In an audio message released early Thursday Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi called on his fighters to resist as Iraqi forces were poised to enter the city of Mosul. “Holding your ground with honour is a thousand times easier than retreating in shame,” he said in the message. Rumours have abounded about the Iraqi militant leader’s health and movements.
The ‘caliphate’ has been shrinking steadily since last year and Iraqi forces earlier this week reached Mosul, the jihadists’ last key stronghold in Iraq.
“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,” said a voice purporting to be that of Baghdadi’s in a recorded message.
In June 2014, days after jihadist fighters swept across swaths of Iraq, Baghdadi had made a rare public appearance in Mosul and announced the creation of an Islamic state straddling Iraq and Syria.