Sunni militants fighting in Syria and Iraq announced on Sunday the establishment of an Islamic "caliphate" and declared ISIL chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi its "caliph."
"The Shura (council) of the Islamic State met and discussed this issue (of the caliphate)," Abu Mohammad al-Adnani, a spokesman for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, said in an audio recording distributed online, Agence France-Presse reported.
"The Islamic State decided to establish an Islamic caliphate and to designate a caliph for the state of the Muslims," he said. "The jihadist cleric Baghdadi was designated the caliph of the Muslims."
Baghdadi "has accepted this allegiance, and has thus become the leader for Muslims everywhere," he continued, describing the caliphate as "the dream in all the Muslims' hearts" and "the hope of all jihadists," AFP reported.
Baghdadi, 43, apparently joined the insurgency in Iraq that erupted shortly after the United States intervened in 2003, at one point spending time in an American military prison in Iraq AFP reported. The U.S. declared him a terrorist in October 2011.
Baghdadi took over ISIL in April 2010, when it was tied to Al-Qaeda. He sought to merge the group with Al-Qaeda's Syrian franchise, Al-Nusra Front, which rejected the deal, and the two groups have mostly operated separately since, AFP said.