The new group started gaining ground within months and Baghdadi decided it was time to declare a state under his rule in both countries under the name of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Golani, however, refused to go along with Baghdadi’s decision, as did Zawahri. These were hard times for Baghdadi’s organization as it stood on the verge of its first serious defection.
“Abu Mohammad al-Golani was one of Baghdadi’s soldiers,” Abdel Bari Atwan, a veteran Arab journalist who met bin Laden and wrote a book on ISIS, said. “He was sent to establish a branch for the Islamic State in Syria. Baghdadi wanted to expand through Golani, but the latter decided to instead look to their leader [Zawahri]. He [Golani] wanted to be a branch for the main al-Qaeda, he wanted to be an emir in the same way as Baghdadi. He also wanted it to represent the Syrians only.”
Golani’s decision intimidated Baghdadi, who decided to take revenge by going himself to Syria. “Golani’s move was a punch in the face to Baghdadi; it was a stab in the back,” Abu Omar said. “Baghdadi gave him everything; men, money and contacts. Yet, Golani saw himself as a possible leader with direct links to Khorasan [al-Qaeda's central command]. He thought it was time to make a great leap.” A serious crack appeared within al-Qaeda in Syria: Baghdadi and Golani were at war with each other. Soon ISIS began taking control of areas that were held by Jabhat al-Nusra, and Raqqa was the first Syrian province to fall completely into the hands of ISIS. It was obvious Baghdadi’s men had the upper hand in the fight, and in June 2014, ISIS entered Mosul in Iraq and delivered the decisive blow in the battle for supremacy, starting a new era.
Baghdadi declared the caliphate and pronounced himself as the new caliph. “Four men declared him caliph — Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, Abu Ibrahim al-Masry, Turki al-Binali and Abu Suleiman al-Otaibi — before his defection,” Hashimi said. “They convinced him to take this step fearing that Zawahri might precede them; such a declaration attracts new recruits and donations.” The move put to rest the competition.
The journey was complete, and Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarrai — the local imam, academic, US-held prisoner and al-Qaeda officer — had become Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.