Islamic State group leader rallies his fighters in Mosul

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Children play next to a burning oil field in Qayara, Iraq, near Mosul on Thursday. A senior military 
commander says more than 5,000 civilians have been evacuated from newly retaken eastern parts of the Islamic State 
group-held city of Mosul and taken to camps.

ASSOCIATED PRESS Children play next to a burning oil field in Qayara, Iraq, near Mosul on Thursday. A senior military commander says more than 5,000 civilians have been evacuated from newly retaken eastern parts of the Islamic State group-held city of Mosul and taken to camps.

IRBIL, Iraq (AP) — The shadowy leader of the Islamic State group 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, distributed by the militant group’s al-Furqan media arm late on Wednesday. It was not clear when the recording was produced. Al-Baghdadi’s whereabouts are unknown.

Iraqi special forces stormed into Mosul’s eastern outskirts on Tuesday after two weeks of advances through surrounding IS-held territory. They continued to consolidate their foothold in the eastern district of Gogjali despite a pair of attempted car bomb attacks on their positions Thursday.

The city of more than one million people and the surrounding territory fell to IS fighters during the militant group’s 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.

In his 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 U.S. organization that monitors militant activity online, which reported the al-Baghdadi recording first.

“Totally decimate their territories, and make their blood flow like rivers,” al-Baghdadi also says.

Hours after his call, an explosives-laden vehicle sped out of an IS-controlled area in Mosul and attacked Iraqi special forces positioned in the city’s easternmost Gogjali neighborhood on Thursday. The special forces fired a rocket that blew up the car, killing the attacker.

A second suicide attacker also emerged from the same area, the more central Samah district, Brig. Gen. Haider Fadhil said, but that vehicle managed to get away. Islamic State group fighters were also using explosives-laden drone aircraft, he said, adding that the militants had deployed two since the previous night but that both had been destroyed.

Troops in Mosul are stationed in the far east of the city, and have yet to push deep into the densely packed urban areas less than a mile away.

Iraqi forces continued to consolidate their gains into the evening, hunting for any IS fighters who may have stayed behind, checking houses and streets for booby traps, and handling an influx of hundreds of people who fled IS-held territory deeper in the city.

The commander of the Joint Military Operation Command, Lt. Gen. Talib Shaghati, told reporters on Thursday that more than 5,000 civilians have been evacuated to nearby camps since Wednesday from Gogjali and surrounding areas.

Inside Gogjali, security forces fired into the air to disperse civilians who were standing in a line to receive aid materials distributed by the Ministry of Migration and Displacement, concerned that large groups of people could be targets of militant attacks.

In his recording, al-Baghdadi also urges Islamic State militants elsewhere to carry out attacks in Saudi Arabia, whose leadership IS opposes, and Turkey, which has deployed troops and artillery north of Mosul and is training Sunni Arab and Kurdish forces there.