Al-Baghdadi’s speech was desperate bid to make a comeback: expert

By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo


This ISIS woman left al-Baghouz with her children and turned herself in to the Syrian Democratic Forces. ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has called for remnants of the group to 'free' families like this. [Photo courtesy of SDF Media Centre]

The latest speech by "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, delivered in an audio recording released Monday (September 16th), is just another desperate attempt to revive the group, a terror group expert said.

In the recording, which has been making the rounds on social media, the elusive ISIS leader calls on fighters who remain at large to return to the arena after the devastating blows the group has sustained in Iraq and Syria.

He also calls on them to break ISIS fighters and their families out of prison.

According to terror expert Wael Abdul-Muttalib, who analyzed the recording, the words and Qur'anic verses al-Baghdadi used in his speech imply that a large number of elements in the group’s ranks shirked from fighting.

This is noteworthy, he told Diyaruna, as al-Baghdadi used to portray his fighters as an invincible military force, and to claim that his soldiers had come of their own free will to fight, which is clearly no longer the case.

As for al-Baghdadi's call for attacks on prisons, Abdul-Muttalib described it as an "emotional appeal" to invoke a sense of "duty" among the group's remnants.

ISIS suffering from 'extreme weakness'

Behind the usual rhetoric, al-Baghdadi's speech -- the first in five months -- indicates the group is suffering from extreme weakness as a result of the successive strikes carried out against it, Abdul-Muttalib said.

He pointed out that the ISIS leader's latest message comes as security forces have succeeded in hunting down and arresting or killing a large number of ISIS remnants in Syria and Iraq, and amid fresh reports of al-Baghdadi's ill health.

Abdul-Muttalib also said it is interesting that al-Baghdadi appeared to be trying to win over other extremist elements or open lines of dialogue with elements of al-Qaeda and al-Nusra Front, which now makes up the core of Tahrir al-Sham.

He did this by referencing "unified raids", Abdul-Muttalib said.

But even if other extremists were open to recruitment by ISIS or to collaboration with the group, he added, this would be difficult in practice because extremist groups are increasingly fragmented.

The areas where they still have a presence are being carved up piece by piece, he noted, and there is well-documented infighting among the various extremist factions.

"Even the Idlib region is no longer safe for them, seeing as more than one terrorist group has been targeted by the international coalition," he said.

Targeted airstrikes have succeeded in killing a large number of extremists, he added, including known and influential leaders.

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