BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Islamic State militants have restated their loyalty to the group's leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in what is believed to be their first public pledge of allegiance to him since his "caliphate" in Syria and Iraq collapsed last year.
The group continues to carry out bombings, ambushes and assassinations in both countries, as well as in Libya. However, Baghdadi's whereabouts have been unknown since the cross-border "caliphate" he declared in 2014 disintegrated with the fall of Mosul and Raqqa, its strongholds in Iraq and Syria respectively.
"To infuriate and terrorise the infidels, we renew our pledge of loyalty to the commander of the faithful and the caliph of the Muslims, the mujahid sheikh Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi al-Hussaini al-Qurashi may god preserve him," militants said in a statement posted on their social media groups.
Hisham al-Hashimi, who advises several governments including Iraq's on Islamic State affairs, told Reuters this was the first known pledge of loyalty to Baghdadi since Iraqi forces recaptured Mosul in July and an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias took Raqqa in November, in both cases backed by a U.S.-led coalition.
(Reporting by Maher Chmaytelli; editing by David Stamp)