The jihadist Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) movement that has captured large portions of Iraq and Syria continues to gain strength, as yet another extremist Islamist group has pledged loyalty to the IS caliphate.
Last week Ansar al-Islam, a Salafist group identified with Al Qaeda that is active in Iraq, announced that it is joining forces with IS.
That coalition was sealed in a formal ceremony, in which dozens of Ansar al-Islam terrorists swore allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and which included joint Muslim prayer.
The IS leader Baghdadi early last month declared himself caliph after establishing an Islamic state in the regions under his control.
Ansar al-Islam brings to IS a boost in skilled manpower, as those joining include the commander of a brigade carrying out suicide runs with explosive-rigged cars, as well as those managing the administrative and religious aspects of the group, drivers and human resource managers.
After declaring itself a caliphate early last month, IS called on Muslims worldwide to join it. For those living in the large areas of northern and eastern Syria, as well as vast swathes of northern Iraq that are under the group's control, refusal to do so carries a death penalty for "heresy."
In addition, IS has been conducting large-scale massacres and systematic rape, particularly against Yazidi minorities, drawing concerns of an impending genocide if rapid action is not taken.
US President Barack Obama announced Thursday that he would be sending US Secretary of State John Kerry to the Middle East to try and establish a coalition against the IS threat, while admitting he doesn't have a strategy to combat the jihadist group in Syria.