The leader of the Islamic State, the militant group that recently declared a caliphate over swathes of Iraq and Syria, has purportedly called all Muslims to obey him in an online video released on Saturday.
The video posted to two websites used regularly by the group appears to show its elusive leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in his first-ever public appearance, speaking at the great mosque in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.
The man seen in the footage sporting a black turban and robe has not been independently verified as the shadowy militant leader. Speaking in classical Arabic, the man delivers a sermon stating the objectives and philosophy of the Islamic State, which late last month appointed al-Baghdadi as supreme leader of a self-declared caliphate (a medieval-style Islamic state) straddling Syria and Iraq.
"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, according to a translation provided by the Guardian. "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."
Video Credit: Islamic State
Iraqi authorities believe the video is authentic and the man shown is al-Baghdadi, an intelligence official told the Associated Press.
On midday Friday, cellular networks were blocked in the area as a large convoy arrived in Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, the unidentified official said. The networks returned to normal a few hours later, after the convoy left.
On June 29, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) declared the restoration of a strict Shariah law-governed caliphate in an area stretching from Diyala in Iraq to Aleppo, Syria.
The announcement made by ISIS's chief spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani called on al Qaeda and other Sunni militant forces to join the group, which he said would from now simply be called the "Islamic State."
The news came as US and Iraqi military forces battled to reclaim the strategic city of Tikrit from insurgents who overran the urban center earlier last month as part of an advancing offensive across northern and western Iraq.
In parts of the country, the violent clashes have sent the regular Iraqi army fleeing, forcing Shiite militia and volunteers to step up to fight and fill their posts.
On Saturday, the release of the video coincided with the removal of Iraq's head of federal police and commander of the army's ground forces by Iraqi Prime Minister Nour al-Maliki.
The two senior security force officials were removed as part of al-Maliki's vow to crackdown on a scattered military on the brink of collapse. Their forced retiring follows dismissal of three brigadier generals deployed in Mosul, which fell to militant forces in June.
Al-Maliki has also promised to court martial more unnamed senior military officials and execute any deserters found guilty of desertion.
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Image via YouTube/Souhman Azil