BEIRUT: The Al-Qaeda splinter group ISIS which has captured territory in Iraq and Syria has declared itself an Islamic “caliphate” and called on factions worldwide to pledge their allegiance, a statement posted on Islamist websites and Twitter said on Sunday.
The move poses a direct challenge to the central leadership of Al-Qaeda, which has already disowned it, and to conservative Gulf Arab rulers.
The group, previously known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, has renamed itself “the Islamic State” and proclaimed its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as “caliph,” the statement said.
“He is the imam and khalifah [caliph] for Muslims everywhere,” the group’s spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani said in the statement, which was translated into several languages and read out in an Arabic audio speech.
“Accordingly, the “Iraq and Greater Syria” in the name of the Islamic State is henceforth removed from all official deliberations and communications, and the official name is the Islamic State from the date of this declaration,” he said.
The militant group follows Al-Qaeda’s hard-line ideology but draws its strength from foreign fighters, battle-hardened from Iraq and Syria. It seeks to re-create a supra-national caliphate, erasing borders from the Mediterranean to the Gulf, and deems Shiites to be heretics deserving death.
“It is incumbent upon all Muslims to pledge allegiance to [him] and support him ... The legality of all emirates, groups, states, and organizations, becomes null by the expansion of the khalifah’s authority and arrival of its troops to their areas,” the statement said.
In Syria, the group has alienated both civilians and opposition activists by imposing harsh rulings against dissent, even beheading and crucifying opponents, in areas it controls.
In Iraq it has been accused by rights groups of carrying out mass executions in the northern city of Tikrit and in Lebanon the group claimed a suicide attack at a Beirut hotel Wednesday.
Charles Lister, Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Doha Center, saw considerable significance in the group’s declaration.
“Whatever judgments are made in terms of its legitimacy, [the] announcement that it has restored the caliphate is likely the most significant development in international jihadism since 9/11.
“The impact of this announcement will be global as Al-Qaeda affiliates and independent jihadist groups must now definitively choose to support and join the Islamic State or to oppose it.”
Gulf Arab states such as Saudi Arabia are likely to be alarmed by the open declaration of a caliphate that challenges their power and the dynastic system on which it rests. Saudi Arabia fought Al-Qaeda militants for several years, finally crushing their campaign in 2006.
Fighters from the group, drawing on a simmering revolt against Iraq’s central government, overran the city of Mosul last month in a lightning action and have advanced toward Baghdad. Tribal groups and ex-Baath Party operatives have also taken part in the offensive, and clashed with ISIS militants in the aftermath of the territorial gains.In Syria, ISIS has captured territory in the north and east, along the frontier with Iraq, but has also been the target of a campaign since January by an array of rebel factions, both moderate and Islamist, as well as the Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s wing in Syria. Such infighting has killed around 7,000 people in the country so far this year and complicated the 3-year-old uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad. - with Reuters