Iraq security agencies are working to verify the authenticity of a video that purportedly shows the elusive leader of the Sunni extremist group that has declared an Islamic state in a large chunk of territory it controls leading prayers this week in northern Iraq, authorities said.
The video said to show Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of the Islamic State group, was reportedly filmed on Friday at the Great Mosque in Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul. It was posted on at least two websites known to be used by the organization and bore the logo of its media arm.
The sermon in Mosul would the first public appearance for al-Baghdadi, a shadowy figure who has emerged as perhaps the preeminent figure in the international jihadi community. Al-Baghdadi, who has a $10 million U.S. bounty on his head, took over the group four years ago and has since transformed it from an al-Qaida affiliate focused on Iraq into an independent transnational force that controls of a huge stretch of land straddling the Syria-Iraq border.
Iraqi military spokesman Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi told reporters Sunday the country’s security services are still analyzing the 21-minute video to verify whether the speaker is indeed al-Baghdadi, and that the government will “announce the details once they are available.”
The purported appearance in Mosul, a city of some 2 million that the insurgents seized last month, came five days after al-Baghdadi’s group declared the establishment of an Islamic state, or caliphate, in the territories it has seized in Iraq and Syria. The group proclaimed al-Baghdadi the leader of its state and demanded that all Muslims pledge allegiance to him.
Wearing black robes and a black turban, the man in the video said to be al-Baghdadi urges his followers to jihad, and emphasizes the implementation of a strict interpretation of Islamic law. He strikes an almost humble tone, telling listeners: “I am not better than you or more virtuous than you.”
A senior Iraqi intelligence official told The Associated Press on Saturday that an initial analysis indicated that the man in the video is indeed al-Baghdadi. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.
The government carried out at least three airstrikes Sunday in Mosul, two of which hit the Rashidiyah neighborhood and one of which targeted the 17 Tammuz district, residents said. It was not clear whether the raids were related to the video.
A medical official in the city said seven people were killed and 30 wounded in one strike in Rashidiyah. Casualty figures were not immediately available for the other air raids.