Self-proclaimed caliph and one of the world’s most wanted men Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has made an unprecedented appearance in the Iraqi city of Mosul, which his forces captured last month, ordering Muslims to obey him.
It marks a significant change for the shadowy jihadist whose Islamic State (IS) group led a lighting offensive that has overrun swathes of five provinces north and west of Baghdad.
The onslaught has alarmed world leaders, displaced hundreds of thousands and piled pressure on Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki as he seeks a third term in office following April elections.
A video of the appearance shows a portly man clad in a long black robe and a black turban with a long greying beard addressing worshippers at weekly prayers at Al-Nur mosque in central 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,” said the man, purportedly Baghdadi.
“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.”
Text superimposed on the video identified the man as “Caliph Ibrahim,” the name Baghdadi took when the group declared on June 29 a “caliphate,” a pan-Islamic state last seen in Ottoman times in which the leader is both political and religious.
The video is the first ever official appearance by Baghdadi, says Aymenn al-Tamimi, an expert on Islamist movements, though the jihadist leader may have appeared in a 2008 video under a different name.
“God gave your mujahedeen brothers victory after long years of jihad and patience … so they declared the caliphate and placed the caliph in charge,” he said.
“This is a duty on Muslims that has been lost for centuries,” he added, sporting a long and slightly greying beard, as he addressed the faithful from the mosque’s pulpit.
Self-proclaimed caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has appeared in Mosul, Iraq ordering Muslims to obey him.
Baghdadi is believed to have been born in the Iraqi city of Samarra in 1971, and joined the insurgency against the US military following the 2003 invasion that ousted dictator Saddam Hussein.
He spent time in a US military prison and eventually took over leadership of a group, then affiliated with al-Qaeda and known as the Islamic State of Iraq, in 2010.
At the time, the group was believed to be on the ropes but Baghdadi led it back to prominence.
Last year, the organisation expanded into Syria, becoming a major player in the war to oust President Bashar al-Assad.
Baghdadi subsequently cut all ties to al-Qaeda and his influence now rivals that of that group’s global chief, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
IS is known for its brutality and executing and crucifying opponents. Photographs also emerged on Saturday showing its militants demolishing Sunni and Shi’ite mosques and shrines in Mosul and surrounding Nineveh province.
Iraqi security forces wilted when faced with the initial IS-led onslaught, and while they have since performed more capably, they have struggled to retake territory from insurgents.
An assault on Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit has gone on for more than a week without retaking the city, while a suicide car bomb killed 15 people on Friday near the sensitive shrine city of Samarra. [AFP]