The leader of the Islamic State extremist group in his first purported audio recording in a year is urging his followers to keep fighting the group's enemies around the world despite recent defeats.
The 54-minute audio was released by the group's media arm, al-Furqan Foundation, late on August 22.
Conflicting reports have emerged on the whereabouts of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and whether he is dead or alive. His group has lost 90 percent of the territory it once controlled in Iraq and Syria, where Baghdadi declared a caliphate in June 2014.
Baghdadi's last audio message in September 2017 called on his followers to kill enemies everywhere using whatever weapons are available, and IS has claimed numerous attacks around the world since then.
In the latest recording, Baghdadi mentions current events, including the Muslim al-Ahda feast and Turkey's row with the United States over its detention of an American pastor. If the voice on the audio is confirmed to be that of Baghdadi, that would disprove reports of his death.
Baghdadi says that "America is going through the worse time in its entire existence" and says Russia is competing with the United States for influence in the Middle East.
He also criticizes rebel surrenders in southern Syria to President Bashar Assad's forces, calling them traitors and urging fighters to join his group instead. He warns that Syria's Idlib Province -- the last stronghold of rebel forces -- is about to fall to an invasion by Russian and Syrian forces.
Baghdadi has only appeared in public once -- in 2014 in the Iraqi city of Mosul. There have been recurring reports of his death, but U.S. military officials have said they believe he is still alive.
Baghdadi's whereabouts are unknown but he is believed to be hiding in the desert along the Syrian-Iraqi border.