Islamic State leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi has purportedly released his first audio recording since last year and suggests that the terror group's massive loss of territory in Iraq and Syria is a test of faith.
Baghdadi, who last released an audio recording in September 2017 when the group's de-facto capital of Raqqa, Syria, was on the verge of falling to coalition forces, is said to be the speaker featured in a new recording released by the IS-aligned al-Furqan Foundation on Wednesday evening.
According to CNN, the audio lasts about 55 minutes. However, the audio has not yet been confirmed to be the voice of Baghdadi.
The speaker reportedly touched on number of issues.
Among the comments, the speaker slammed the United States and referenced American pastor Andrew Brunson, who has been detained in Turkey since 2016 on what the U.S. says are baseless charges of terrorism.
The speaker also spoke about the escalating tensions between the United States and its NATO ally, Turkey. As the Trump administration has placed sanctions on two Turkish leaders and Trump has vowed to double Turkish steel and aluminum tariffs, the speaker in the audio pointed out that the sanctions were really "just to release the pastor."
The alleged voice of the 47-year-old Baghdadi accused the U.S. of using "gang policy" and noted that the U.S. is showing a "sign of weakness."
According to the Associated Press, the speaker claimed that "America is going through the worse time in its entire existence."
As IS no longer has control of its major strongholds in the areas around Raqqa and Mosul, Iraq, the speaker was not afraid to touch on those military losses following about three years of controlling those areas.
The speaker stated that the military losses are a test from God.
He urged IS followers to continue with the act of jihad and to stay united. The speaker assured that although IS jihadis are now facing "fear and hunger," "glad tidings" will be awarded to those who "patiently persevere."
"For the believer Mujahideen (jihadis), the scale of victory or defeat is not counting on a city or town being stolen or subject to those who have aerial superiority, or intercontinental missiles or smart bombs, and not how many followers they have," he said. "The scale depends on how much faith the worshiper has."
Baghdadi reportedly again called on supporters around the world to carry out lone wolf attacks "in the lands of crusaders in Canada, Europe and elsewhere."
"A bullet or a stab or a bomb would be worth a thousand operations," he was quoted as saying. "And don't forget to drive into crowds in the streets."
Baghdadi's whereabouts are unknown. He last made a public appearance in July 2014 at a mosque in Mosul. He has been rumored to have been killed or seriously injured on separate occasions.
U.S. Central Command spokesperson Capt. William Urban told CNN that the U.S. government is aware of the audio.
"I am not going to comment on our assessment of the recording," he was quoted as saying. "We do not know where Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is at this time, but he continues to be someone that we are interested in removing from the battlefield."