The World’s Terrorists Aren’t Exactly Flocking to Pledge Allegiance to ISIS’ “Caliphate”

How It Works
July 7 2014 4:35 PM

How Seriously Are Global Jihadis Taking ISIS’ “Caliphate”?

ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has long kept a pretty low profile—not surprising given the fate of his predecessors. There have been only two known photographs of the guy. So it was pretty shocking when he made his first major public appearance over the weekend at the Grand Mosque in Mosul clad in black robes and a snazzy wristwatch. (Sure enough, what appeared to be Iraqi government airstrikes shortly followed Baghdadi’s appearance.)

Joshua Keating Joshua Keating

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

The appearance came shortly after Baghdadi declared himself “caliph” of a new Islamic state last week.  Obviously other established nation-states aren’t going to be rushing to recognize Baghdadi’s attempted resurrection of a seventh-century empire, but it should be interesting to see how other al-Qaida inspired militant groups around the world respond. ISIS has been at odds with al-Qaida central for some time now and the declaration is a major challenge to Ayman al-Zawahiri, the successor to Osama bin Laden. Zawahiri hasn’t responded to the caliphate announcement yet but when it comes we can expect it to be pretty scathing.


So far, there hasn’t exactly been a rush of other jihadi groups pledging allegiance to Baghdadi. A number of Islamist groups in Syria, including al-Qaida’s official branch there, al-Nusra, have denounced the announcement.

The caliphate has gotten a few pledges of support from groups in Egypt and Libya as well as a factions of the Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. But we’ve yet to hear from senior leaders like AQAP’s Nasir al-Wuhayshi or al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb under Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud.

All in all, considering the power-play ISIS just mounted, it hasn’t gotten a particularly impressive show of support from the international movement it purports to now lead. As terrorism analyst J.M. Berger put it, “it's starting to look like that time ISIS threw a caliphate party and nobody came.”

But as terrorism researcher Thomas Hegghammer argues, the announcement may have been less of an appeal to the global al-Qaida establishment than “a bid for the youth vote in the jihadi movement.” Thanks to the war in Syria, ISIS has had the highest levels of international recruitment and online outreach of any jihadi group over the past few years. After its gains in Iraq, it has also arguably had the most operational success.

ISIS’s caliphate announcement may not have been much a geopolitical turning point—sooner or later, one would hope, its territorial gains will start to erode given the sheer number of enemies it has picked a fight with – but its value as a publicity stunt may be more significant.

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 



Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Altered State

The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender

What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?

Surprise! The Women Hired to Fix the NFL Think the NFL Is Just Great.

You Shouldn’t Spank Anyone but Your Consensual Sex Partner

Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Sept. 18 2014 8:58 AM Does this Colorado Poll Show Latino Voters Bailing on the 2014 Election?
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
The Vault
Sept. 18 2014 9:57 AM "The Sun Never Sets Upon the British Empire," Explained in GIF by an Old Children's Toy
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
Sept. 18 2014 8:53 AM The Other Huxtable Effect Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 9:00 PM Amazon Is Now a Gadget Company
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 18 2014 7:30 AM Red and Green Ghosts Haunt the Stormy Night
Sports Nut
Sept. 17 2014 3:51 PM NFL Jerk Watch: Roger Goodell How much should you loathe the pro football commissioner?