December 18, 2014
Syria, Iraq 'caliph' incites Muslims to holy war
Proclaiming a "new era" in which Muslims will ultimately triumph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi issued the call to jihad - holy war - in an audio message lasting nearly 20 minutes that was posted online today.
It was his first purported message since the group - previously known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) - proclaimed the caliphate on Sunday and declared him its leader, in an audacious bid to sweep away state borders and redraw the map of the Middle East.
Baghdadi, who has assumed the mediaeval title of caliph, used the message to seek to assert authority over Muslims everywhere. He called on them to rise up and avenge the alleged wrongs committed against their religion, from Central African Republic to Myanmar (Burma).
"Terrify the enemies of Allah and seek death in the places where you expect to find it," he said. "Your brothers, on every piece of this earth, are waiting for you to rescue them."
The audio message, titled "A Message to the Mujahideen and the Muslim Ummah in the Month of Ramadan," was posted online through the group's media arm. Another account affiliated to the group posted translations in English, Russian, French, German and Albanian.
"By Allah, we will take revenge, by Allah we will take revenge, even if after a while," Baghdadi said.
While ISIL's power grab may appeal to many militants, there have already been signs of dissent. Some Islamist groups fighting in Syria have rejected the announcement of the caliphate, saying its terms had not "been realised at present", and urged Muslims to avoid siding with the Islamic State.
Iraq's Association of Muslim Scholars, which was formed to represent minority Sunnis, said in a statement: "Any group that announces a state or an Islamic emirate... under these conditions is not in the interest of Iraq and its unity."
Earlier today, Shi'ites failed to name a prime minister to replace Maliki at the first meeting of a new parliament session, dashing hopes that a unity government would be swiftly built to save Iraq from collapse.
ISIL also poses a direct challenge to the global leadership of al Qaeda, which has disowned it, and to conservative Gulf Arab Sunni rulers, who already view the group as a security threat.
Julian Barnes-Dacey, a senior policy fellow with the European Council on Foreign Relations, said Baghdadi had made a "bold call in proclaiming this caliphate and speaking out so vigorously now".
"He perceives this as his moment, having been able to seize this unprecedented amount of territory," he said.
"It's a bold, all-in strategy wherein he is trying to present himself as the vanguard of this new Islamic awakening."