AFRICANGLOBE – ISIS has formally declared the establishment of a caliphate, or Islamic state, in the vast stretches of the Middle East that have fallen under its control, and has outlined a vision to expand into Africa.
The announcement was described as the ‘most significant development in international jihadism since 9/11’.
Upon declaring a caliphate, the Sunni terrorists – whose brutality in attempting to establish control in Iraq and Syria has been branded too extreme even by Al Qaeda – demanded allegiance from Muslims around the world.
With brutal efficiency, ISIS has carved out a large chunk of territory that has effectively erased the border between Iraq and Syria and laid the foundations of its proto-state.
The announcement, made on the first day of the Muslim month of Ramadan, could trigger a wave of infighting among Sunni extremist factions that have until now formed a loose rebel alliance.
A spokesman for ISIS declared the group’s chief, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as the leader of the new caliphate, or Islamic state, and called on Muslims everywhere, not just those in areas under the organization’s control, to swear loyalty to him.
‘The legality of all emirates, groups, states and organizations becomes null by the expansion of the caliph’s authority and the arrival of its troops to their areas,’ said Abu Mohammed al-Adnani.
‘Listen to your caliph and obey him. Support your state, which grows every day,’ he added in an audio statement posted online.
Charles Lister, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, said the announcement was likely the ‘most significant development in international jihadism since 9/11’.
Al-Adnani loosely defined the state territory as running from northern Syria to the Iraqi province of Diyala – a vast stretch of land straddling the border that is already largely under ISIS control.
He also said that with the establishment of the caliphate, the group was changing its name to just the Islamic State, dropping the mention of Iraq, Sham and the Levant.
However, in a map widely-shared by ISIS supporters on social networks, the Islamist group outlined a five-year plan for how they would like to expand their boundaries beyond Muslim-majority countries.
As well as plans to expand the caliphate throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and large parts of western Asia, the map also marks out an expansion in parts of Europe.
Spain, which was ruled by the Moors for 700 years until 1492, is marked out as a territory the caliphate plans to have under its control by 2020.
Elsewhere, ISIS plans to take control of the the Balkan states – including Greece, Romania and Bulgaria – extending its territories in eastern Europe as far as Austria, which appears to be based on a pre-First World War borders of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
ISIS regularly makes statements and releases propaganda calling for the return of the geographical boundaries in place before the Great War .
The group insist the carving up of the Ottoman Empire by Allied forces after the conflict – commonly known as the Sykes-Picot Agreement – was a deliberate attempt to divide Muslims and restrict the likelihood of another caliphate being established.
Muslim extremists have long dreamed of recreating the Islamic state, or caliphate, that ruled over the Middle East, North Africa and beyond in various forms over the course of Islam’s 1,400-year history.
It was unclear what immediate impact the declaration would have on the ground in Syria and Iraq, though experts predicted it could herald infighting among Sunni militants who have joined forces with the Islamic State in its fight against Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his Shiite-led government.
‘Now the insurgents in Iraq have no excuse for working with ISIS if they were hoping to share power with ISIS,’ said Aymenn al-Tamimi, an analyst who specializes in Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria. ‘The prospect of infighting in Iraq is increased for sure,’ he added.
The greatest impact, however, could be on the broader international jihadist movement, in particular on the future of Al Qaeda.
Founded by Osama Bin Laden, the group that carried out the September 11 attacks on the U.S. has long carried the mantle of the international jihadi cause.
But the Islamic State has managed to do in Syria and Iraq what Al Qaeda never has – carve out a large swath of territory in the heart of the Arab world and control it.
‘This announcement poses a huge threat to al-Qaida and its long-time position of leadership of the international jihadist cause,’ said Charles Lister, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center.
‘Taken globally, the younger generation of the jihadist community is becoming more and more supportive of [ISIS] largely out of fealty to its slick and proven capacity for attaining rapid results through brutality,’ he added.
Al-Baghdadi, an ambitious Iraqi militant who has a $10 million U.S. bounty on his head, took the reins of ISIS in 2010 when it was still an Al Qaeda affiliate based in Iraq.
Since then, he has transformed what had been an umbrella organization focused mainly on Iraq into a transnational military force.
Al-Baghdadi has long been at odds with Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri, and the two had a very public falling out after al-Baghdadi ignored al-Zawahiri’s demands that the Islamic State leave Syria.
Fed up with al-Baghdadi and unable to control him, al-Zawahiri formally disavowed ISIS in February.
But al-Baghdadi’s stature has only grown since then, as his fighters strengthened their grip on much of Syria, and have now overrun large swathes of Iraq.
Following his appointment as head of the caliphate, ISIS demanded al-Baghdadi be referred to as Caliph Ibrahim – using the name given to the son of the Prophet Muhammad in order to strengthen the claim that he is now the leader of the Muslims and a direct successor to the prophet himself.
The Islamic State’s declaration comes as the Iraqi government tries to wrest back some of the territory it has lost to the jihadi group and its Sunni militant allies in recent weeks.
On Sunday, Iraqi helicopter gunships struck suspected insurgent positions for a second consecutive day in Tikrit – the predominantly Sunni hometown of former dictator Saddam Hussein.
The Iraqi military launched its push to wrest back Tikrit – a hotbed of antipathy toward Iraq’s Shiite-led government – on Saturday with a multi-pronged assault spearheaded by ground troops backed by tanks and helicopters.
By: John Hall
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