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 Europe.
Upon declaring a caliphate, the Sunni militants – 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 holy 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.
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 Muslims 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.