BAGHDAD — The leader of the extremist group that has overrun parts of Iraq and Syria has called on Muslims around the world to flock to territories under his control to fight and build an Islamic state.
In a recording posted online Tuesday, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared he wants to turn the enclave his fighters have carved out in the heart of the Middle East into a magnet for militants. He also presented himself as the leader of Islam worldwide, urging Muslims everywhere to rise up against oppression.
The audio message came two days after al-Baghdadi’s group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, unilaterally declared the establishment of an Islamic state, or caliphate, in the land it controls. It also proclaimed al-Baghdadi the caliph, and demanded that all Muslims around the world pledge allegiance to him.
His group’s forceful seizure of territory and its grand pronouncement of a caliphate have transformed the Iraqi-born al-Baghdadi into one of the leading figures of the global jihadi movement, perhaps even eclipsing al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahri.
The blitz across Iraq has pushed the death toll there to levels unseen since the worst sectarian bloodletting in 2006 during the U.S. occupation. The United Nations said Tuesday that more than 2,400 Iraqis were killed last month. That tally would make June the deadliest month in Iraq since at least April 2005, when The Associated Press began tracking casualty figures there.
After melting away in the initial onslaught, Iraq’s military and security forces have regrouped and managed to stem the tide at the outskirts of Shiite-dominated regions. The country’s political leaders, however, have been unable to bridge their differences to confront the militant threat, and failed again in parliament Tuesday.
In his 19-minute address, al-Baghdadi said the Islamic state was a land for all Muslims regardless of nationality, telling them it “will return your dignity, might, rights and leadership.”