BAGHDAD, Dec 26, (Agencies): A new message purporting to come from the leader of Islamic State said air strikes by Russia and a US-led coalition had failed to weaken the group. “Be confident that God will grant victory to those who worship him, and hear the good news that our state is doing well. The more intense the war against it, the purer it becomes and the tougher it gets,” said the audio recording, described as by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
The authenticity of the message, posted on Saturday on Twitter accounts that have published Islamic State statements in the past, could not be verified. It slammed Saudi Arabia’s efforts to set up a coalition of Muslim nations to fight his group. “If it was an Islamic coalition, it would have declared itself free from its Jewish and Crusader lords and made the killing the Jews and the liberation of Palestine its goal,” the message said.
The militant Sunni Islamist group controls swathes of Iraq and Syria but has come under intensifying military pressure in recent weeks. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the secretive leader of the Islamic State group, called for an uprising in Saudi Arabia and pledged to attack Israel, in an audio recording released Saturday and attributed to him.
The 24-minute recording would be Baghdadi’s first in seven months, during which IS has been dealt several blows in Iraq and Syria. There was no way for AFP to authenticate that it was Baghdadi speaking, but the voice appeared to match previous recordings of him. And it was not clear when the recording was made, but it referred to a 34-nation anti-IS coalition announced by Saudi Arabia on Dec 15. “They announced lately a coalition … falsely called ‘Islamic,’ and announced its goal is to fight the caliphate,” said the speaker in the recording circulating among pro-IS Twitter users. “If this coalition were Islamic, it would have announced victory and aid to the people of Syria,” he said. He called on Saudi citizens to “rise up against the apostate tyrants, and avenge your people in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen”.
Baghdadi regularly attacks the Saudi kingdom in his recordings. In his last message, he accused Saudi rulers of launching an air campaign against Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen only to please the West. Baghdadi also pledged to attack Israel, saying IS has “not forgotten Palestine for a single moment”. “And soon, soon with God’s permission, you will hear the footsteps of the mujahedeen … We are getting closer to you day by day,” he said.
The recording did not appear to be accompanied by multilingual transcripts, which has been in the case with other Baghdadi audio messages. Baghdadi made his fi rst and last public appearances in the summer of 2014 in the Iraqi city of Mosul, which IS holds. Meanwhile, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab rebels seized a key dam on the Euphrates River from Islamic State group jihadists in northern Syria on Saturday, the group said. The Syrian Democratic Forces captured Tishreen Dam after intense clashes with IS, as well as seven villages along the river’s eastern bank, spokesman Talal Sello told AFP. He said dozens of IS fi ghters had been killed. The dam, held by IS since 2014, helps generate electricity for large parts of the northern Aleppo province.
Backed by air strikes from a US-led coalition, the SDF launched its assault on IS-held towns along the eastern bank of the Euphrates late Wednesday. It was the alliance’s second major operation, after clearing IS from some 200 villages in the northeastern province of Hasakeh. Sherfan Darwish, spokesman for an Arab rebel group in the SDF, wrote online: “Congratulations to our peoples … the battles are ongoing, the operation is ongoing, and the victories are ongoing.”
Zahran Alloush, 44, was the commander of the Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam), the predominant opposition faction in the Eastern Ghouta rebel bastion east of Damascus. A senior member of Jaish al-Islam said planes had targeted a “secret meeting” of commanders, and confi rmed that Alloush was among those killed. His death, in an raid claimed by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, was seen as dealing a heavy blow to the nearly fi ve-year uprising and also complicating a fragile peace process. It also halted the planned evacuation of some 4,000 people, half of them jihadists, from the southern districts of Damascus. A government offi cial has said the plan would see the evacuees transferred Saturday out of Qadam, Hajar al-Aswad and the besieged Palestinian camp of Yarmuk and into northern Syria.