• Photographs released by US and Iraqi authorities allegedly showing Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. (AAP)
Little is known about the leader of the militant and brutal group calling on all Muslims to live under its newly proclaimed Caliphate, ISIS's Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
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4 Jul 2014 - 2:28 PM  UPDATED 6 Jul 2014 - 2:06 PM

With its rapid spread across the Middle East, Islamic militant group ISIS has garnered international headlines in the wake of its violent campaign.

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In a rare recent recording attributed to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi - the group's leader - Muslims are called upon to rush to the new Islamic state.

The earth is God's, he says - and all Muslims everywhere must emigrate to the new Caliphate - because emigration to the land of Islam is obligatory.

Yet until a video of a man thought to be Al-Baghdadi speaking in Mosul surfaced this weekend, very little was known about the leader of the Sunni group calling on all Muslims to live under its newly proclaimed Caliphate.

It's name; ISIS - the Islamic State of Iraq and Shams, an historical Arabic term broadly meaning greater Syria.

Ambitious leader takes his own path

Al-Baghdadi is thought to have been born Awwad Ibrahim al-Badri al-Sammari in the Iraqi town of Sammara, just north of Baghdad, in 1971.

He's believed to have studied in Baghdad, later fighting the United States occupation after 2003, under the al-Qaeda banner.

Later he would send an al-Qaeda emissary to Syria to from a key insurgent group there, Jabaht al Nusra, according to independent Australian Lebanese journalist Rania Abouzeid.

Ms Abouzeid reports al Qaeda in Iraq refused him permission to merge Jabaht al Nusra with his own Iraqi al-Qaeda offshoot , ISIS.

"He actually does have a very strong sense of history. That's the important thing - we may disagree with that vision of history but it is certainly one which is very powerfully held."

And by early 2014 al Qaeda in Iraq would disown al-Baghdadi and his new group, who were gaining a reputation - even amongst jihadists - as a brutal band of fighters, with little mercy.

Return of the Caliphate

Fast forward to late June, and the merged ISIS group's rapid spread across Syria and Iraq is consolidated by its claim to be the Islamic State, or Caliphate.

Professor Constant Mews is a specialist in Medieval theology at Monash University's Centre for Religious Studies.

"Baghdadi is really looking back to this period particularly the first 100 years even after the prophet, when you had what are called divinely-guided Caliphs. This is the Sunni claim and the Sunni version of Islam looks back at all of those leaders as legitimate. "

Centuries later the great Abbasid Caliphate would spread Islam from its base in Baghdad - the city from which the young man from Sammara would take his nom de guerre.

Bloodline politics

Al-Baghdadi, crucially, claims descent from the Prophet Mohammed.

His bloodline, he says, gives legitimacy to his claim to as Caliph.

Professor Mews calls it a distortion of history - but it's a powerful narrative.

"He actually does have a very strong sense of history. That's the important thing - we may disagree with that vision of history but it is certainly one which is very powerfully held."

And al-Baghdadi may have managed something Osama Bin Laden never did - the creation of a Caliphate almost a century after the fall of the last one, the Ottoman Empire.

"They'll have influence as long as they can terrorise others"

Kawa Hassan is a political analyst at international development group Hivos.

"It will attract I think, at least in the short term, more perceived marginalised youth to join his battle. And what I think we would also see in the short term is an intensification of internal infighting within the radical groups", he says.

"So there will be certainly a lot of civil wars between 'Islamic State' and other Islamic groups because 'Islamic State' is based on pure polarisation."

"In the short-term they will be able to control the borders. They will be able to recruit more fighters and since they have money, they have a story...so this gives an added value until an action is taken against them."

Professor Mews says history provides clues as to how long the group may keep its Caliphate.

"There is absolutely no chance that it will genuinely get the adhesion of wider communities, but they'll have influence as long as they can terrorise others", Professor Mews says.

"I think it is up to the international community, particularly the Islamic community, to stand up for ideals of good Islamic government."