A MILITANT force growing in the east is threatening to take over the western world.
The violent jihadist terrorist group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or Isis – publicly disavowed even by al-Qaeda for being too extreme – has now set its sights on Spain.
Two young Isis extremists appeared in a YouTube video last month vowing to liberate al-Andalus, the ‘land of our forefathers’.
By al-Andalus, the men are referring to the region we call ‘home’ – Moorish Andalucia as it was during 700 years of Islamic rule – and which Isis claims is rightfully theirs.
In the minute-long video, a smiling jihadist wearing a kefiah scarf around his head asserts in Spanish, with a heavy North African accent: “I say to the entire world as a warning: we are living under the Islamic banner, the Islamic caliphate. “We will die for it until we open those occupied lands from Jakarta to Andalucia.
“And I say: Spain is the land of our ancestors and we will open it with the power of Allah.”
Last month, Isis formally declared an Islamic state in the vast expanses of the Middle East that have fallen under its control. It extends from the Syrian city of Aleppo to Diyala province in eastern Iraq.
When announcing the caliphate – an Islamic state ruled over by a Caliph – the militants refer to the state as ‘restored’, reinforcing the conviction that this is land that is rightfully theirs.
The self-appointed Caliph of this new Muslim state is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the driving force behind the Isis takeover.
Al-Baghdadi – who has a $10 million US bounty on his head, and rules under the name Caliph Ibrahim – is a mystery figure. He is believed to have been born in Samarra, north of Baghdad, in 1971, and joined the insurgency that erupted in Iraq soon after the 2003 US-led invasion.
For seven years he went underground, only reappearing as the leader of Isis in 2010 when it was still an al-Qaeda affiliate, based in Iraq.
His stature has grown exponentially since then, transforming his umbrella organisation into a trans-national military force.
The establishment of this Islamic state has been hailed as the ‘most significant development in international jihadism since 9/11’ by analyst Charles Lister, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution.
In a terrifying combination of radical religious fervour and political legitimacy, the state is well-organised and ruthlessly efficient. It runs courts, schools and services – it has even started a consumer protection authority for food standards in Raqqa – all flying the black and white flag of the jihadists.
But Isis doesn’t plan to stop there.
Isis has released a map on Twitter (pictured, right) showing the countries it plans to occupy within the next five years.
It spans from Morocco – renamed Maghreb – to the borders of China.
India and parts of China combine to form a region called Khurasan; the Balkan states, including Greece, Romania and Bulgaria, become Orobpa; Yemen and Oman form Yaman.
Spain is clearly singled out as being a key European target.
Part of a marketing push to entice supporters, other campaign tactics include the release of images of nine men, crucified for ‘not being extremist enough in their commitment to so-called jihad’, along with many beheadings and amputations of militants and civilians alike.
But the most unlikely ‘victim’ of this Isis announcement could be al-Qaeda, which has carried the mantle of the jihadi cause since the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.
Isis was born of al-Qaeda but the father figure has been forced aside by its rebellious offspring.
The leaders of the two militant groups have clashed publicly since Isis emerged as an independent force in April last year.
Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, realising he was losing control of the Isis branch of his group, demanded that Isis return to Iraq and leave Syria to the al-Nusra Front, another jihadist group in Syria.
But Isis publicly rebelled, and al-Zawahiri was forced to formally disavow the group in February.
“Isis now presents itself as an ideologically superior alternative to al-Qaeda within the jihadi community, and it has publicly challenged the legitimacy of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri,” says Charles Lister.
“Taken globally, the younger generation of the jihadist community is becoming more and more supportive of Isis, largely out of fealty to its slick and proven capacity for attaining rapid results through brutality.”
As a battlefield commander and tactician, al-Baghdadi is infinitely more appealing to the emerging extremist generation than the Islamic theologian al-Zawahiri.
Initially a Sunni group, Isis has transformed into the go-to destination for extremists of any views, with a number of Shi’ites now joining the ranks.
More than 20,000 fighters have reportedly now declared loyalty to the Isis cause. And, with considerable military success, the group is surpassing al-Qaeda as the world’s most dangerous jihadist group.
Most importantly, the Islamic State has now achieved what al-Qaeda never could, establishing a state that stakes their claim to the heart of the Arab world and controlling it.
But it is the presence of foreign fighters – from countries like the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Cambodia and Australia – that has most significantly unsettled the west.
In Madrid in June, eight jihadist recruiters were arrested, and 12 others suspected of terrorist activity.
A further eight were arrested in Ceuta while other collaborators were traced to Huelva, Malaga and La Linea.
All were suspected of funding, indoctrinating and facilitating travel for would-be fighters, and all are Spanish citizens.
But the Isis claim to the land of al-Andalus is rooted in history. In the militant’s eyes, our land is their land.