Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi allegedly announced the expansion of his self-styled caliphate and warned that U.S.-led coalition forces would be “forced to come down to the ground,” in an audio recording released by the extremist group Thursday. If authentic, the recording is the first public proof that al-Baghdadi is alive after nearly a week of speculation that he may have been killed in coalition airstrikes. But the audio is accompanied only by the black banner of the group also known as ISIS and does not show any image of al-Baghdadi.
The Islamic State group, holding territory that spans large parts of Iraq and Syria, now claims land in Yemen, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt's Sinai peninsula -- if Baghdadi’s message is to be believed. He urged “soldiers of the caliphate” to join the closest ISIS affiliate and “erupt volcanoes of jihad everywhere," specifically in Saudi Arabia.
“We announce the acceptance of the bay’ah [pledge of allegiance] of those who gave us bay’ah in those lands, the nullification of the groups therein, the announcement of a new wilayat [province] for the Islamic State, and the appointment of wulat [leader] for them,” said the voice that an ISIS statement said was Baghdadi's.
ISIS has not yet said who the leaders are for these alleged new territories.
This is the first time ISIS has formally accepted a pledge of allegiance from a group outside its borders in Iraq and Syria. Though some of the countries mentioned are home to jihadist groups that previously announced their allegiance to al-Baghdadi, his statement does not necessarily mean there will be an Iraq-style militant advance anytime soon. This supposed expansion of the caliphate may in fact be a way to boost fighters’ morale and distract from more covert expansion strategies.
The declaration was released as ISIS fighters are engaged in two long operations in western Iraq’s Anbar province and northern Syria’s Kobani and facing a consistent onslaught of airstrikes. It aimed to dissuade fighters from believing the coalition’s “lying media and their claims of killing tens of mujahidin each day, destroying their bases and vehicles, and anything else of their lies and fear mongering,” said an English translation of the address.
“The Crusaders’ airstrikes and constant bombardment – day and night -- upon the positions of the Islamic State have not prevented its advance, nor weakened its resolve,” the statement ascribed to al-Baghdadi said. “Indeed, the Crusaders will be defeated.”