The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) has taken the next logical step in its quest to turn a huge swath of newly-captured territory in the Middle East into a radical Sunni empire by announcing the formation of a new “caliphate” spanning across substantial parts of both Syria and Iraq.
The attempted establishment of the first Muslim caliphate in 90 years occurred on Sunday via an audio recording released by ISIS, an offshoot of al-Qaida, reports Al-Jazeera.
The recording declared that ISIS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is now “the caliph” and “leader for Muslims everywhere.”
The U.S. Treasury Department has officially branded Al-Baghdadi as a terrorist. He is 43 and an Iraqi by birth.
“It is incumbent upon all Muslims to pledge allegiance to (the caliph) and support him,” the statement continued, according to the International Business Times. “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 new political entity, which ISIS leaders hope to call “The Islamic State,” will stretch from Aleppo, a large city in northwest Syria, to Diyala, a province in eastern Iraq. (The distance between those places is very roughly 500 miles.)
ISIS spokesman Abu Mohammad al-Adnani proclaimed that the new caliphate is the “true Muslim state,” “the dream in all the Muslims’ hearts” and “the hope of all jihadists.”
The leaders of ISIS have explicitly stated their ultimate intention of establishing a neo-medieval caliphate spanning from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean. They also believe all Muslims adhering to Shia Islam are heretics.
The word “caliphate” basically means “succession” in Arabic. It is an Islamic state led by a totalitarian religious and political leader known as a caliph — or “successor” — to Muhammad, the last prophet sent by God, according to Muslim theology.
The last successful Muslim caliphate met its demise in 1924 after the final collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
ISIS has seen a number of impressive tactical victories in recent weeks on the battlefield. The hardcore Sunni, al-Qaida-spawned group, which already holds big chunks Syrian of territory, has managed to sweep through northern Iraq. It has captured critical border crossings with both Syria and Jordan as well.
Sunday’s announcement of the new caliphate came as the Iraqi army continues its efforts to recapture Tikrit, a Sunni stronghold in northern Iraq.
A major assault was launched on Tikrit on Saturday, including helicopter gunships, airstrikes and airlifted forces. Special forces have been in the city since Thursday. (RELATED: Iraqi Forces Launch Major Assault To Recapture Tikrit)
On Saturday afternoon, Iraqi state television claimed the mission was successful and ISIS had been pushed out. However, a tribal leader, speaking under anonymity for fear of reprisal, said ISIS is still in control of Tikrit, the birthplace of Saddam Hussein.
Amid the rapid deterioration of the region, some analysts have gone so far as to say Iraq no longer exists. (RELATED: Former CIA Chief: Iraq Doesn’t Exist)