ISIS releases new audio message suggesting top leader Baghdadi may still be alive

(Social Media Website via Reuters TV/File Photo)A man purported to be the reclusive leader of the militant Islamic State Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi making what would have been his first public appearance, at a mosque in the centre of Iraq's second city, Mosul, according to a video recording posted on the Internet on July 5, 2014, in this still image taken from video.

The Islamic State has released a new audio message that was purportedly delivered by its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, suggesting that he is still alive despite speculations about his demise.

In the undated audio, the ISIS leader urged his followers to keep fighting in Iraq and Syria, and wage attacks against the West.

The 46-minute recording was released on Thursday via the Al-Furqan news organization, according to Reuters. While the exact date of the audio is not known, Baghdadi makes references to recent events including North Korean threats against Japan and the U.S., as well as the recapture two months ago of Mosul by U.S.-backed Iraqi forces.

"The North Koreans have begun threatening America and Japan with nuclear power, and the Americans, Russians and Europeans live terrified in fear of strikes from the mujahedeen," the ISIS leader said.

Baghdadi's last message prior to the new audio was delivered in November 2016, two months after the start of the battle to recapture the city of Mosul from ISIS.

His latest recording, which was filled with conservative religious speech and references to Islamic history, came after several reports that he had been killed.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a U.K.-based monitoring group, had claimed earlier this year that it had received information that Baghdadi had been killed. However, the U.S.-led coalition had noted that there is no evidence of the Baghdadi's death, and top Kurdish intelligence officials asserted that they were "99 percent" sure that the ISIS leader remained alive.

Russia's defense ministry has also reported earlier this year that it might have killed Baghdadi in an air strike that targeted a gathering of IS commanders on the outskirts of Raqqa. But U.S. officials said they could not corroborate the report, and other Western and Iraqi officials have also expressed their skepticism.

Officials have suggested that it could take years to capture or kill Baghdadi, as he is believed to be hiding in a vast swathe of the sparsely-populated desert between Mosul and Raqqa, where attack drones can easily be seen.

A $25 million bounty has been placed on Baghdadi's head by the U.S. government for information leading to his arrest or his whereabouts.

In the audio recording, Baghdadi also called on his followers to attack Western media. "Oh soldiers of Islam in every location, increase blow after blow, and make the media centers of the infidels, from where they wage their intellectual wars, among the targets," he said.

"Continue your Jihad and your blessed operations and do not let the crusaders rest in their homes and enjoy life and stability while your brethren are being shelled and killed," he added.

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