By Naveed Malekafzali (Twitter)
After almost a full year of silence, the leader and self-proclaimed "Caliph and Leader of the Faithful" Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has released a new audio message through the central media apparatus of the ISIS group, al-Furqan Media Center. The speech is entitled, "Sufficient is your Lord as a Guide and Helper", the title coming from the Qur'anic verse 25:31.
The release of this speech comes a few months after Iran and Russia had claimed to have killed the ISIS leader in airstrike on the former administrative capital of the armed group, Raqqah. Other less corroborated death reports have circulated, such as Iraqi news outlets claiming he died in the Iraqi Army assault on Tal Afar in early July. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's last audio statement had been released in November of 2016, shortly after the beginning of the Battle of Mosul and several months before the besieging of Raqqah by the SDF.
In the speech, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi makes reference to recent North Korean threats against Japan and the US, dating the speech to at least August of this year. This conflicts with the Russian/Irainian reports of his death which came out in June this year. al-Baghdadi's statements since the announcement of the ISIS caliphate have usually come on the heel of reports of his death, and feature him mentioning recent geopolitical events that come after the date of his reported death in question.
The ISIS leader also devoted time to talking about ISIS's vast territorial losses this past year, a slow but sure trend of acknowledgement of battle losses in ISIS media that began in late 2015. While al-Baghdadi acknowledged these losses in "Mosul, Raqqah, Sirt, Ramadi, and Hama", he claimed that these lost battles did not mean that ISIS was no longer upon truth, nor did it mean that they would inevitably lose the entire war. He remarked that he was "certain that it [...] will lead to the downfall of the tyrants."
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi also talked extensively on the theological topic of monotheism, seemingly in reference to a recent debacle within ISIS's Shari'ah committee regarding their expansive fatwa on takfir, which moved the goalpost on the definition of takfir already much farther than their already infamously wide definition.
This fatwa, which was controversially recently rescinded, claimed that Muslims who did not publicly condemn and proclaim that ISIS's theological and military enemies as disbelievers, those Muslims themselves were also disbelievers.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been not officially confirmed to have been seen in public since in July 2014, but speculation has been raised about him appearing in other official ISIS photo releases as late as February 2016, where he was allegedly spotting giving out prizes for a Qur'an memorization competition in Fallujah.