Iraq crisis: Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi pictured for first time after declaring himself head of Islamic caliphate

Al-Baghdadi is seen leading prayers at the mosque in Mosul

Lizzie Dearden
Sunday 06 July 2014 00:43 BST
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi speaking at the Grand Mosque in Mosul
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi speaking at the Grand Mosque in Mosul (YouTube)

The leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) has made his first official public appearance, ordering Muslims to obey him after declaring himself the head of an Islamic caliphate.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was seen leading prayers at the Grand Mosque in Mosul in the video, believed to have been taken on Friday.

The elusive leader has previously been pictured in few photographs and was thought to have gone into hiding.

According to AFP, he told worshippers at the mosque: "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.

"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 mosque was packed with men of all ages - some in traditional dress, some wearing football shirts and tracksuit bottoms.

Isis wants to be known just as the “Islamic State” and claims Baghdadi as the only legitimate successor to the Prophet Mohammed.

He became head of al-Qa’ida in Iraq in 2010 after its former leaders were killed in an attack by US and Iraqi troops and is believed to be well-educated, with degrees in Islamic Studies.

The Iraqi army has failed to slow the advance of Isis from northern Iraq, prompting the Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, to shake up the security forces.

The chief of the army’s ground forces and head of the federal police were removed from their posts on Saturday but no replacements have been named.

Iraqi soldiers in the city of Mosul and across much of the country's north melted away in the face of the Isis, leaving Shia volunteers to attempt to defend their towns.

The Prime Minister has already retired several senior army figures and vowed to bring the full weight of military law, including the execution of deserters, on anyone found to have fled battles.

Isis extremists have destroyed at least 10 ancient shrines and Shia mosques in territory they have seized in northern Iraq, according images posted online and witnesses.

The death toll of the group's bloody campaign cannot be counted but atrocities including summary killings, beheadings, crucifixions and massacres have been reported.

The movement ascribes violently to Sunni Islam and considers Shias heretics, and the veneration of saints apostasy.

Additional reporting by AP

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