Islamic State ‘caliph’ delivers video sermon

There are doubts about the authenticity of the shadowy militant's address, which was released on two websites used by the group.

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BAGHDAD // A video posted online on Saturday purports to show the leader of the Islamic State extremist group that has overrun much of Syria and Iraq delivering a sermon at a mosque in Mosul, in what would be a rare – if not the first — public appearance by the shadowy militant.

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.

There were conflicting claims about the authenticity of the video.

The Iraqi government said the man in the video was “indisputably” not Al Baghdadi

“We have analysed the footage ... and found it is a farce,” said Brigadier General Saad Maan, the interior ministry spokesman.

He said government forces had recently wounded Mr Al Baghdadi in an air raid and he had been transferred by Islamic State militants to Syria for medical treatment.

However, a senior Iraqi intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that after an initial analysis the man in the video is believed to indeed be Mr Al Baghdadi.

The official said the arrival of a large convoy in Mosul around midday on Friday coincided with the blocking of mobile phone networks in the area. The signal returned after the convoy departed, he said.

The Islamic State has seized control of a vast swath of land straddling Syria and Iraq and last week declared the establishment of an Islamic state, or caliphate, in those territories. It proclaimed Mr Al Baghdadi the leader and demanded that all Muslims pledge allegiance to him.

“The mujahideen 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,” the man purported to be Mr Al Baghdadi says in the video.

“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 spoke in eloquent classical Arabic, but with little emotion.

The Islamic State has imposed a strict version of sharia in areas under its control, with severe punishments meted out to offenders.

The Sunni extremists consider Shiites heretics, and the veneration of saints apostasy.

The group has destroyed at least 10 ancient shrines and Shiite mosques in Mosul and the town of Tal Afar, according to photographs posted on Saturday on a website that frequently carries its official statements.

The photographs showed the sites being destroyed by bulldozers or with explosives.

Residents from both Mosul and Tal Afar confirmed the destruction of the sites.

* Associated Press and Reuters