As ISIS fends off ground attacks around places like Ramadi and airstrikes by U.S., Russian and other forces, its leader purportedly fired back in an audio message that surfaced online Saturday, mocking the Western coalition aligned against him, threatening Israel and trying to boost his own forces’ morale.
“Soldiers of the Islamic State be patient because you are on the right path,” says the man, who is identified on ISIS-affiliated social media accounts as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. “Be patient, because God is with you.”
CNN could not independently verify the man speaking is indeed Baghdadi, the much-reviled head of the group that calls itself the Islamic State.
He isn’t often heard from or seen, the last such example coming last May in a reported online audio statement — a reclusiveness that could be traced to the fact he’s a wanted man for leading fighters in carrying out atrocities and taking over swaths of Syria and Iraq, not to mention inspiring or pulling off attacks elsewhere in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
Regardless, those who posted the audio message that appeared Saturday appeared to believe it came from Baghdadi. And it has a marker consistent with other ISIS media and was produced by the group’s al-Furqan Media wing.
It’s not clear when the 24-minute tape was recorded, as it makes no reference to recent ISIS-related operations such as the terror attacks in Paris or the downing of a Russian commercial jet out of Egypt.
The speech appears to focus mostly on ISIS fighters, trying to boost their spirits in the face of ongoing fighting, according to analysts.
Yet there are also references to the U.S.-led coalition, which has carried out airstrikes in Iraq and Syria against ISIS but has not dispatched combat troops — something that the man attributes to armed conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
He also promises a battle aimed at Israel and in support of Palestinians, who have been in conflict for centuries in the Middle East.
“The Jews think we forget about it and got distracted from it,” the ISIS leader purportedly said. “No, oh Jews. We have not forgotten Palestine and never will.”
Iraqi forces gain ground in Ramadi
Iraqi military forces and counterterror units have gained control of Ramadi’s al-Huz district, 500 meters (550 yards) south of the ISIS-held government compound in central Ramadi, the Iraqi Joint Operation Command said Saturday.
The assault on ISIS also came from the air.
An Iraqi Air Force strike targeting ISIS headquarters in the city in central Iraq reportedly killed Omar Sami Bedaiwi al-Issawi, ISIS’ top security official for the nearby city of Falluja. He had been fighting in Ramadi.
The news comes after fierce clashes to recapture the district from ISIS and clear it of a large number of booby traps.
Iraqi troops also have advanced to Ramadi Dam, about 1.2 kilometers (three-quarters of a mile) from ISIS’ compound, giving Iraqi security forces control of the important road that stretches between Ramadi Dam and the Albu Faraj area in the city’s north.
Iraqi security forces rescued 120 Iraqi families trapped by the fighting, officials said. Families were taken to Habbaniyah, where the Iraqi Red Crescent Society is looking after them.
Iraqi forces are also closing in on Falluja, Anbar province’s second-largest city, the Iraqi Joint Operation Command said.
Progress for Syrian rebels
The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces seized control of the Tishrin Dam on the Euphrates River in northern Syria after clashes with ISIS fighters, the rebel group said Saturday on its website.
Tishrin Dam is about 22 kilometers (14 miles) north of the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa.
The SDF claimed other victories in northern Syria, saying its forces took over eight villages since Friday night.