Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) spokesman Abu Muhammad al-‘Adnani’s 34-minute speech titled “This is the Promise of Allah”—which declares ISIS as Caliphate under the name “Islamic State,” along with ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s status as the Caliph—has reignited the recently quieted conflict between ISIS, al-Qaeda (AQ), and AQ’s Syrian branch, al-Nusra Front.
The speech left no ambiguity as to what would be ISIS’s newly established authority, stating:
We clarify to the Muslims that with this declaration of khilāfah [Caliphate], it is incumbent upon all Muslims to pledge allegiance to the khalīfah Ibrāhīm and support him (may Allah preserve him).
Such a declaration begs new questions as to where the group’s enemies—and allies—now stand. Does al-Baghdadi expect Nasir al-Wuhayshi, emir of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and Ayman al-Zawahiri to take orders from him? Furthermore, will this erratic move by ISIS provide AQ with new ammunition and an opportunity to reinforce its image and diminish ISIS’s popularity? Or will AQ continue suffering the insults of ISIS and further divide jihadists?
This declaration by ISIS will prove to be a bad move.
Over the last two weeks, ISIS’s Iraqi offensive was widely celebrated by jihadists and non-jihadists from around the world. The great volume of divisive posts about the violent conflict between al-Nusra Front and ISIS was replaced with support for ISIS. Even al-Qaeda/al-Nusra Front supporters, despite their recent blood-stained conflicts with the group, showed support for the ISIS takeover in Iraq—a location collectively believed among the jihadist parties to be ISIS’s legitimate territory.
As ISIS members took to social media pages to recruit in light of their victories, prospective jihadists also flocked to these pages in swarms of support. The ISIS-supporting hashtag, “#AllEyesOnISIS,” had peaked at over 21,000 uses on Twitter on June 19, 2014—just over a week following the group’s Iraq offensive—as jihadists widely celebrated the events.
However, recent shifts in the greater social media discussion are telling of the Islamic world’s reaction ISIS’s announcement. In the day following the announcement of Caliphate, the Arabic hashtag translating to “#Announcement_of_Islamic_Caliphate” soared to over 9,000 uses. Such a number indicates a move away from a pro-ISIS conversation involving the “#AllEyesOnISIS” hashtag—which now attracts less than 100 tweets per day—toward that of a more divided one.
Not so surprisingly, however, these new demands by ISIS and its supporters were met with a flood of angry and critical posts on the internet against the new self-proclaimed Caliphate. Immediately after the announcement, jihadi scholars tweeted harsh criticisms against ISIS’s move in a collective surge of outrage.
Dr. Sami al-Oraidi, with the Sharia committee of al-Nusra Front, began rapidly tweeting attacks and insults toward ISIS. On June 29, just a few minutes after the speech, Dr. al-Oraide tweeted, “whoever heard Adnani's speech announcing the Caliphate, will actually find it to be a war announcement on the Muslim and not Annon about the Caliphitte.” This tweet was retweeted over 200 times. Al-Oraidi also called ISIS leaders “muslim killers” and claimed that “al-‘Adnani does not know what comes out of his head.”
The Kuwaiti radical sheikh, Hamid al-Ali, similarly tweeted, “Whoever try to gather the Muslims for him by fighting them and killing them, then there is no goodness in him for he is aggressor, oppressor and unfair that Allah does not love him neither guide him or support him.”
Dr. Hani al-Siba’ee, who has previously noted his support to AQ, sarcastically tweeted against ISIS, stating, “Now I prepare the breakfast of Ramadan then there was an urgent news# al-‘Adnani is announcing the Caliphate! Either you pledge allegiance or run away to Saturn planet! I said I have no ticket to Mars or Saturn.”
One Twitter user, “DesignerAbdallh,” tweeted his drawing of a cartoon insulting ISIS, showing a man looking down into a hole in a clear play on al-Baghdadi’s reclusive and elusive status. The picture is accompanied by the statement, “I want to pledge allegiance but where is the office of the requests receptions[.] Have mercy on our minds [brains] O Human.”
The Twitter account of “Observer of the Global Jihad” also weighed in negatively, tweeting:
When they announced the State of Iraq [ISI], it corrupted the Iraqi Jihad, when they announced State of Iraq and al-Sham [ISIS], it corrupted the Jihad in al-Sham, [then now] announcing the Islamic Caliphate, what will it corrupt now[?] O Allah be the Protector
A viral essay titled “al-Adnani Slaps his Opponents” by a jihadi commentator using the name “Mahmoud al-Shami Abu Hassan” has also been posted on the forums and is still picking up retweets by Twitter users. The essay criticizes al-‘Adnani’s announcement of Caliphate as “a great joke,” and criticizes the group for alienating Muslims and diverting focus away from the fight against Bashar al-Assad. The essay also criticizes ISIS as a divider of jihadist efforts, stating:
It was clear that the focus of the renegades on Deir al-Zour and their mobilization in fighting the mujahideen in the Eastern front was to gain ground before declaring their comical Caliphate, and when this was not achieved for them they declared it, being satisfied with what had occurred in Iraq... I hope that the Mujahideen of al-Qaeda have religion and reason which would prevent them from participating in this joke, even if the situation does not lack silly people here and there.
ISIS still holds a sizable number of followers who celebrate the declaration, despite this new wave of criticism. Groups like the Syrian Army of the Companions, Mujahidin Indonesia Timur (MIT), and the Sinai-based Ansar Jerusalem pledged loyalty to al-Baghdadi as their Caliph in the two days following the announcement. When al-Nusra Front-supporting, Australian cleric Abu Sulayman tweeted on July 1, “Only difference I see is there is a stronger 'Islamic' justification for them to kill Muslims,” user “Abu Omar”—to a similar note of other ISIS supporters—responded, “Shaykh, you wanted Caliphate, here you got it. Dont be like Jews who wanted a Prophet.”
ISIS-supporting Twitter users also posted pictures of celebrations from all over the world, showing parades, celebratory demonstrations, and animal sacrifices under ISIS flags.
ISIS’s criticisms of tearing apart the jihadist movement have only to grow as the group’s divisive stances now address not only jihadists, but the entire Islamic community. ISIS’s position as AQ’s direct opposition forces many Islamists to take a pick sides—even those that didn’t want to do so. This move can only act as an outstanding hindrance to any success the group has had thus far.