After Islamic State (ISIS) reported on Sunday that an airstrike the day before had wounded its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and amid speculation that the terrorist may have been eliminated, ISIS on Thursday released an audio recording of him speaking to dispel the rumors that he was taken out.
In the recording, which was distributed on social media and which appears to be authentic and recent according to analysts, al-Baghdadi can be heard saying ISIS will not stop "even if only one soldier remains."
The 17-minute-long recording does not refer to the strike on al-Baghdadi, but it does refer to US President Barack Obama's decision since that strike to authorize up to 1,500 more US troops to be deployed to Iraq.
Al-Baghdadi in the recording says the target of his group is Rome, the capital of Italy and the seat of the Vatican. ISIS has made its intentions to target the location as a symbol of Christianity known in the past, and intel hinting the group was planning to assassinate Pope Francis in September led security to be beefed up at the site.
In the message, Baghdadi - who has declared himself "Caliph Ibrahim," called on ISIS supporters to "erupt volcanoes of jihad" wherever they were, and particularly calling for attack in Saudi Arabia, which he branded "the head of the snake." Baghdadi derided those opposed to the group "Jews, Crusaders, apostates... [and] devils."
The release of the recording comes as the US is weighing its steps in leading a coalition against ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey on Thursday told the Congress that 80,000 additional Iraqi security force troops would be needed to retake the stretches of Iraqi territory captured by ISIS.
"I'm not predicting at this point that I would recommend that those forces in Mosul and along the border would need to be accompanied by US forces, but we're certainly considering it," Dempsey said.