- Our Town
Iraq analyzing tape purported to show top militant
By Sinan Salaheddin, The Associated Press
BAGHDAD - Iraqi officials are working to determine the authenticity of a video that purportedly shows the leader of the Islamic extremist group that has seized large swaths of the country delivering a sermon this week in the nation's second-largest city, authorities said Sunday.
The 21-minute 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 the northern city of Mosul. It was released on at least two websites known to be used by the organization and bore the logo of its media arm.
Iraqi military spokesman Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi told reporters Sunday the country's security services are still analyzing the 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 militants 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.
Over the past month, al-Baghdadi's fighters have overrun much of northern and western Iraq, adding to the territory they already control in neighbouring Syria. The Sunni group's initial surge in Iraq has crested, at least for now, having grabbed most of Iraq's predominantly Sunni Arab regions and reaching majority Shiite areas.
One of the main battlefronts now is the country's largest oil refinery near Beiji, some 250 kilometres (155 miles) north of Baghdad, where government forces are besieged by Islamic State group fighters.
Al-Moussawi, the military spokesman, said security forces repelled an overnight attack on the facility, killing around 20 militants and damaging eight vehicles.