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IS Releases Purported Audio Message From Top Leader

FILE - This image taken from a militant website July 5, 2014, purports to show the leader of the Islamic State group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Islamic State on Thursday released an audio tape of what it says is a message from its top leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, which, if authenticated, would make it the first communication from the terrorist leader in nearly a year.

It is unknown when the audio was recorded, though Baghdadi references North Korean threats against the United States and Japan, which may indicate it was produced recently.

Most of the 46-minute recording, which was released by the Al-Furqan news organization, consists of Baghdadi reciting religious scriptures.

If the voice of Baghdadi is confirmed, it would appear to contradict Russian claims that a June airstrike near the Syrian city of Raqqa killed the reclusive leader. Russia has previously said there is a “high probability” Baghdadi died in the airstrike.

U.S. officials, though, said later they believe Baghdadi is still alive.

The last recorded speech from Baghdadi was issued in early November 2016, two weeks after the start of the battle for Mosul. Since then, U.S.-backed forces have overrun most of the areas held by IS jihadists, including in Mosul.