This week, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, released a rare public message in which he declared the creation of several new “provinces” in various Arab countries. It was the first time that he and his organization have acknowledged groups that have pledged baya (religiously binding oath of allegiance) to the so-called “Islamic State” since the announcement of its “Caliphate” six months ago. The audio message offers insight into the group’s expansion model and its plans for exacerbating religious tensions between Sunnis and Shiites beyond Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. Whether Western governments want to admit it or not, the reality is that the Islamic State has expanded in a non-contiguous manner outside its base and now has authority over satellite groups and small amounts of territory outside Iraq and the Levant.
In almost all of the conflict arenas of the Middle East, global jihadists had a strong summer. We saw the resurgence of the Islamic State in the Iraqi and Syrian arenas; Ansar al-Sharia Libya confronted and pushed back Libya’s rogue general Khalifa Hiftar’s offensive; and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is once again highly active in southern Yemen. But the jihadists made a poor military showing in the war that broke out in one crucial geographic area: The Gaza-Sinai peninsula nexus, which rates as the most symbolically important in the Muslim world and, as a result, a key location for various global jihadis to prove their bona fides.