In a move that one expert describes as “likely the most significant development in international jihadism since 9/11,” the al-Qaida offshoot that has seized chunks of Iraq and Syria declared itself an Islamic caliphate. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant renamed itself as an “Islamic State” on Sunday, and called on groups across the world to pledge allegiance to its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who is now the head of the state.
“He is the imam and khalifah (Caliph) for the Muslims everywhere,” the group’s spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani said, according to Reuters. “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.”
Islamic extremists have long dreamed of recreating an Islamic state, notes the Associated Press. Although the practical implications on the ground are far from clear, experts say the key is the effect it will have on jihadi groups in general since they will have to choose sides. It also amounts to a challenge to al-Qaida’s position as the leader of international jihad. Indeed, Baghdadi “is increasingly seen as more powerful than al-Qaida’s chief,” notes AFP.