Isil's leader urges Mosul jihadists to fight to death
The leader of Isil has released a new message urging his followers to keep up the fight for Mosul as they defend the city against a major offensive aimed at routing the militants from their last urban stronghold in Iraq.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's rallying cry came in a sermon-like recording, more than half an hour long, released by the militant group's al-Furqan media arm late on Wednesday. It was not clear when the recording was produced and al-Baghdadi's whereabouts are unknown.
Iraqi special forces stormed into Mosul's eastern outskirts on Tuesday after two weeks of advances through surrounding Isil-held territory.
In the recording, al-Baghdadi rallies his fighters - especially in Mosul - and calls on them to obey orders while remaining resilient and steadfast.
"Oh you who seek martyrdom! Start your actions! Turn the night of the disbelievers into day," he says, according to a translation provided by the Site Intelligence Group, a US organisation that monitors militant activity online and was first to report the al-Baghdadi recording.
"Totally decimate their territories, and make their blood flow like rivers," al-Baghdadi adds.
He urges others to carry out attacks in Saudi Arabia, whose leadership Isil opposes, and Turkey, which has deployed troops and artillery north of Mosul and is training Sunni Arab and Kurdish forces there.
The recording was the reclusive al-Baghdadi's first released message to supporters since Iraqi forces launched the decisive battle to retake Mosul, the country's second-largest city, from Isil. In it, he attempts to harness the feelings of Sunni disenfranchisement which preceded the 2014 Isil takeover of Mosul, a largely Sunni city in Shiite-majority Iraq.
Using a derogatory term for Shiites, he says followers of the Muslim sect want to "empty Iraq of Sunnis and replace them with the worst of people". He calls on fighters to "respond to all attacks" and to "target all in their media and forces, and all who belong to them".
The audio message could not be independently verified, though the speaker's voice and style of delivery sounded like that in previous recordings of al-Baghdadi.
Isil is fighting to hold Mosul as Iraqi forces and allied Kurdish forces advance on the city from multiple directions with US-led coalition support. It is the Iraqi military's largest offensive since the 2003 US-led invasion.
The city of more than one million people and surrounding territory fell to Isil fighters during a surprise attack in June 2014. Al-Baghdadi visited the city soon after the takeover, and from inside Mosul declared an Islamic caliphate that at one point covered nearly a third of Iraq and Syria.