ISIS leader unbowed by Mosul battle in purported recording
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi calls for invasion of Turkey, says pitched battle is 'prelude to victory'
ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi expressed confidence in victory, in his first message after U.S.-backed Iraqi forces started an offensive to take back Mosul, the last major city under control of his group in Iraq.
He also called on ISIS fighters to invade Turkey.
"This raging battle and total war, and the great jihad that the state of Islam is fighting today only increases our firm belief, God willing, and our conviction that all this is a prelude to victory," he said in an audio recording released online by supporters on Thursday.
The authenticity of the 31-minute-long recording, released by the militant group's al-Furqan media arm late on Wednesday, could not be verified. It was not clear when the recording was produced and al-Baghdadi's whereabouts are unknown.
The previous message purportedly coming from Baghdadi was from December 2015, an audio recording that reassured followers and supporters that airstrikes by Russia and the U.S.-led coalition had failed to weaken the group in Syria.
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Baghdadi, an Iraqi whose real name is Ibrahim al-Samarrai, called on the population of Mosul's Nineveh province "not to weaken in the jihad" against the "enemies of God."
He also called on the group's suicide fighters to "turn the nights of the unbelievers into days, to wreak havoc in their land and make their blood flow as rivers."
The battle that started on Oct. 17 with air and ground support from a U.S.-led coalition is shaping up as the largest in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion of 2003.
Mosul still has a population of 1.5 million people, much more than any of the other cities captured by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria two years ago in Iraq and neighbouring Syria.
Baghdadi told Islamic State's fighters to "unleash the fire of their anger" on Turkish troops fighting them in Syria, and to take the battle into Turkey.
"Turkey today entered your range of action and the aim of your jihad ... invade it and turn its safety into fear."
Battles on many fronts
ISIS has been retreating since last year in both Iraq and Syria, in the face of a myriad of different forces.
In Iraq, it is fighting U.S.-backed Iraqi government and Kurdish forces, and Iranian-backed Iraqi Shia militias.
In Syria, it is fighting Turkish-backed Syrian rebels opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters as well as Russian- and Iranian-backed Syrian army units loyal to Assad and foreign Shia militias.
Baghadi told his followers to launch "attack after attack" in Saudi Arabia, targeting security forces, government officials, members of the ruling Al Saud family and media outlets, for "siding with the infidel nations in the war on Islam and the Sunna (Sunni Muslims) in Iraq and Syria."
Islamic State's leader also said "the caliphate was not affected'' by the death of some of its senior commanders, mentioning Abu Muhammad al-Adnani and Abu Muhammad al-Furqan, both killed earlier this year in U.S. airstrikes.
In response to Baghadi's statements, the White House said on Thursday no propaganda can change the reality that the militant group continues to lose ground week after week.
White House spokesman Eric Shultz said the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition has "put these terrorists on a path to lasting defeat."
Schultz said two years ago, Baghadi announced a "phony caliphate" from Mosul's Great Mosque, but "today, his is in hiding unable to show his face in public."
U.S. soldiers began operating from a military base near Mosul on Thursday as the battle to recapture the city intensified.
The troops also have another base, referred to as Q-West by American forces near Qayyara. Q-West is considered the main staging ground for some 1,000 troops from the U.S.-led coalition along with thousands from the Iraqi army and federal police.
With files from The Associated Press