So-called Islamic State (IS) leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has called on his followers to “head towards” the group’s stronghold in Syria, Raqqa, as the city comes under continued pressure from US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a war monitor has said.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported on Monday that jihadists have confiscated boats used by civilians between the north and south banks of the Euphrates River and prevented tens of families from crossing into areas controlled by the SDF.
According to SOHR, militants have also fortified positions in the north of Raqqa, ahead of an expected onslaught into the centre of the city by Kurdish-Arab-led SDF.
The preparations come in conjunction with sermons read in mosques in Raqqa and Deir Ezzor to “motivate Muslims and incite them to fight,” several local sources confirmed to SOHR.
Based on a book attributed to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the sermons included, “incitement for Muslims living in the territories of the Islamic Caliphate to alert and head towards al-Raqqa to repel the attack of atheist Kurds, the Crusader Coalition and agents of the Cross on it,” SOHR reported.
According to US sources, President Donald Trump is expected to inform Turkey, which has blocked the final assault on Raqqa, that the US-led International Coalition will go ahead with the operation with Kurdish-led forces.
Ankara has tried to push for Turkish-backed rebel groups to lead the capture of Raqqa, arguing that the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the main force in the SDF, is affiliated to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), therefore a “terrorist group”.