Skip to main content

Video emerges of purported militant leader in Mosul preaching holy war

By Chelsea J. Carter and Hamdi Alkhshali, CNN
updated 6:14 PM EDT, Sat July 5, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Video refers to speaker as Al-Khalifah Ibrahim, a name he goes by with followers
  • NEW: Iraq and U.S. governments say they are looking into the video
  • Group says it's changing its name from Islamic State of Iraq and Syria to "Islamic State"
  • Very little is known about Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the so-called Islamic State

Baghdad, Iraq (CNN) -- A man purported to be the notorious leader of the so-called Islamic State appeared at a mosque in Mosul, calling on people to carry out a holy war, according to witnesses and a video posted to the extremist group's website.

A video promoted on social media sites tied to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria purports to show Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi leading Friday prayers at the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul, a move that comes weeks after ISIS seized control of Iraq's second-largest city.

If it is al-Baghdadi, it would be one of the first known appearances of the militant leader to be captured on video. Very few images have been made public of al-Baghdadi.

The Iraqi government has seen the video and is analyzing it, a spokesman in Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's office told CNN. The U.S. government also is looking into it.

In the video, the man purported to be al-Baghdadi urges people to follow his call to create a "caliphate," an Islamic state, in Iraq and Syria, and wage "jihad" during Ramadan -- the holy month of fasting for Muslims that began last week.

"God created us to worship him and spread his religion, and ordered us to fight his enemies for him and for religion," the man said.

During the sermon, the man said Muslims are sinners if they did not seek this goal of establishing an Islamic state.

Will al Qaeda fight ISIS Islamic state?

"I am being entrusted with this heavy burden and duty to be your imam, although I am not the best one among you," he said.

"Therefore, if you see me as righteous, you should help me and if you see me wrong, you should advise me and help me. Obey me as long as long as I obey God in ruling you. ...If I disobey God, then you are no longer obligated to obey me."

Al-Baghdadi's appearance comes days after ISIS declared him as the leader of its new "caliphate," or Islamic state, extending from Aleppo in northeastern Syria to the Diyala province in Iraq.

The extremist group also said it was changing its name from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria to "the Islamic State."

CNN cannot independently verify the authenticity of the video, which shows dozens of people, including men who appear to be bodyguards, listening to the sermon and praying. Several automatic weapons are displayed near the man delivering the sermon.

Al-Baghdadi was never identified by name, only as "the emir of the believers," according to a woman who was at the mosque when he arrived. CNN is identifying the witness only as Bara'a out of a concern for her safety.

"It was a terrifying Friday," she said.

The video identifies the man as Al-Khalifah Ibrahim, the name al-Baghdadi now goes by with his followers since ISIS declared the creation of the so-called "Islamic State" -- a move that enraged many Muslims.

Four to five minutes before the sermon was to begin, the imam at the mosque was told, in front of followers, to step down, Bara'a told CNN.

Then, black vehicles with blacked-out windows pulled up out front of the mosque, she said. The men who got out of the vehicles were chanting "Allahu Akbar" (God is great) as they walked in.

"The emir of the believers, he will give the sermon," said one of the men who arrived with al-Baghdadi. "So listen to him."

Those who accompanied al-Baghdadi took over the first row in the mosque, she said. In the video, the faces of the people in that row are blurred.

Bara'a was sitting on the second floor of the mosque, an area designated for women to gather during the sermon.

"We were crying quietly, fearing they will figure out we were crying out of fear and that they would harm us," she said.

"We were kept in the mosque for an hour. There were a number of gunmen who blocked the door."

Very little is known about al-Baghdadi, but a biography posted on jihadist websites last year said he earned a doctorate in Islamic studies from a university in Baghdad.

He formed the militant group in Salaheddin and Diyala provinces north of the Iraqi capital before joining al Qaeda in Iraq.

Al-Baghdadi was detained for four years in Camp Bucca, which was a U.S.-run prison in southern Iraq. He was released in 2009.

CNN's Tim Lister, Arwa Damon, Raja Razek, Ali Younes and Gul Tuysuz contributed to this report.

Part of complete coverage on
Iraq
Get all the latest news and updates on Iraq in Arabic by visiting CNN Arabic.
updated 11:50 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
The beheading of American journalist James Foley by ISIS militants brings into focus once again the risks faced by reporters in modern conflicts.
updated 1:20 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
When war reporter James Foley wasn't writing for GlobalPost or recording video for AFP, he occasionally shared stories on his own blog, aptly titled "A World of Troubles."
updated 11:17 AM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
A video released by ISIS shows the beheading of U.S. journalist James Foley and threatens the life of another American if President Obama doesn't end military operations in Iraq.
updated 5:34 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
"May God help you," the speaker of Iraq's parliament told Haider al-Abadi the day he was nominated prime minister.
updated 10:19 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
The answers to this question lie in some clear differences in the two conflicts.
updated 6:27 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Framing the intervention in religious terms bolsters theories of U.S. bias, says Fahad Nazer.
updated 9:14 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
They are the faces of an entire community on the run.
updated 4:54 AM EDT, Sun August 17, 2014
In an exodus of almost biblical proportions, thousands trudge across a river to escape killers belonging to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.
updated 9:13 AM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Theirs were the faces that stood out in the chaotic helicopter evacuation off the Sinjar Mountains.
updated 8:13 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Browse through photos of thousands of refugees trudging across a river to escape ISIS.
updated 11:41 AM EDT, Sat August 16, 2014
The face of 15-year-old Aziza -- rescued from Mount Sinjar in Iraq -- says it all.
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Mon August 11, 2014
CNN's Ivan Watson flies along with the Iraqi military as they drop emergency supplies.
Why do the militant Islamists have the Yazidis in their cross hairs?
updated 1:50 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
Images illustrate the ongoing violence in Iraq.
updated 12:08 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
The message from a growing number of actors inside and outside Iraq is the same: Maliki must go if the country is to be saved.
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Mon August 11, 2014
ISIS gives young men "cars to drive, guns, cell phones and cash money."
updated 6:15 AM EDT, Sat August 16, 2014
Which is worse: Running desperately for your life, or seeing others' lives end without enough to eat or drink?
updated 1:01 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
The Sinjar Mountains have always been a special place of refuge for the Yazidis.
updated 3:10 PM EDT, Sat August 9, 2014
Will the U.S. air strikes increase the terrorist threat in the U.S. and Europe?
updated 10:51 PM EDT, Fri August 8, 2014
Which religious and ethnic groups are under threat from ISIS militants?
ISIS has spread from Syria into Iraq. Learn where the militant strongholds are.
updated 9:56 PM EDT, Tue July 8, 2014
'Why do these people kill other people?" For Iraq's youngest residents, the tragedy is almost incomprehensible.
Even those who aren't in the line of fire feel the effects of the chaos that has engulfed Iraq since extremists attacked.
ADVERTISEMENT