|Iraqi security forces take position during a patrol west of Karbala on Sunday. (Reuters)
Beirut, June 29 (Reuters): An offshoot of al Qaida 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 today.
The move poses a direct challenge to the central leadership of al Qaida, which has already disowned it, and to conservative Gulf Arab rulers.
The group, previously known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and also known as ISIS, has renamed itself “Islamic State” and proclaimed its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as “Caliph” — the head of the state, the statement said.
“He is the imam and khalifah (Caliph) for the 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 ‘Sham’ (Levant) 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 Qaida’s hardline ideology but draws its strength from foreign fighters, battle-hardened from Iraq.
It seeks to recreate a medieval-style caliphate erasing borders from the Mediterranean to the Gulf.
“It is incumbent upon all Muslims to pledge allegiance to (him) and support him.… The legality of all emirates, groups, states, and organisations, 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 many 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 hotel on Wednesday.
Charles Lister, Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Doha Center, saw considerable significance in the group’s declaration. “Whatever judgements 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 Qaida affiliates and independent jihadi 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 declaration of a caliphate that challenges their power and the dynastic system on which it rests.