BAGHDAD — Wearing a black turban and black robes, the leader of the self-proclaimed Islamic state that stretches across eastern Syria and much of northern and western Iraq made a startling public appearance, his first in many years, at a well-known mosque in the Iraqi city of Mosul.
There had been only a couple of photographs of him on the Internet until Saturday, when the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria released a 21-minute video of a sermon he gave Friday.
ISIS's leader, known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, took the all but unprecedented step of appearing in a city once under U.S. control with an audacity that even Osama bin Laden had not attempted.
Previously he had been all but invisible, seemingly reluctant to risk a public appearance as his group grew in strength and he became the second-most sought-after terrorist (after al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri) by the U.S. government, which offered a $10 million reward for information leading to his capture.
But on Friday in the pulpit of Mosul's Great Mosque, al-Baghdadi appeared confident, calm and measured as he gave the Friday sermon, urging the faithful to fast during Ramadan and undertake jihad. He also asserted in no uncertain terms his new position as caliph, or spiritual leader, of the Muslim faithful, calling himself "Khalifa Ibrahim" or caliph Abraham, a reference to the prophet Abraham, who appears in the Koran. Al-Baghdadi's militant group declared its territory in Iraq and Syria a caliphate, or Islamic state, on June 29.
ISIS militants took over Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, on June 10, after the army fled. ISIS fighters patrol the streets, and while some people have gone back to work, the city is far from normal. The congregants at the mosque who were gathered before him in the video had been ordered to come to the Friday prayer, said a man who was there but asked not to be named by the New York Times for fear of retribution.