The Islamic State extremist group on Thursday released what it said was an audio recording of its leader, Abu Bakr Baghdadi, a move apparently intended to counter rumors of his death and rally followers after recent battlefield losses.
If true, it would be the first communication from the reclusive militant leader in nearly a year.
The Russian Defense Ministry said in June that there was a "high probability" that Baghdadi was killed in a Russian airstrike near the Syrian city of Raqqah, the capital of Islamic State's self-declared caliphate and its operations hub. But U.S. Defense Secretary James N. Mattis and other senior Pentagon officials later said that they believed Baghdadi was still alive and that U.S. forces would continue to search for him.
The date of the new recording is not clear, but it contains a reference to North Korean nuclear threats against the United States and Japan, which suggests that it could be recent. It was released by Islamic State's Al Furqan media outlet, and the voice heard is similar to previous recordings of Baghdadi.
The militant leader's last recorded message came in November, just weeks after Iraqi forces, supported by U.S. airstrikes, launched a campaign to recapture the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, the largest to fall to Islamic State.
Since then, the militants have been steadily losing territory, including Mosul and parts of Raqqah, which has been under assault by a U.S.-backed alliance of Syrian Kurdish and Arab militias since the summer.
In the 46-minute recording, the group's leader praises followers for their fierce defense of Mosul, exhorting them to remain steadfast and not to speak of "submission or defeat or negotiation or surrender."
He also urges Sunni Muslims in Iraq, Syria and Yemen to rise up and fight against Shiites, whom the group views as apostates.
Despite Islamic State's losses, its fighters continue to strike back, including this week in the Iraqi city of Ramadi, which was declared liberated in 2015. The group has also inspired attacks as far away as London; Paris; Barcelona, Spain; and San Bernardino, many of which were carried out by sympathizers who never traveled to Syria.
"The Americans and the Russians and the Europeans now live in terror in their countries," Baghdadi says in the recording.
He urges followers around the world to intensify and expand their strikes.
"Make the disbeliever media centers and the headquarters of their ideological wars among your targets," he says in an apparent reference to Western media outlets. "Do not let the crusaders and apostates enjoy a good life or a pleasant living in the middle of their countries while your brothers are experiencing bombardment, killing and destruction."
U.S. military and intelligence agencies are examining the recording to determine its veracity.
Bulos is a special correspondent. Times staff writer W.J. Hennigan in Washington contributed to this report.
3:30 p.m.: This article was updated throughout with staff reporting.