he was quoted by the Daily Mail in the audio release.
The leader said he was “confident of victory” and called on his fighters to resist the Iraqi forces which are poised to enter the city, declared a “caliphate” when it was overrun by IS two years ago.
“Do not retreat,” he says in the audio recording. “Holding your ground with honour is a thousand times easier than retreating in shame.”
He added: “This (…) total war and the great jihad that the Islamic State is fighting today only increases our firm belief, God willing, and our conviction that all this is a prelude to victory.”
In his latest message, which is undated but makes references to events that are at most a few weeks old, Baghdadi calls for attacks against Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
Ankara has troops stationed at a base just outside Mosul and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s escalating rhetoric has raised fears of a unilateral Turkish intervention in Iraq.
Baghdadi also said that his followers who could not travel to Syria or Iraq should aim for Libya and urged all IS fighters to remain united in adversity.
He attempted to stir up sectarian resentment by referring to religious flags and slogans of Shia fighters among the Iraqi forces and by accusing the country’s Sunni politicians of treason.
Al-Baghdadi issued the audio message from his hideout, which is believed to be inside the city walls as he was unable to escape the former stronghold as enemy forces advanced.
The US-led coalition estimates there are 3,000 to 5,000 IS fighters inside the city but the final outcome of the battle appears to be in little doubt.
Tens of thousands of Iraqi forces, backed by the US-led coalition and its warplanes, launched a massive offensive on Mosul on October 17.
It comes as it was claimed that IS leader Baghdadi was holed up in the city along with his explosives expert Fawzi Ali Nouimeh.
Senior Kurdish official Hoshiyar Zebari was quoted by the Mail as saying that there were “solid” intelligence reports saying Baghdadi was in the city. It was in Mosul’s Great Mosque of al-Nuri that the terrorist declared the IS a “caliphate” in 2014.
Coalition forces expect IS to have laid a series of booby traps in and around Mosul as part of its effort to hamper Iraqi advances.
British jets and drones hit IS targets as part of the push to drive the jihadist group out of its Iraqi stronghold.
More than 40,000 Iraqi and Kurd troops are leading the offensive, backed by air and ground support from a 60-nation US-led coalition, in what is expected to be a long and difficult assault.