August 24, 2018
IntelBrief: Baghdadi’s Call to his Followers
Western military and intelligence officials have long believed that, despite Russian claims to the contrary, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the so-called Islamic State, is alive. An August 22 audio message released by the group’s media outlet, al-Furqan, suggests that Baghdadi is alive and healthy enough to deliver a 54-minute speech. In what has become an almost annual event, Baghdadi called both for patience during a time of continued territorial and military loses, and for supporters to attack the West however possible.
This is the first public message from the self-proclaimed caliph—now without a caliphate—since September 2017. At that time, Mosul had recently been retaken by Iraqi forces and the Islamic State’s ‘capital’ in Raqqa would fall the following month. In this latest message, entitled ‘Give Glad Tidings to the Patient,’ Baghdadi acknowledges the obvious. The group has seen significant losses in the last year in Iraq and Syria, even though it remains an extremely dangerous threat to the long-term stability and security to both countries. He says that ‘for the believer Mujahideen, 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.’
Baghdadi mentions U.S. sanctions against Turkey, which were imposed on August 01, 2018, as well as the impending Assad regime assault on Idlib, as proof that the recording was made recently. He attacks what he calls ‘the gang policy’ of the U.S., mentioning sanctions on Russia and Iran. He calls for tribal revolt in Jordan, a close U.S. ally, and says that Sunnis in Iraq continue to be persecuted by the Shi’a. All of these are standard exhortations by the group, with the only noteworthy aspect of the speech being the man who delivered it. The relatively muted response in Western media is a marked difference from the not-so-distant-past, when Islamic State threats, however implausible, were hugely amplified, creating unwarranted public fear that drove many counter-productive counterterrorism policies.
While calling for patience, Baghdadi also specifically called for more attacks by the still-significant supporters of the Islamic State. He praised ‘lone wolves in the lands of crusaders in Canada, Europe and elsewhere for their work in supporting their brothers.’ He added that ‘a bullet or a stab or a bomb would be worth a thousand operations. And don't forget to drive into crowds in the streets.’ It is likely his call for attacks will be answered. On August 23, the Islamic State claimed credit for two murders in Trappes, France, in which a man already known to French security services used a knife to kill his mother and sister. The man was then killed by French law enforcement. This style of attack is exactly what Baghdadi called for and will continue to be the most prevalent type of threat posed by the diminished-but-dangerous group. Many Islamic State supporters are willing to kill in the group’s name, presenting security services across the West and elsewhere with a constant challenge.
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