The leader of the self-declared Islamic State issued a defiant message to the West, warning “crusaders” not to dare fight on his turf.
In a rare public statement – his first in seven months – Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi said Western countries had “learned from” previous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Crusaders and Jews don’t dare to come on the ground because they were defeated in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said in a 23-minute long audio message released through an Isil-run internet account.
The message – dubbed an “alternative Christmas broadcast” on social media – appeared to be an effort to rally Isil followers against the growing number of enemies arrayed against them.
The leader, who has rarely been pictured and has not been heard from since he was believed to have been injured in an airstrike by Iraqi forces in October, Russian or US-led airstrikes had failed to weaken the group, which was only “expanding and getting stronger”.
“Be confident that God will grant victory to those who worship him, and hear the good news that our state is doing well. The more intense the war against it, the purer it becomes and the tougher it gets,” he said.
He also called on Saudi citizens – the second biggest contributor to Isil ranks – to “rise up” against their government as he dimissed the kingdom’s newly formed Muslim coalition against the caliphate.
He also said Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) would soon be in Palestine to establish an Islamic state there. “Jews, soon you shall hear from us in Palestine which will become your grave,” the voice, purporting to be Baghdadi, is heard saying.
“The Jews thought we forgot Palestine and that they had distracted us from it,” he says in the recording. “Not at all, Jews. We did not forget Palestine for a moment. With the help of Allah, we will not forget it… The pioneers of the jihadist fighters will surround you on a day that you think is distant and we know is close. We are getting closer every day.”
Baghdadi had reportedly been seriously injured in a Iraqi airstrike in October.
The leader is thought to constantly move between Isil’s strongholds of Raqqa, northeastern Syria, and Mosul, in Iraq, in a bid to avoid airstrikes.
In the statement titled “Wait for we as well are waiting with you”, Bagdadi boasted that the group had fought off advances in both Syria and Iraq.
The militant Sunni Islamist group controls swathes of Iraq and Syria but has come under intensifying military pressure in recent weeks.
On Saturday, Isil suffered a major blow after a US-backed alliance of Syrian Kurds and Arab rebel groups, backed by coalition planes, captured a dam from its fighters, cutting a main supply route of the militants across the Euphrates.
Colonel Talal Selo said the rapid advance overnight by thousands of troops from the Democratic Forces of Syria had brought the dam, 15 miles upstream from the militants’ de facto capital Raqqa, under their control on Saturday afternoon.
Since the US-backed alliance was formed last October, its fighters have opened several major offensives against Islamic State with the ultimate goal of capturing Raqqa.