ISIS leader declares ‘Islam was never a religion of peace. Islam is the religion of fighting’ as he calls on Muslims to ‘fight for the Caliphate’ in new audio message
15 May 2015
- Message purportedly from Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, not heard from in months
Says: 'Islam was never a religion of peace. Islam is the religion of fighting'
- Ancient city of Palmyra, a world heritage site, under threat of destruction given
ISISvandalised treasures of Nimrud and Hatra in Iraq
- Extremists now barely a mile from gates of ancient world cultural centre
The leader of Islamic State has declared 'Islam is the religion of fighting' in a rare audio message which called on all Muslims to 'fight for the caliphate'.
Islamic State released the message yesterday claiming it was from its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as the extremist group executed 26 civilians before reaching the gates of an ancient Syrian city amid fears they could destroy it.
The audio message posted on militant websites features a voice that sounds like al-Baghdadi's exhorting all Muslims to take up arms and fight on behalf of the group's self-styled caliphate.
In it the leader, who had not been seen or heard from in months, said: 'Islam was never a religion of peace. Islam is the religion of fighting. No one should believe that the war that we are waging is the war of the Islamic State.'
'It is the war of all Muslims, but the Islamic State is spearheading it,' he said. 'It is the war of Muslims against infidels.
'O Muslims go to war everywhere. It is the duty of every Muslim.
It was not immediately possible to verify whether the voice was al-Baghdadi's.
The last audio message purportedly from the Iraqi-born fanatic came in November, days after Iraqi officials said he was wounded in an airstrike on a town near the Syrian border.
Al-Baghdadi has only appeared in public once, in a video showing him delivering a Friday sermon in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul last July, shortly after it was captured by his group.
In the latest message, al-Baghdadi blasted Arab rulers, calling them 'guarding dogs' and saying the war in Yemen will lead to the end of the Saudi royal family's rule.
The militants beheaded 10 of their victims as they advanced to the gates of the world heritage site today, raising fears it could face destruction of the kind the jihadists have already wreaked on similar sites in Iraq.
As it overran nearby villages, IS executed the victims for 'collaborating with the regime,' the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Syria's head of antiquities issued an urgent appeal for international action to save Palmyra, saying extremist militants were less than two kilometres (barely a mile) from the remains of one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world.
The world 'must mobilise before, not after, the destruction of the artefacts' at the site, Mamoun Abdulkarim said in a telephone call.
'IS has not entered the city yet, and we hope these barbarians will never enter,' he said.
'But if IS enters Palmyra, it will be destroyed and it will be an international catastrophe,' Abdulkarim added.
UNESCO describes Palmyra as a heritage site of 'outstanding universal value'.
The ancient city stood on a caravan route at the crossroads of several civilisations and its 1st and 2nd century temples and colonnaded streets mark a unique blend of Graeco-Roman and Persian influences.
Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said the city was 'under threat' as fierce fighting and shelling continued on its eastern edges amid a regime counter-offensive.
The jihadist advance on the well-preserved remains came as an international conference was underway in Cairo to address destruction already wreaked by IS on the ancient sites of Nimrud and Hatra in Iraq.
Foreign affairs and antiquities officials from 11 Arab countries gathered in Egypt to condemn the jihadists' demolition of Iraq's heritage with sledgehammers, bulldozers and high explosives.
Abdulkarim said Syria's antiquities officials would try to ensure the safety of artefacts found in Palmyra's archaeological digs over the years and now housed in an adjacent museum.
'We can protect the statues and artefacts, but we cannot protect the architecture, the temples,' he said.
'IS will just destroy it from the outside.'
Abdulkarim said he had no doubt that if Palmyra fell to the jihadists, it would suffer a similar fate to ancient Nimrud, which they blew up earlier this year.
'If IS enters Palmyra, it will spell its destruction... It will be a repetition of the barbarism and savagery which we saw in Nimrud, Hatra and Mosul.'
It would not be the first time that government troops have lost control of Palmyra. Rebels held the site from February to September 2013 before the regime recaptured it.
One of the ancient city's masterpieces, the Temple of Baal, suffered some damage during the accompanying artillery exchanges.
But those rebels did not share the fanatical devotion of IS to demolishing all of the region's pre-Islamic heritage.
There was ferocious fighting as the jihadists overran the town of Al-Sukhnah on Wednesday in their drive across the desert towards Palmyra.
Syria's official news agency reported that military aircraft had destroyed IS vehicles near Al-Sukhnah and that army units 'killed IS terrorists' in the area.
Provincial governor Talal Barazi said that 1,800 families who had fled the advancing jihadists were being sheltered in reception centres in the adjacent modern town of Tadmur.
Both sides suffered heavy losses in the battle for Al-Sukhnah, including senior commanders, the Observatory said.
The army lost 70 men, including six officers. IS lost 55 men, including two commanders, one of them the leader of the offensive.
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