(Residents search under rubble at a site hit by what activists say was a Scud missile from forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in Raqqa, eastern Syria November 28, 2013. REUTERS/Nour Fourat )

An al Qaeda splinter group has demanded that Christians in a Syrian city it controls pay a levy in gold and curb displays of their faith in return for protection, according to a statement posted online on Wednesday.

The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), mainly composed of foreign fighters, is widely considered the most radical of the groups fighting President Bashar al-Assad, and is also engaged in a violent struggle with rival Islamist rebels.

Its directive to Christians in the eastern city of Raqqa is the latest evidence of the group’s ambition to establish a state in Syria founded on radical Islamist principles, a prospect that concerns Western and Arab backers of other rebel groups fighting Assad.

ISIL said it would ensure Christians’ safety in exchange for the levy and their adherence to restrictions on their faith, citing the Islamic legal precept of ‘dhimma’.