The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) published on Saturday a video that purports to show its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi who declared himself recently as the “caliph” of all Muslims around the world.
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The hitherto elusive Baghdadi made his appeal in a sermon delivered on Friday in the militant-held northern Iraqi city of Mosul.
“I am the wali (leader) who presides over you, though I am not the best of you, so if you see that I am right, assist me,” he said, wearing a black turban and robe.
“If you see that I am wrong, advise me and put me on the right track, and obey me as long as I obey God in you.”
The video was released on at least two websites known to be used by the group, but it was not possible to independently verify whether the person shown was indeed the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. It bore the logo of al-Furqan, the group’s media arm, Associated Press reported.
The video is the first ever official appearance by Baghdadi, according to Aymenn al-Tamimi, an expert on Islamist movements, though the jihadist leader may have appeared in a 2008 video under a different name, APF reported.
“The mujahedeen have been rewarded victory by God after years of jihad, and they were able to achieve their aim and hurried to announce the caliphate and choose the Imam,” he says in the video, referring to the leader.
“It is a burden to accept this responsibility to be in charge of you,” he adds. “I am not better than you or more virtuous than you. If you see me on the right path, help me. If you see me on the wrong path, advise me and halt me. And obey me as far as I obey God.”
He is dressed in black robes and a black turban, has dark eyes, thick eyebrows and a full black beard. He speaks eloquent classical Arabic, but with little emotion.
The mosque has several dozen men and boys standing for prayer, and a flag of the black Islamic State group is hoisted in the mosque. One man stands guard, with a gun holster under his arm.
At the beginning of the video, the man purported to be al-Baghdadi slowly climbs the pulpit in the great mosque in Iraq’s second-largest city of Mosul, which al-Baghdadi’s group captured last month. Then the call to prayer is made as he cleans his teeth with a miswak, a special type of stick that devout Muslims use to clean their teeth and freshen their breath.
The Iraqi government has said the video was falsified. “We have analyzed the footage … and found it is a farce,” Interior Ministry spokesman Brigadier General Saad Maan told Reuters
Maan said government forces had recently wounded al-Baghdadi in an air strike and that he had been transferred by ISIS militants to Syria for medical treatment. He declined to give further details and there was no way to confirm the claim independently.
However, a senior Iraqi intelligence official told Associated Press that after an initial analysis the man in the video is believed to indeed be al-Baghdadi. The official said the arrival of a large convoy in Mosul around midday Friday coincided with the blocking of cellular networks in the area. He says the cellular signal returned after the convoy departed.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.
A Mosul resident confirmed that mobile networks were down around the time of Friday prayers, and then returned a few hours later. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of fears for his safety.
Another aspect of the rule al-Baghdadi envisions was made clear in a series of images that emerged online late Saturday showing the destruction of at least 10 ancient shrines and Shiite mosques in territory his group controls.
The 21 photographs posted on a website that frequently carries official statements from the Islamic State extremist group document the destruction in Mosul and the town of Tal Afar. Some of the photos show bulldozers plowing through walls, while others show explosives demolishing the buildings in a cloud of smoke and rubble.
Residents from both Mosul and Tal Afar confirmed the destruction of the sites.