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An offshoot of al Qaeda which has seized territory in Iraq and Syria has declared itself an Islamic "caliphate" and called on factions worldwide to pledge their allegiance, a statement posted on Islamist websites and Twitter said on Sunday. The move poses a direct challenge to the central leadership of al Qaeda, which has disowned it, and to conservative Gulf Arab rulers who already view the group as a security threat. The group, previously known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and also known as ISIS, has renamed itself "Islamic State" and proclaimed its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as "Caliph" - the head of the state, the statement said.