ISTANBUL — ISIS has fought back against recent reports that its leader has been incapacitated by injury by releasing a surprise new audio message from Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of its self-styled caliphate.
The message itself, released on Thursday, contained little in the way of ground-breaking news: Baghdadi called on Muslims worldwide to join ISIS, as he has done before.
Instead, it seemed designed mainly to counter swirling speculation that Baghdadi was badly injured in a U.S. airstrike in Iraq earlier this year. Though the U.S. government has denied it, reports in the Guardian have said Baghdadi was gravely wounded in a strike in March and has been forced to give up day-to-day control over the organization. Additional reports have furthered the narrative, while the Iraqi government said Wednesday that ISIS' number two was killed in another strike, which the U.S. government also denied.
Despite the surge of publicity surrounding the audio message, it proves nothing definitive about Baghdadi's health. Baghdadi gave no indication of the date in his remarks, although he did mention a Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen, which launched in late March. Analysts were still working to determine if the voice in the message was truly his.
The confusion surrounding the murky leader's status promised only to continue — likely until either the U.S. or ISIS puts forward new information to clarify his status.