Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has only been seen in public once and has not been heard from in months, with some reports suggesting he had died.
But now an audio recording has emerged purporting to contain a message from the ISIL leader.
The unverified recording criticises the Saudi-led air strikes in Yemen and includes a call to arms for the militant group’s self-styled caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria.
“Islam was never a religion of peace,” the voice announces. “Islam is the religion of fighting.”
It came on the back of an unconfirmed report that ISIL’s second-in-command, Abu Alaa al-Afari, had been killed in northern Iraq.
The recording was released as the UN Security Council met in New York to discuss the situation in Iraq. At the meeting, council members were told of a deepening humanitarian crisis in the country.
Valerie Amos, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said:
“Next month will mark one year since the attack on Mosul and the spread of ISIL in the country. Reports indicate the deteriorating conditions in these areas, including diminishing access to clean water, medical care and food. People are becoming more and more cut off from the rest of the country, with reports that many are now not allowed to freely leave these areas.”
Mohamed Ali Alhakim, Iraq’s permanent representative to the UN, said fighters from 62 nations had travelled to Iraq to fight on behalf of ISIL.