Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
الدولة الإسلامية في العراق والشام (Arabic)
ad-Dawlah al-Islāmiyah fīl-ʿIrāq wash-Shām
Participant in: the Syrian Civil War, Iraq War (2003–2011), Iraqi insurgency, Second Libyan Civil War, Boko Haram insurgency, War in North-West Pakistan, War in Afghanistan, Yemeni Civil War, and other conflicts
|Motto: باقية وتتمدد
"Remaining and Expanding"
|Anthem: أمتي قد لاح فجر
Ummatī, qad lāha fajrun
"My Nation, A Dawn Has Appeared"
Military situation as of 29 April 2015, in the Iraqi and Syrian conflicts.
Map of the current military situation in Syria
Controlled by Iraqi Government forces
Controlled by Syrian Government forces
Controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
Controlled by Iraqi Kurdistan forces
Controlled by Syrian Kurdistan forces
Controlled by Syrian Opposition forces
Controlled by al-NusraNote: Iraq and Syria contain large desert areas with limited population. These areas are mapped as under the control of forces holding roads and towns within them.
Map of the current military situation in Iraq
Map of the current military situation in Libya
Map of the current military situation in Yemen
|Administrative center||Ar-Raqqah, Syria|
(de facto capital)
35°57′N 39°1′E / 35.950°N 39.017°E
|Largest city||Mosul, Iraq|
|Type||Rebel group controlling territory
Current control in
|Military strength & operation areas||Inside Syria and Iraq
200,000 (Kurdish claim)
20,000–31,000 (CIA estimate)
Outside Syria and Iraq
32,500–57,800 (See Military of ISIL for more-detailed estimates.)
|-||Leader||Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi|
|-||Deputy leader||Abu Alaa Afri|
|-||Head of Military Shura||Abu Suleiman al-Naser|
|-||Deputy leader in Iraq||Abu Muslim al-Turkmani †|
|-||Deputy leader in Syria||Abu Ali al-Anbari|
|-||Spokesman||Abu Mohammad al-Adnani|
|-||Formation (as Jamāʻat al-Tawḥīd wa-al-Jihād)||1999|
|-||Joined al-Qaeda||October 2004|
|-||Declaration of an Islamic state in Iraq||13 October 2006|
|-||Claim of territory in the Levant||8 April 2013|
|-||Separated from al-Qaeda||3 February 2014|
|-||Declaration of Caliphate||29 June 2014|
|-||Claim of territory in Libya, Egypt, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Pakistan||13 November 2014|
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL //; Arabic: الدولة الإسلامية في العراق والشام), also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS //), or simply as the Islamic State, is an Islamic extremist rebel group controlling territory in Iraq and Syria, and, according to some sources, Libya and Nigeria. The group also has operations or affiliates in Lebanon, Egypt, and other areas of the Middle East, North and West Africa, and South, and Southeast Asia.
The group is known in Arabic as ad-Dawlah al-Islāmiyah fīl-ʿIrāq wash-Shām, leading to the acronym Da'ish, Da'eesh, or DAESH (داعش, Arabic pronunciation: [ˈdaːʕiʃ]), the Arabic equivalent of "ISIL") On 29 June 2014, the group proclaimed itself to be a worldwide caliphate, with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi being named its caliph, and renamed itself "Islamic State" (الدولة الإسلامية, ad-Dawlah al-Islāmiyah). The new name and the idea of a caliphate has been widely criticised and condemned, with the UN, various governments, and mainstream Muslim groups all refusing to acknowledge it. As caliphate, it claims religious, political and military authority over all Muslims worldwide and that "the legality of all emirates, groups, states, and organisations, becomes null by the expansion of the khilāfah's [caliphate's] authority and arrival of its troops to their areas". Many Islamic and non-Islamic communities judge the group unrepresentative of Islam.
The United Nations has held ISIL responsible for human rights abuses and war crimes, and Amnesty International has reported ethnic cleansing by the group on a "historic scale". The group has been designated as a terrorist organisation by the United Nations, the European Union, the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, Canada, Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Syria, Egypt, India, and Russia. Over 60 countries are directly or indirectly waging war against ISIL.
The group originated as Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad in 1999, which was renamed Tanzim Qaidat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn—commonly known as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI)—when the group pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda in 2004. As Jama'at and later AQI, beginning in August 2003, the group participated in the Iraqi insurgency, which had followed the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. In January 2006, it joined other Sunni insurgent groups to form the Mujahideen Shura Council, which in October 2006 proclaimed the formation of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). The ISI gained a significant presence in the governorates of Al Anbar, Diyala, and Baghdad.
Under the leadership of al-Baghdadi, the ISI sent delegates into Syria in August 2011 after the Syrian Civil War began in March 2011. This group named itself Jabhat an-Nuṣrah li-Ahli ash-Shām or al-Nusra Front, and established a large presence in Sunni-majority areas of Syria within the governorates of Ar-Raqqah, Idlib, Deir ez-Zor and Aleppo. In April 2013, al-Baghdadi announced the merger of his ISI with al-Nusra Front, and announced that the name of the reunited group was now the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). However, both Abu Mohammad al-Julani and Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leaders of al-Nusra and al-Qaeda respectively, rejected the merger. After an eight-month power struggle, al-Qaeda cut all ties with ISIL on 3 February 2014, citing its failure to consult and "notorious intransigence".
ISIL is known for its well-funded web and social media propaganda, which includes Internet videos of the beheadings of soldiers, civilians, journalists and aid workers, as well as the deliberate destruction of cultural heritage sites.
The group gained notoriety after it drove the Iraqi government forces out of key western cities in Iraq. In Syria, it conducted ground attacks against both government forces and rebel factions in the Syrian Civil War. It gained those territories after an offensive, initiated in early 2014, which senior US military commanders and members of the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs saw as a re-emergence of Sunni insurgents and al-Qaeda militants. This territorial loss almost caused a collapse of the Iraqi government that prompted renewal of US military action in Iraq.
The group has had various names.
- The group was founded in 1999 by Jordanian radical Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as Jamāʻat al-Tawḥīd wa-al-Jihād, "The Organisation of Monotheism and Jihad" (JTJ).
- In October 2004, al-Zarqawi swore loyalty to Osama bin Laden and changed the group's name to Tanẓīm Qāʻidat al-Jihād fī Bilād al-Rāfidayn, "The Organisation of Jihad's Base in Mesopotamia", commonly known as al-Qaeda in Iraq. (AQI). Although the group has never called itself al-Qaeda in Iraq, this has been its informal name over the years.
- In January 2006, AQI merged with several other Iraqi insurgent groups to form the Mujahideen Shura Council. Al-Zarqawi was killed in June 2006.
- On 12 October 2006, the Mujahideen Shura Council merged with several more insurgent factions, and on 13 October the establishment of the ad-Dawlah al-ʻIraq al-Islāmiyah, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), was announced. The leaders of this group were Abu Abdullah al-Rashid al-Baghdadi and Abu Ayyub al-Masri. After they were killed in a U.S.–Iraqi operation in April 2010, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi became the new leader of the group.
- On 8 April 2013, having expanded into Syria, the group adopted the name Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, which more fully translates as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant or Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. These names are translations of the Arabic name ad-Dawlah al-Islāmīyah fīl-ʻIrāq wash-Shām, al-Shām being a description of the Levant or Greater Syria. The translated names are commonly abbreviated as ISIL or ISIS, with a debate over which of these acronyms should be used. The Washington Post concluded that the distinction between the two "is not so great".
- The name Daʿish is often used by ISIL's Arabic-speaking detractors. It is based on the Arabic letters Dāl, alif, ʻayn, and shīn, which form the acronym (داعش) of ISIL's Arabic name al-Dawlah al-Islamīyah fī al-ʻIrāq wa-al-Shām. There are many spellings of this acronym, with DAESH gaining acceptance. ISIL considers the name Da'ish derogatory, because it sounds similar to the Arabic words Daes, "one who crushes something underfoot", and Dahes, "one who sows discord". ISIL also reportedly uses flogging as a punishment for those who use the name in ISIL-controlled areas.
- On 14 May 2014, the United States Department of State announced its decision to use "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) as the group's primary name. However, in late 2014, top U.S. officials shifted toward DAESH, since it was the preferred term used by Arab partners.
- On 29 June 2014, the group renamed itself the Islamic State (IS) and declared it was a worldwide "caliphate". "Accordingly, the 'Iraq and Shām' in the name of the Islamic State is henceforth removed from all official deliberations and communications, and the official name is the Islamic State from the date of this declaration." This name and the idea of a caliphate has been widely criticised, with the UN, various governments, and mainstream Muslim groups refusing to use it.
Part of a series on the
| Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (1999–2004)
Mujahideen Shura Council (2006)
Islamic State of Iraq (2006–13)
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (2013–14)Self-proclaimed as the Islamic State (June 2014–present)
Outline of history – with links to content below
- As Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (Organisation of Monotheism and Jihad) (1999–2004)
- As Tanzim Qaidat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn (al-Qaeda in Iraq) (2004–2006)
- As Mujahideen Shura Council (2006)
- As Islamic State of Iraq (2006–2013)
- As Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (2013–2014)
- As self-proclaimed "Islamic State" (June 2014–present)
Foundation of the group (1999–2006)
Following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the Jordanian Salafi Jihadist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his militant group Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, founded in 1999, achieved notoriety in the early stages of the Iraqi insurgency for the suicide attacks on Shia Islamic mosques, civilians, Iraqi government institutions and Italian soldiers partaking in the US-led 'Multi-National Force'. Al-Zarqawi's group officially pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network in October 2004, changing its name to Tanzim Qaidat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn (تنظيم قاعدة الجهاد في بلاد الرافدين, "Organisation of Jihad's Base in Mesopotamia"), also known as Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). Attacks by the group on civilians, Iraqi Government and security forces, foreign diplomats and soldiers, and American convoys continued with roughly the same intensity. In a letter to al-Zarqawi in July 2005, al-Qaeda's then deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri outlined a four-stage plan to expand the Iraq War. The plan included expelling US forces from Iraq, establishing an Islamic authority as a caliphate, spreading the conflict to Iraq's secular neighbours, and clashing with Israel, which the letter says "was established only to challenge any new Islamic entity".
In January 2006, AQI joined hands with several smaller Iraqi insurgent groups under an umbrella organisation called the Mujahideen Shura Council (MSC). This was claimed by Brian Fishman in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science to be little more than a media exercise and an attempt to give the group a more Iraqi flavour and perhaps to distance al-Qaeda from some of al-Zarqawi's tactical errors, more notably the 2005 bombings by AQI of three hotels in Amman. On 7 June 2006, a US airstrike killed al-Zarqawi, who was succeeded as leader of the group by the Egyptian militant Abu Ayyub al-Masri.
On 12 October 2006, MSC united with three smaller groups and six Sunni Islamic tribes to form the "Mutayibeen Coalition". It swore by Allah "...to rid Sunnis from the oppression of the rejectionists (Shi'ite Muslims) and the crusader occupiers, ... to restore rights even at the price of our own lives... to make Allah's word supreme in the world, and to restore the glory of Islam...". A day later, MSC declared the establishment of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), which should comprise Iraq's six mostly Sunni Arab governorates, with Abu Omar al-Baghdadi being announced as its Emir. Al-Masri was given the title of Minister of War within the ISI's ten-member cabinet.
As Islamic State of Iraq (2006–2013)
According to a study compiled by U.S. intelligence agencies in early 2007, the ISI – also known as AQI – planned to seize power in the central and western areas of the country and turn it into a Sunni Islamic state. The group built in strength and at its height enjoyed a significant presence in the Iraqi governorates of Al Anbar, Diyala and Baghdad, and claimed Baqubah as a capital city.
Between July and October 2007, al-Qaeda in Iraq or ISI seemed to have lost their secure military bases in Anbar province and the Baghdad area. During 2008, a series of U.S. and Iraqi offensives managed to drive out the AQI-aligned insurgents from their former safe havens, such as the Diyala and Al Anbar governorates, to the area of the northern city of Mosul, the latest major battleground against ISI.
By 2008, the ISI was describing itself as being in a state of "extraordinary crisis". Its violent attempts to govern its territory led to a backlash from Sunni Iraqis and other insurgent groups and a temporary decline in the group, which was attributable to a number of factors, notably the Anbar Awakening.
In late 2009, the commander of the U.S. forces in Iraq, General Ray Odierno, stated that the ISI "has transformed significantly in the last two years. What once was dominated by foreign individuals has now become more and more dominated by Iraqi citizens". On 18 April 2010, the ISI's two top leaders, Abu Ayyub al-Masri and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, were killed in a joint U.S.-Iraqi raid near Tikrit. In a press conference in June 2010, General Odierno reported that 80% of the ISI's top 42 leaders, including recruiters and financiers, had been killed or captured, with only eight remaining at large. He said that they had been cut off from al-Qaeda's leadership in Pakistan.
On 16 May 2010, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was appointed as the new leader of the Islamic State of Iraq. Al-Baghdadi replenished the group's leadership, many of whom had been killed or captured, by appointing former Ba'athist military and intelligence officers who had served during the Saddam Hussein regime. These men, nearly all of whom had spent time imprisoned by the U.S. military, came to make up about one-third of Baghdadi's top 25 commanders. One of them was a former Colonel, Samir al-Khlifawi, also known as Haji Bakr, who became the overall military commander in charge of overseeing the group's operations. Al-Khlifawi was instrumental in laying the ground work that lead to the growth of ISIS.
In July 2012, al-Baghdadi released an audio statement online announcing that the group was returning to the former strongholds from which U.S. troops and their Sunni allies had driven them in 2007 and 2008. He also declared the start of a new offensive in Iraq called Breaking the Walls, aimed at freeing members of the group held in Iraqi prisons. Violence in Iraq had begun to escalate in June 2012, primarily by AQI's car bomb attacks, and by July 2013, monthly fatalities had exceeded 1,000 for the first time since April 2008.
Syrian Civil War (2011–present)
In March 2011, protests began in Syria against the government of Bashar al-Assad. In the following months, violence between demonstrators and security forces led to a gradual militarisation of the conflict. In August 2011, al-Baghdadi began sending Syrian and Iraqi ISI members experienced in guerilla warfare across the border into Syria to establish an organisation inside the country. Led by a Syrian known as Abu Muhammad al-Julani, this group began to recruit fighters and establish cells throughout the country. On 23 January 2012, the group announced its formation as Jabhat al-Nusra li Ahl as-Sham—Jabhat al-Nusra—more commonly known as the al-Nusra Front. Al-Nusra grew rapidly into a capable fighting force, with popular support among Syrians opposed to the Assad government.
As Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (2013–14)
On 8 April 2013, al-Baghdadi released an audio statement in which he announced that the al-Nusra Front had been established, financed, and supported by the Islamic State of Iraq, and that the two groups were merging under the name "Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham". Al-Julani issued a statement denying the merger, and complaining that neither he nor anyone else in al-Nusra's leadership had been consulted about it. In June 2013, Al Jazeera reported that it had obtained a letter written by al-Qaeda's leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, addressed to both leaders, in which he ruled against the merger, and appointed an emissary to oversee relations between them to put an end to tensions. The same month, al-Baghdadi released an audio message rejecting al-Zawahiri's ruling and declaring that the merger was going ahead. The ISIL campaign to free imprisoned ISIL members culminated in July 2013, with the group carrying out simultaneous raids on Taji and Abu Ghraib prison, freeing more than 500 prisoners, many of them veterans of the Iraqi insurgency. In October 2013, al-Zawahiri ordered the disbanding of ISIL, putting al-Nusra Front in charge of jihadist efforts in Syria, but al-Baghdadi contested al-Zawahiri's ruling on the basis of Islamic jurisprudence, and his group continued to operate in Syria. In February 2014, after an eight-month power struggle, al-Qaeda disavowed any relations with ISIL.
According to journalist Sarah Birke, there are "significant differences" between the al-Nusra Front and ISIL. While al-Nusra actively calls for the overthrow of the Assad government, ISIL "tends to be more focused on establishing its own rule on conquered territory". ISIL is "far more ruthless" in building an Islamic state, "carrying out sectarian attacks and imposing sharia law immediately". While al-Nusra has a "large contingent of foreign fighters", it is seen as a home-grown group by many Syrians; by contrast, ISIL fighters have been described as "foreign 'occupiers'" by many Syrian refugees. It has a strong presence in central and northern Syria, where it has instituted sharia in a number of towns. The group reportedly controlled the four border towns of Atmeh, al-Bab, Azaz and Jarablus, allowing it to control the entrance and exit from Syria into Turkey. Foreign fighters in Syria include Russian-speaking jihadists who were part of Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar (JMA). In November 2013, the JMA's Chechen leader Abu Omar al-Shishani swore an oath of allegiance to al-Baghdadi; the group then split between those who followed al-Shishani in joining ISIL and those who continued to operate independently in the JMA under new leadership.
In January 2014, rebels affiliated with the Islamic Front and the U.S.-trained Free Syrian Army launched an offensive against ISIL militants in and around the city of Aleppo in Syria. In May 2014, Ayman al-Zawahiri ordered al-Nusra Front to stop its attacks on its rival, ISIL. In June 2014, after continued fighting between the two groups, al-Nusra's branch in the Syrian town of Al-Bukamal pledged allegiance to ISIL. In mid-June 2014, ISIL captured the Trabil crossing on the Jordan–Iraq border, the only border crossing between the two countries. ISIL has received some public support in Jordan, albeit limited, partly owing to state repression there, but ISIL has undertaken a recruitment drive in Saudi Arabia, where tribes in the north are linked to those in western Iraq and eastern Syria.
As self-proclaimed Islamic State (June 2014–present)
On 29 June 2014, the organisation proclaimed a Worldwide Caliphate. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi—known by his supporters as Amir al-Mu'minin, Caliph Ibrahim—was named its Caliph, and the group renamed itself the "Islamic State". As a "Caliphate," it claims religious, political and military authority over all Muslims worldwide. The concept of a Caliphate and the name "Islamic State" has been rejected by governments and Muslim leaders worldwide.
In June and July 2014, Jordan and Saudi Arabia moved troops to their borders with Iraq, after Iraq lost control of, or withdrew from, strategic crossing points that had then come under the control of ISIL, or tribes that supported ISIL. There was speculation that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had ordered a withdrawal of troops from the Iraq–Saudi crossings in order "to increase pressure on Saudi Arabia and bring the threat of ISIS over-running its borders as well".
In July 2014, ISIL recruited more than 6,300 fighters, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, some of whom were thought to have previously fought for the Free Syrian Army. Also, on 23 July 2014, Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon swore loyalty to al-Baghdadi in a video, along with the rest of the organisation, giving ISIL a presence in the Philippines. In September 2014, the group began kidnapping people for ransoming, in the name of ISIL.
On 3 August 2014, ISIL captured the cities of Zumar, Sinjar, and Wana in northern Iraq. The need for food and water for thousands of Yazidis, who fled up a mountain out of fear of approaching hostile ISIL militants, and the threat of genocide to Yazidis and others as announced by ISIL, in addition to protecting Americans in Iraq and supporting Iraq in its fight against the group, were reasons for the U.S. to launch a humanitarian mission on 7 August 2014, to aid the Yazidis stranded on Mount Sinjar and to start an aerial bombing campaign in Iraq on 8 August.
On 11 October 2014, ISIL dispatched 10,000 militants from Syria and Mosul to capture the Iraqi capital city of Baghdad, and Iraqi Army forces and Anbar tribesmen threatened to abandon their weapons if the U.S. did not send in ground troops to halt ISIL's advance. On 13 October, ISIL fighters advanced to within 25 kilometres—15.5 miles—of Baghdad Airport.
At the end of October 2014, 800 radical militants gained control of the Libyan city of Derna and pledged their allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, thus making Derna the first city outside Syria and Iraq to be a part of the "Islamic State Caliphate." On 2 November 2014, according to the Associated Press, in response to the coalition airstrikes, representatives from Ahrar ash-Sham attended a meeting with the al-Nusra Front, the Khorasan Group, ISIL, and Jund al-Aqsa, which sought to unite these hard-line groups against the U.S.-led coalition and moderate Syrian rebel groups. However, by 14 November 2014, it was revealed that the negotiations had failed. On 10 November 2014, a major faction of the Egyptian militant group Ansar Bait al-Maqdis also pledged its allegiance to ISIL.
In mid-January 2015, a Yemeni official said that ISIL had "dozens" of members in Yemen, and that they were coming into direct competition with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula with their recruitment drive.
In January 2015, Afghan officials confirmed that ISIL had a military presence in Afghanistan, recruiting over 135 militants by late January. However, by the end of January 2015, 65 of the militants were either captured or killed by the Taliban, and ISIL's top Afghan recruiter, Mullah Abdul Rauf, was killed in a U.S. drone strike in February 2015.
In late January 2015, it was revealed that ISIL members infiltrated the European Union and disguised themselves as civilian refugees who were emigrating from the war zones of Iraq and the Levant. An ISIL representative said that ISIL had successfully smuggled 4,000 fighters, and that the smuggled fighters were planning attacks in Europe in retaliation for the airstrikes carried out against ISIL targets in Iraq and Syria. However, experts believe that the claim of 4,000 was exaggerated to boost their stature and spread fear, although they acknowledged that some Western countries were aware of the smuggling.
In early February 2015, ISIL militants in Libya managed to capture part of the countryside to the west of Sabha, and later, an area encompassing the cities of Sirte, Nofolia, and a military base to the south of both cities.
On 16 February 2015, Egypt began conducting airstrikes in Libya, in retaliation against ISIL's beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians. By the end of that day, 64 ISIL militants in Libya had been killed by the airstrikes, including 50 militants in Derna.
By early March 2015, ISIL had captured additional territory in Libya, including a city to the west of Derna, additional areas near Sirte, a stretch of land in southern Libya, some areas around Benghazi, and an area to the east of Tripoli.
On 7 March 2015, Boko Haram swore formal allegiance to ISIL, giving ISIL an official presence in Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon. On 13 March 2015, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan swore allegiance to ISIL. On 30 March 2015, the senior sharia official of Ansar al-Sharia in Libya, Abdullah Al-Libi, defected to ISIL.
Worldwide caliphate aims
Since at least 2004, a significant goal of the group has been the foundation of an Islamic state. Specifically, ISIL has sought to establish itself as a Caliphate, an Islamic state led by a group of religious authorities under a supreme leader—the Caliph—who is believed to be the successor to Muhammad. In June 2014, ISIL published a document in which it claimed to have traced the lineage of its leader al-Baghdadi back to Muhammad, and upon proclaiming a new Caliphate on 29 June, the group appointed al-Baghdadi as its caliph. As Caliph, he demands the allegiance of all devout Muslims worldwide, according to Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh).
When the Caliphate was proclaimed, ISIL stated: "The legality of all emirates, groups, states and organisations becomes null by the expansion of the khilafah's [caliphate's] authority and arrival of its troops to their areas." This was a rejection of the political divisions in the Middle East that were established by Western powers during World War I in the Sykes–Picot Agreement.
Ideology and beliefs
ISIL is a Salafi group. It follows an extreme interpretation of Islam, promotes religious violence, and regards those who do not agree with its interpretations as infidels or apostates. According to Hayder al Khoei, ISIL's philosophy is represented by the symbolism in the Black Standard variant of the legendary battle flag of Muhammad that it has adopted: the flag shows the Seal of Muhammad within a white circle, with the phrase above it, "There is no God but Allah". Such symbolism has been said to point to ISIL's belief that it represents the restoration of the caliphate of early Islam, with all the political, religious and eschatological ramifications that this would imply.
According to some observers, ISIL emerged from the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood, the first post-Ottoman Islamist group dating back to the late 1920s in Egypt. It adheres to global jihadist principles and follows the hard-line ideology of al-Qaeda and many other modern-day jihadist groups.
However, other sources trace the group's roots not to the Islamism of the Muslim Brotherhood and the more mainstream jihadism of al-Qaeda, but to Wahhabism. The New York Times wrote:
For their guiding principles, the leaders of the Islamic State ... are open and clear about their almost exclusive commitment to the Wahhabi movement of Sunni Islam. The group circulates images of Wahhabi religious textbooks from Saudi Arabia in the schools it controls. Videos from the group’s territory have shown Wahhabi texts plastered on the sides of an official missionary van.
ISIL aims to return to the early days of Islam, rejecting all innovations in the religion, which it believes corrupts its original spirit. It condemns later caliphates and the Ottoman Empire for deviating from what it calls pure Islam, and seeks to revive the original Wahhabi project of the restoration of the caliphate governed by strict Salafist doctrine. Following Salafi-Wahhabi tradition, ISIL condemns the followers of secular law as disbelievers, putting the current Saudi government in that category.
Salafists such as ISIL believe that only a legitimate authority can undertake the leadership of jihad, and that the first priority over other areas of combat, such as fighting non-Muslim countries, is the purification of Islamic society. For example, ISIL regards the Palestinian Sunni group Hamas as apostates who have no legitimate authority to lead jihad and it regards fighting Hamas as the first step toward confrontation with Israel.
One difference between ISIL and other Islamist and jihadist movements is its emphasis on eschatology and apocalypticism, and its belief that the arrival of the Mahdi is imminent. ISIL believes it will defeat the army of "Rome" at the town of Dabiq in fulfilment of prophecy.
According to The New York Times, "All of the most influential jihadist theorists are criticizing the Islamic State as deviant, calling its self-proclaimed caliphate null and void" and have denounced it for its beheading of journalists and aid workers. ISIL is widely denounced by a broad range of Islamic clerics, including al-Qaeda-oriented and Saudi clerics.
Sunni critics, including Salafi and jihadist muftis such as Adnan al-Aroor and Abu Basir al-Tartusi, say that ISIL and related terrorist groups are not Sunnis, but modern-day Khawarij—Muslims who have stepped outside the mainstream of Islam—serving an imperial anti-Islamic agenda. Other critics of ISIL's brand of Sunni Islam include Salafists who previously publicly supported jihadist groups such as al-Qaeda, for example the Saudi government official Saleh Al-Fawzan, known for his extremist views, who claims that ISIL is a creation of "Zionists, Crusaders and Safavids", and the Jordanian-Palestinian writer Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, the former spiritual mentor to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was released from prison in Jordan in June 2014 and accuses ISIL of driving a wedge between Muslims.
Territorial claims and international presence
In Iraq and Syria, ISIL uses many of the existing Governorate boundaries to subdivide its claimed territory; it calls these divisions wilayah or provinces. As of February 2015, it claims a total 24 provincial divisions divided between Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt (Sinai Peninsula), Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Algeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Of these countries, it controls territory in Iraq, Syria, Sinai, and eastern Libya. ISIL also has members in Morocco, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Israel and Palestine, but it does not control territory in these areas.
On 5 October 2014, the Shura Council of Islamic Youth and other militants in Libya were absorbed and designated the Cyrenaica Province of ISIL. There are 800 fighters reported to be operating within Libya. The Libyan branch of ISIL has been the most active and successful out of all the ISIL branches outside of Iraq and Syria. They appear to be active mainly in the eastern urban centres of Derna and Benghazi. ISIL forces in Libya have also seized control of the city of Derna. On 4 January 2015, ISIL forces in Libya seized control of the eastern countryside of Sabha, executing 14 Libyan soldiers in the process.
On 10 November 2014, many members of the group Ansar Bait al-Maqdis took an oath of allegiance to al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIL. ISIL supporters from the group describe themselves as "Sinai Province" (Arabic: ولاية سيناء Wilayat Sinai). A faction of the Sinai group also operates in the Gaza Strip, which has renamed itself to the Islamic State in Gaza.
When Ansar Bait al-Maqdis was dissolved, a large Sinai-based part of the group pledging allegiance to ISIL, assuming the designation Sinai Province of ISIL or Wilayat Sinai. They are estimated to have 1,000–2,000 fighters.
Members of Jund al-Khilafah swore allegiance to ISIL in September 2014. ISIL in Algeria gained notoriety when it beheaded French tourist Herve Gourdel in September 2014. Since then, the group has largely been silent, with reports that its leader Khalid Abu-Sulayman was killed by Algerian forces in December 2014.
In November 2014, Jundallah, Tehreek-e-Khilafat, and Jamaat-ul-Ahrar pledged allegiance to ISIL, giving the organization an active presence in Pakistan. However, on 12 March 2015, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar left ISIL and rejoined Tehrik-i-Taliban.
On 29 January 2015, Hafiz Saeed Khan and Abdul Rauf swore an oath of allegiance to al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIL. Khan was named as the Wāli (Governor) of the Wilayat (Province) and Rauf as his deputy. The province includes Afghanistan, Pakistan, and "other nearby lands".
On 9 February 2015, Mullah Abdul Rauf was killed by a NATO airstrike. On 18 March 2015, Hafiz Wahidi, ISIL's replacement deputy Emir in Afghanistan, was killed by the Afghan Armed Forces, along with 9 other ISIL militants who were accompanying him.
On 13 November 2014, unidentified militants in Yemen pledged allegiance to ISIL, who were designated as part of the Sanaa Province in Yemen, which was named after the Yemeni capital city of Sana'a. By December 2014, it was revealed that ISIL already had an active presence inside of Yemen, with their recruitment drive bringing them into direct competition with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. By February 2015, the majority of the non-AQAP members of Ansar al-Sharia in Yemen had pledged allegiance to ISIL, boosting the groups's strength to hundreds of fighters.
West African Province
On 7 March 2015, Boko Haram's leader Abubakar Shekau pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant via an audio message posted on the organisation's Twitter account. On 12 March 2015, ISIL's spokesman Abu Mohammad al-Adnani released an audiotape in which he welcomed the pledge of allegiance, and described it as an expansion of the group's caliphate to West Africa.
Other areas of operation
- Unidentified militants in Saudi Arabia pledged allegiance to ISIL - designated as a province of ISIL.
- The Free Sunnis of Baalbek Brigade (Lebanon) pledged allegiance to ISIL.
- Sons of the Call for Tawhid and Jihad (Jordan) pledged allegiance to ISIL.
- Abu Sayyaf (Philippines) - pledged allegiance to ISIL.
- Some commanders of the Caucasus Emirate in Chechnya and Dagestan have switched their allegiance to ISIL.
Leadership and governance
The group is headed and run by al-Baghdadi, with a cabinet of advisers. There are two deputy leaders, Abu Muslim al-Turkmani (KIA) for Iraq and Abu Ali al-Anbari for Syria, and 12 local governors in Iraq and Syria. Beneath the leaders are councils on finance, leadership, military matters, legal matters—including decisions on executions—foreign fighters' assistance, security, intelligence and media. In addition, a Shura council has the task of ensuring that all decisions made by the governors and councils comply with the group's interpretation of sharia. The majority of the ISIL's leadership is dominated by Iraqis, especially among former members of Saddam Hussein's regime. It has been reported that Iraqis and Syrians have been given greater precedence over other nationalities within ISIL due to the fact that the group need the loyalties of the local Sunni populations in both Syria and Iraq in order to be sustainable. Other reports have indicated however that Syrians are at a disadvantage to foreign members of ISIL, with some native Syrian fighters resenting alleged 'favoritism' towards foreigners over pay and accommodation.
The Wall Street Journal estimated in September 2014 that eight million Iraqis and Syrians live in areas controlled by ISIL. Ar-Raqqah in Syria is the de facto headquarters, and is said to be a test case of ISIL governance. As of September 2014, governance in Ar-Raqqah has been under the total control of ISIL where it has rebuilt the structure of modern government in less than a year. Former government workers from the Assad government maintained their jobs after pledging allegiance to ISIL. Institutions, restored and restructured, provided their respective services. The Ar-Raqqah dam continues to provide electricity and water. Foreign expertise supplements Syrian officials in running civilian institutions. Only the police and soldiers are ISIL fighters, who receive confiscated lodging previously owned by non-Sunnis and others who fled. Welfare services are provided, price controls established, and taxes imposed on the wealthy. ISIL runs a soft power programme in the areas under its control in Iraq and Syria, which includes social services, religious lectures and da'wah—proselytising—to local populations. It also performs public services such as repairing roads and maintaining the electricity supply.
British security expert Frank Gardner has concluded that ISIL's prospects of maintaining control and rule are greater in 2014 than they were in 2006. Despite being as brutal as before, ISIL has become "well entrenched" among the population and is not likely to be dislodged by ineffective Syrian or Iraqi forces. It has replaced corrupt governance with functioning locally controlled authorities, services have been restored and there are adequate supplies of water and oil. With Western-backed intervention being unlikely, the group will "continue to hold their ground" and rule an area "the size of Pennsylvania for the foreseeable future", he said. Further solidifying ISIL rule is the control of wheat production, which is roughly 40% of Iraq's production. ISIL has maintained food production, crucial to governance and popular support.
Although the ISIL attracts extremists from different parts of the world by promoting the image of holy war, not all of them end up in combatant roles. There have been several cases of new recruits who expected to be mujihadeen that returned from Syria disappointed by the everyday jobs that had been assigned to them, like drawing water or cleaning toilets, or by the ban imposed on use of mobile phones during military training sessions.
ISIL also publishes material directed to women. Although women are not allowed to take up arms, media groups encourage them to play supportive roles within ISIL: providing first aid, cooking, nursing and sewing, to become "good wives of jihad".
Designation as a terrorist organisation
|United Nations||18 October 2004||United Nations Security Council|||
|European Union||2004||EU Council (via adoption of UN al-Qaida Sanctions List)|||
|United Kingdom||March 2001 (as part of al-Qaeda)|
20 June 2014 (after separation from al‑Qaeda)
|Home Secretary of the Home Office|||
|United States||17 December 2004 (as al-Qaeda in Iraq)||United States Department of State|||
|Australia||2 March 2005 (as al-Qaeda in Iraq)|
14 December 2013 (after separation from al‑Qaeda)
|Attorney-General for Australia|||
|Canada||20 August 2012||Parliament of Canada|||
|Turkey||30 October 2013||Grand National Assembly of Turkey|||
|Saudi Arabia||7 March 2014||Royal decree of the King of Saudi Arabia|||
|Indonesia||1 August 2014||National Counter-terrorism Agency BNPT|||
|United Arab Emirates||20 August 2014||United Arab Emirates Cabinet|||
|Malaysia||24 September 2014||Ministry of Foreign Affairs|||
|Egypt||30 November 2014||The Cairo Court for Urgent Matters|||
|India||16 December 2014||Ministry of Home Affairs|||
|Russia||29 December 2014||Supreme Court of Russia|||
|Kyrgyzstan||25 March 2015||Kyrgyz State Committee of National Security|||
The United Nations Security Council in its Resolution 1267 (1999) described Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda associates as operators of a network of terrorist training camps. The UN's Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee first listed ISIL in its Sanctions List under the name "Al-Qaida in Iraq" on 18 October 2004, as an entity/group associated with al-Qaeda. On 2 June 2014, the group was added to its listing under the name "Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant". The European Union adopted the UN Sanctions List in 2002.
Many world leaders and government spokespeople have called ISIL a terrorist group or banned it, without their countries having formally designated it as such. Some examples:
The Government of Germany banned ISIL in September 2014. Activities banned include donations to the group, recruiting fighters, holding ISIL meetings and distributing its propaganda, flying ISIL flags, wearing ISIL symbols and all ISIL activities. “The terror organisation Islamic State is a threat to public safety in Germany as well,” de Mazière said. “Today’s ban is directed solely against terrorists who abuse religion for their criminal goals.” The ban does not mean ISIL has been outlawed as a foreign terrorist organisation, as that requires a court judgement.
In mid-December 2014, India banned ISIL, after arresting the operator of a pro-ISIL Twitter account.
Human rights abuse and war crime findings
In July 2014, the BBC reported the United Nations' chief investigator as stating: "Fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) may be added to a list of war crimes suspects in Syria." By June 2014, according to United Nations reports, ISIL had killed hundreds of prisoners of war and over 1,000 civilians. In August 2014, the UN accused ISIL of committing "mass atrocities" and war crimes, including the mass killing of up to 250 Syrian Army soldiers near Tabqa Air base. Other known killings of military prisoners took place in Camp Speicher, where 1,095–1,700 Iraqi soldiers were shot and "thousands" more went "missing", and the Shaer gas field, where 200 Syrian soldiers were shot. Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that they were performing "widespread ethnic and religious cleansing in the areas under their control."
In early September 2014, the United Nations Human Rights Council agreed to send a team to Iraq and Syria to investigate the abuses and killings being carried out by the ISIL on "an unimaginable scale". Prince Zeid bin Ra'ad, the newly appointed UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, urged world leaders to step in to protect women and children suffering at the hands of ISIL militants, who he said were trying to create a "house of blood". He appealed to the international community to concentrate its efforts on ending the conflict in Iraq and Syria.
In November 2014, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria said that ISIL was committing crimes against humanity. A report by Human Rights Watch in November 2014 accused ISIL groups in control of Derna, Libya of war crimes and human rights abuses and of terrorising residents. Human Rights Watch documented three apparent summary executions and at least ten public floggings by the Islamic Youth Shura Council, which joined ISIL in November. It also documented the beheading of three Derna residents and dozens of seemingly politically motivated assassinations of judges, public officials, members of the security forces and others. Sarah Leah Watson, Director of HRW Middle East and North Africa, said: "Commanders should understand that they may face domestic or international prosecution for the grave rights abuses their forces are committing."
Speaking of ISIL's methods, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights has stated that the group "seeks to subjugate civilians under its control and dominate every aspect of their lives through terror, indoctrination, and the provision of services to those who obey".
Religious and minority group persecution
ISIL compels people in the areas that it controls to declare Islamic creed and live according to its interpretation of Sunni Islam and sharia law. There have been many reports of the group's use of death threats, torture and mutilation to compel conversion to Islam, and of clerics being killed for refusal to pledge allegiance to the so-called "Islamic State". ISIL directs violence against Shia Muslims, indigenous Assyrian, Chaldean, Syriac and Armenian Christians, Yazidis, Druze, Shabaks and Mandeans in particular.
Amnesty International has held ISIL responsible for the ethnic cleansing of ethnic and religious minority groups in northern Iraq on a "historic scale". In a special report released on 2 September 2014, it describes how ISIL has "systematically targeted non-Arab and non-Sunni Muslim communities, killing or abducting hundreds, possibly thousands, and forcing more than 830,000 others to flee the areas it has captured since 10 June 2014". Among these people are Assyrian Christians, Turkmen Shia, Shabak Shia, Yazidis, Kaka'i and Sabean Mandeans, who have lived together for centuries in Nineveh province, large parts of which are now under ISIL's control.
Among the known killings of religious and minority group civilians carried out by ISIL are those in the villages and towns of Quiniyeh (70–90 Yazidis killed), Hardan (60 Yazidis killed), Sinjar (500–2,000 Yazidis killed), Ramadi Jabal (60–70 Yazidis killed), Dhola (50 Yazidis killed), Khana Sor (100 Yazidis killed), Hardan (250–300 Yazidis killed), al-Shimal (dozens of Yazidis killed), Khocho (400 Yazidis killed and 1,000 abducted), Jadala (14 Yadizis killed) and Beshir (700 Shia Turkmen killed), and others committed near Mosul (670 Shia inmates of the Badush prison killed), and in Tal Afar prison, Iraq (200 Yazidis killed for refusing conversion). The UN estimated that 5,000 Yazidis were killed by ISIL during the takeover of parts of northern Iraq in August 2014. In late May 2014, 150 Kurdish boys from Kobani aged 14–16 were abducted and subjected to torture and abuse, according to Human Rights Watch. In the Syrian towns of Ghraneij, Abu Haman and Kashkiyeh 700 members of the Sunni Al-Shaitat tribe were killed for attempting an uprising against ISIL control. The UN reported that in June 2014 ISIL had killed a number of Sunni Islamic clerics who refused to pledge allegiance to it.
Christians living in areas under ISIL control who want to remain in the "caliphate" face three options: converting to Islam, paying a religious levy—jizya—or death. "We offer them three choices: Islam; the dhimma contract – involving payment of jizya; if they refuse this they will have nothing but the sword", ISIL said. ISIL had already set similar rules for Christians in Ar-Raqqah, once one of Syria's more liberal cities.
On 23 February 2015, in response to a major Kurdish offensive in the Al-Hasakah Governorate, ISIL abducted 150 Assyrian Christians from villages near near Tal Tamr (Tell Tamer) in northeastern Syria, after launching a large offensive in the region.
Treatment of civilians
During the Iraqi conflict in 2014, ISIL released dozens of videos showing its ill treatment of civilians, many of whom had apparently been targeted on the basis of their religion or ethnicity. Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, warned of war crimes being committed in the Iraqi war zone, and disclosed a UN report of ISIL militants murdering Iraqi Army soldiers and 17 civilians in a single street in Mosul. The UN reported that in the 17 days from 5 to 22 June, ISIL killed more than 1,000 Iraqi civilians and injured more than 1,000. After ISIL released photographs of its fighters shooting scores of young men, the UN declared that cold-blooded "executions" by militants in northern Iraq almost certainly amounted to war crimes.
ISIL's advance in Iraq in mid-2014 was accompanied by continuing violence in Syria. On 29 May, ISIL raided a village in Syria and at least 15 civilians were killed, including, according to Human Rights Watch, at least six children. A hospital in the area confirmed that it had received 15 bodies on the same day. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that on 1 June, a 102-year-old man was killed along with his whole family in a village in Hama province. According to Reuters, 1,878 people were killed in Syria by ISIL during the last six months of 2014, most of them civilians.
In Mosul, ISIL has implemented a sharia school curriculum which bans the teaching of art, music, national history, literature and Christianity. Although Charles Darwin's theory of evolution has never been taught in Iraqi schools, the subject has been banned from the school curriculum. Patriotic songs have been declared blasphemous, and orders have been given to remove certain pictures from school textbooks. Iraqi parents have largely boycotted schools in which the new curriculum has been introduced.
After capturing cities in Iraq, ISIL issued guidelines on how to wear clothes and veils. ISIL warned women in the city of Mosul to wear full-face veils or face severe punishment. A cleric told Reuters in Mosul that ISIL gunmen had ordered him to read out the warning in his mosque when worshippers gathered. ISIL ordered the faces of both male and female mannequins to be covered, in an order which also banned the use of naked mannequins. In Ar-Raqqah the group uses its two battalions of female fighters in the city to enforce compliance by women with its strict laws on individual conduct.
ISIL released 16 notes labelled "Contract of the City", a set of rules aimed at civilians in Nineveh. One rule stipulated that women should stay at home and not go outside unless necessary. Another rule said that stealing would be punished by amputation. In addition to the Muslim custom of banning the sale and use of alcohol, ISIL has banned the sale and use of cigarettes and hookah pipes. It has also banned "music and songs in cars, at parties, in shops and in public, as well as photographs of people in shop windows".
According to The Economist, dissidents in the ISIL capital of Ar-Raqqah report that "all 12 of the judges who now run its court system ... are Saudis". Saudi practices also followed by the group include the establishment of religious police to root out "vice" and enforce attendance at salat prayers, the widespread use of capital punishment, and the destruction of Christian churches and non-Sunni mosques or their conversion to other uses.
ISIL carried out executions on both men and women who were accused of various acts and found guilty of crimes against Islam such as homosexuality, adultery, watching pornography, usage and possession of contraband, rape, blasphemy, renouncing Islam and murder. Before the accused are executed their charges are read toward them and the spectators. Executions take various forms, including stoning to death, crucifixions, beheadings, burning people alive, and throwing people from tall buildings.
ISIL has recruited Iraqi children as young as nine to its ranks, who can be seen with masks on their faces and guns in their hands patrolling the streets of Mosul. According to a report by the magazine Foreign Policy, children as young as six are recruited or kidnapped and sent to military and religious training camps, where they practise beheading with dolls and are indoctrinated with the religious views of ISIL. Children are used as human shields on front lines and to provide blood transfusions for Islamic State soldiers, according to Shelly Whitman of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative. The second instalment of a Vice News documentary about ISIL focused on how the group is specifically grooming children for the future. A spokesman told VICE News that those under the age of 15 go to sharia camp to learn about religion, while those older than 16 can go to military training camp. Children are also used for propaganda. According to a UN report, "In mid-August, ISIL entered a cancer hospital in Mosul, forced at least two sick children to hold the ISIL flag and posted the pictures on the internet." Misty Buswell, a Save the Children representative working with refugees in Jordan, said, "It's not an exaggeration to say we could lose a whole generation of children to trauma."
Sexual violence and slavery
There are many reports of sexual abuse and enslavement in ISIL controlled areas of women and girls, predominantly from the minority Christian and Yazidi communities. According to one report, ISIL's capture of Iraqi cities in June 2014 was accompanied by an upsurge in crimes against women, including kidnap and rape. The Guardian reported that ISIL's extremist agenda extended to using women as sex slaves and that women living under their control were being captured and raped. Fighters are told that they are free to have sex with or rape non-Muslim captive women. A Baghdad-based women's rights activist, Basma al-Khateeb, said that a culture of violence existed in Iraq against women generally and felt sure that sexual violence against women was happening in Mosul involving not only ISIL but all armed groups. During a meeting with Nouri al-Maliki, British Foreign Minister William Hague said with regard to ISIL: "Anyone glorifying, supporting or joining it should understand that they would be assisting a group responsible for kidnapping, torture, executions, rape and many other hideous crimes". According to Martin Williams in The Citizen, some hard-line Salafists apparently regard extramarital sex with multiple partners as a legitimate form of holy war and it is "difficult to reconcile this with a religion where some adherents insist that women must be covered from head to toe, with only a narrow slit for the eyes".
Haleh Esfandiari from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars has highlighted the abuse of local women by ISIL militants after they have captured an area. "They usually take the older women to a makeshift slave market and try to sell them. The younger girls ... are raped or married off to fighters", she said, adding, "It's based on temporary marriages, and once these fighters have had sex with these young girls, they just pass them on to other fighters." Speaking of Yazidi women captured by ISIL, Nazand Begikhani said, "These women have been treated like cattle... They have been subjected to physical and sexual violence, including systematic rape and sex slavery. They've been exposed in markets in Mosul and in Raqqa, Syria, carrying price tags." This evidence contradicts a report from Vice News documenting the lives of citizens within Raqqa. Abu Ibrahim Raqqawi, a 22-year-old resident, and member of the group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, dismissed the notion of Yazidi girls brought as sex slaves to Raqqa as propaganda. However, in February 2015, the group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently reported on the subjugation of women, including the presence sex slaves within the city of Raqqa.
A United Nations report issued on 2 October 2014, based on 500 interviews with witnesses, said that ISIL took 450–500 women and girls to Iraq's Nineveh region in August, where "150 unmarried girls and women, predominantly from the Yazidi and Christian communities, were reportedly transported to Syria, either to be given to ISIL fighters as a reward or to be sold as sex slaves". In mid-October, the UN confirmed that 5,000–7,000 Yazidi women and children had been abducted by ISIL and sold into slavery. In November 2014 The New York Times reported on the accounts given by five who escaped ISIL of their captivity and abuse. In December 2014, the Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights announced that ISIL had killed over 150 women and girls in Fallujah who refused to participate in sexual jihad. Non-Muslim women have reportedly been married off to fighters against their will. ISIL claims the women provide the new converts and children necessary to spread ISIL's control. Shortly after the death of US hostage Kayla Mueller was confirmed on 10 February 2015, several media outlets reported that the US intelligence community believed she may have been given as a wife to an ISIL fighter. Yazidi girls in Iraq allegedly raped by ISIL fighters have committed suicide by jumping to their death from Mount Sinjar, as described in a witness statement.
In its digital magazine Dabiq, ISIL explicitly claimed religious justification for enslaving Yazidi women. According to The Wall Street Journal, ISIL appeals to apocalyptic beliefs and claims "justification by a Hadith that they interpret as portraying the revival of slavery as a precursor to the end of the world". ISIL appeals to the Hadith and Qur'an when claiming the right to enslave and rape captive non-Muslim women. According to Dabiq, "enslaving the families of the kuffar and taking their women as concubines is a firmly established aspect of the Sharia's that if one were to deny or mock, he would be denying or mocking the verses of the Qur'an and the narration of the Prophet ... and thereby apostatizing from Islam." Captured Yazidi women and children are divided among the fighters who captured them, with one fifth taken as a tax. ISIL has received widespread criticism from Muslim scholars and others in the Muslim world for using part of the Qur'an to derive a ruling in isolation, rather than considering the entire Qur'an and Hadith. According to Mona Siddiqui, ISIL's "narrative may well be wrapped up in the familiar language of jihad and 'fighting in the cause of Allah', but it amounts to little more than destruction of anything and anyone who doesn't agree with them"; she describes ISIL as reflecting a "lethal mix of violence and sexual power" and a "deeply flawed view of manhood". Dabiq describes "this large-scale enslavement" of non-Muslims as "probably the first since the abandonment of Shariah law".
In late 2014, ISIL released a pamphlet that focused on the treatment of female slaves. It claims that the Quran allows fighters to have sex with captives, including adolescent girls, and to beat slaves as discipline. The pamphlet's guidelines also allow fighters to trade slaves, including for sex, as long as they have not been impregnated by their owner. The Islamic state justifies sexual slavery by quoting Quran 23:5-6 : It is permissible to have sexual intercourse with the female captive. Allah the almighty said: '[Successful are the believers] who guard their chastity, except from their wives or (the captives and slaves) that their right hands possess, for then they are free from blame. Charlie Winter, a researcher at the counter-extremist think tank Quilliam, described the pamphlet as "abhorent". In response to this document Abbas Barzegar, a religion professor at Georgia State University, said Muslims around the world find ISIL's "alien interpretation of Islam grotesque and abhorrent". Muslim leaders and scholars from around the world have rejected the validity of these claims, claiming that the reintroduction of slavery is un-Islamic, that they are required to protect 'People of the Scripture' including Christians, Jews, Muslims and Yazidis, and that ISIL's fatwas are invalid due to their lack of religious authority and the fatwas' inconsistency with Islam.
The Independent reported in 2015 that the usage of Yazidi sex slaves was creating friction among fighters within ISIL. Sajad Jiyad, a Research Fellow and Associate Member at the Iraqi Institute for Economic Reform, told The Independent that many ISIL supporters and fighters had been in denial about the trafficking of kidnapped Yazidi women until a Dabiq article justifying the practice was published. According to The Independent, the practice is still continuing to polarize members among the ranks of the extremist group.
Attacks on members of the press
The Committee to Protect Journalists states: "Without a free press, few other human rights are attainable." ISIL has tortured and murdered local journalists, creating what Reporters Without Borders calls "news blackholes" in areas controlled by ISIL. ISIL fighters have reportedly been given written directions to kill or capture journalists.
In December 2013, two suicide bombers stormed the headquarters of TV station Salaheddin and killed five journalists, after accusing the station of "distorting the image of Iraq's Sunni community". Reporters Without Borders reported that on 7 September 2014, ISIL seized and on 11 October publicly beheaded Raad al-Azzawi, a TV Salaheddin cameraman from the village of Samra, east of Tikrit. As of October 2014, according to the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory, ISIL is holding nine journalists and has nine others under close observation in Mosul and Salahuddin province.
During 2013 and part of 2014, an ISIL unit nicknamed the Beatles acquired and held 12 Western journalists hostage, along with aid workers and other foreign hostages, totalling 23 or 24 known hostages. A Polish journalist Marcin Suder was captured in July 2013 but escaped four months later. The unit executed American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and released beheading videos. Eight of the other journalists were released for ransom: Danish journalist Daniel Rye Ottosen, French journalists Didier François, Edouard Elias, Nicolas Hénin, and Pierre Torres, and Spanish journalists Marc Marginedas, Javier Espinosa, and Ricardo García Vilanova. The unit continues to hold hostage British journalist John Cantlie and a female aid worker.
Cyber-security group the Citizen Lab released a report finding a possible link between ISIL and a digital attack on the Syrian citizen media group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently (RSS). Supporters of the media group received an emailed link to an image of supposed airstrikes, but clicking on the link introduced malware to the user's computer that sends details of the user's IP address and system each time it restarts. That information has been enough to allow ISIL to locate RSS supporters. "The group has been targeted for kidnappings, house raids, and at least one alleged targeted killing. At the time of that writing, ISIL was allegedly holding several citizen journalists in Raqqa," according to the Citizen Lab report.
On 8 January 2015, ISIL members in Libya claimed to have executed Tunisian journalists Sofiene Chourabi and Nadhir Ktari who disappeared in September 2014. Also in January 2015, Japanese journalist Kenji Goto Jogo was captured after travelling to Raqqah and displayed on video with another Japanese citizen with a demand for $200 million ransom.
Beheadings and mass executions
An unknown number of Syrians and Iraqis, several Lebanese soldiers, at least ten Kurds, two American journalists, one American and two British aid workers, and three Libyans have been beheaded by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. ISIL uses beheadings to intimidate local populations and has released a series of propaganda videos aimed at Western countries. They also engage in public and mass executions, sometimes forcing prisoners to dig their own graves before shooting lines of prisoners and pushing them in. ISIL was reported to have beheaded about 100 foreign fighters as deserters who tried to leave Raqqa.
Destruction of cultural and religious heritage
UNESCO's Director-General Irina Bokova has warned that ISIL is destroying Iraq's cultural heritage, in what she has called "cultural cleansing". "We don't have time to lose because extremists are trying to erase the identity, because they know that if there is no identity, there is no memory, there is no history", she said. Referring to the ancient cultures of Christians, Yazidis and other minorities, she said, "This is a way to destroy identity. You deprive them of their culture, you deprive them of their history, their heritage, and that is why it goes hand in hand with genocide. Along with the physical persecution they want to eliminate – to delete – the memory of these different cultures. ... we think this is appalling, and this is not acceptable." Saad Eskander, head of Iraq's National Archives said, "For the first time you have cultural cleansing... For the Yazidis, religion is oral, nothing is written. By destroying their places of worship ... you are killing cultural memory. It is the same with the Christians – it really is a threat beyond belief."
To finance its activities, ISIL is stealing artefacts from Syria and Iraq and sending them to Europe to be sold. It is estimated that ISIL raises US$200 million a year from cultural looting. UNESCO has asked for United Nations Security Council controls on the sale of antiquities, similar to those imposed after the 2003 Iraq War. UNESCO is working with Interpol, national customs authorities, museums, and major auction houses in attempts to prevent looted items from being sold. ISIL occupied Mosul Museum, the second most important museum in Iraq, as it was about to reopen after years of rebuilding following the Iraq War, saying that the statues were against Islam and threatening to destroy the museum's contents.
ISIL considers worshipping at graves tantamount to idolatry, and seeks to purify the community of unbelievers. It has used bulldozers to crush buildings and archaeological sites. Bernard Haykel has described al-Baghdadi's creed as "a kind of untamed Wahhabism", saying, "For Al Qaeda, violence is a means to an ends; for ISIS, it is an end in itself". The destruction by ISIL in July 2014 of the tomb and shrine of the prophet Yunus—Jonah in Christianity—the 13th-century mosque of Imam Yahya Abu al-Qassimin, the 14th-century shrine of prophet Jerjis—St George to Christians—and the attempted destruction of the Hadba minaret at the 12th-century Great Mosque of Al-Nuri have been described as "an unchecked outburst of extreme Wahhabism". "There were explosions that destroyed buildings dating back to the Assyrian era", said National Museum of Iraq director Qais Rashid, referring to the destruction of the shrine of Yunus. He cited another case where "Daesh (ISIL) gathered over 1,500 manuscripts from convents and other holy places and burnt all of them in the middle of the city square". In March 2015, ISIL reportedly bulldozed the 13th-century BC Assyrian city of Nimrud, believing its sculptures to be idolatrous. UNESCO head Irina Bokova deemed this to be a war crime.
There is also the fear that warfare waged on any side will harm cultural heritage. "The worst thing about wars is that they do not distinguish between the past and the future", Mosul calligrapher and conservationist Abdallah Ismail told a local correspondent for the German-funded publication Niqash.org. He suggested that ISIL was "taking the pulse" of the local population to see how it would react to their appetite for destruction. Philippe Lalliot, France's ambassador to UNESCO gave this perspective: "When people die in their tens of thousands, must we be concerned about cultural cleansing? Yes, definitely yes ... It's because culture is a powerful incentive for dialogue that the most extreme and the most fanatical groups strive to annihilate it." According to the London Charter and several Hague Conventions, the deliberate destruction of historical sites and places of worship, unless such destruction is a necessity during war, is a war crime.
ISIL has received severe criticism from other Muslims, especially religious scholars and theologians. In late August 2014, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Abdul-Aziz ibn Abdullah Al ash-Sheikh, condemned the Islamic State and al-Qaeda saying, "Extremist and militant ideas and terrorism which spread decay on Earth, destroying human civilisation, are not in any way part of Islam, but are enemy number one of Islam, and Muslims are their first victims". In late September 2014, 126 Sunni imams and Islamic scholars—primarily Sufi—from around the Muslim world signed an open letter to the Islamic State's leader al-Baghdadi, explicitly rejecting and refuting his group's interpretations of Islamic scriptures, the Qur'an and hadith, used by it to justify its actions. "[You] have misinterpreted Islam into a religion of harshness, brutality, torture and murder ... this is a great wrong and an offence to Islam, to Muslims and to the entire world", the letter states. It rebukes the Islamic State for its killing of prisoners, describing the killings as "heinous war crimes" and its persecution of the Yazidis of Iraq as "abominable". Referring to the "self-described 'Islamic State'", the letter censures the group for carrying out killings and acts of brutality under the guise of jihad—holy struggle—saying that its "sacrifice" without legitimate cause, goals and intention "is not jihad at all, but rather, warmongering and criminality". It also accuses the group of instigating fitna—sedition—by instituting slavery under its rule in contravention of the anti-slavery consensus of the Islamic scholarly community. Other scholars have described the group as not Sunnis, but Khawarij.
The group's declaration of a caliphate has been criticised and its legitimacy disputed by Middle Eastern governments, other jihadist groups, and Sunni Muslim theologians and historians. Qatar-based TV broadcaster and theologian Yusuf al-Qaradawi stated: "[The] declaration issued by the Islamic State is void under sharia and has dangerous consequences for the Sunnis in Iraq and for the revolt in Syria", adding that the title of caliph can "only be given by the entire Muslim nation", not by a single group.
Two days after the beheading of Hervé Gourdel, hundreds of Muslims gathered in the Grand Mosque of Paris to show solidarity against the beheading. The protest was led by the leader of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, Dalil Boubakeur, and was joined by thousands of other Muslims around the country under the slogan "Not in my name". French president François Hollande said Gourdel's beheading was "cowardly" and "cruel", and confirmed that airstrikes would continue against ISIL in Iraq. Hollande also called for three days of national mourning, with flags flown at half-mast throughout the country and said that security would be increased throughout Paris.
The group has attracted widespread criticism internationally for its extremism, from governments and international bodies such as the United Nations and Amnesty International. On 24 September 2014, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon stated: "As Muslim leaders around the world have said, groups like ISIL – or Da’ish – have nothing to do with Islam, and they certainly do not represent a state. They should more fittingly be called the 'Un-Islamic Non-State'." The group was described as a cult in a Huffington Post column by notable cult authority Steven Hassan.
Criticism of the name "Islamic State" and "caliphate" declaration
The declaration of a new caliphate in June 2014 and the name "Islamic State" have been criticised and ridiculed by Muslim scholars and rival Islamists inside and outside the territory it controls. In a speech in September 2014, President Obama said that ISIL is not "Islamic" on the basis that no religion condones the killing of innocents and that no government recognises the group as a state, and many object to using the name "Islamic State" owing to the far-reaching religious and political claims to authority which that name implies. The United Nations Security Council, the United States, Canada, Turkey, Australia, Russia, the United Kingdom and other countries generally call the group "ISIL", while much of the Arab world uses the Arabic acronym "Dāʻish". France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said "This is a terrorist group and not a state. I do not recommend using the term Islamic State because it blurs the lines between Islam, Muslims, and Islamists. The Arabs call it 'Daesh' and I will be calling them the 'Daesh cutthroats.'" Retired general John Allen, the US envoy to co-ordinate the coalition, US military Lieutenant General James Terry, head of operations against the group, and Secretary of State John Kerry have all shifted toward the term DAESH by December 2014.
In late August 2014, a leading Islamic educational institution, Dar al-Ifta al-Misriyyah in Egypt, advised Muslims to stop calling the group "Islamic State" and instead refer to it as "Al-Qaeda Separatists in Iraq and Syria" or "QSIS", because of the militant group's "un-Islamic character". When addressing the United Nations Security Council in September 2014, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott summarised the widespread objections to the name "Islamic State" thus: "To use this term [Islamic State] is to dignify a death cult; a death cult that, in declaring itself a caliphate, has declared war on the world". The group is very sensitive about its name. "They will cut your tongue out even if you call them ISIS – you have to say 'Islamic State'", said a woman in ISIL-controlled Mosul.
In mid-October 2014, representatives of the Islamic Society of Britain, the Association of British Muslims and the UK's Association of Muslim Lawyers proposed that "'Un-Islamic State' (UIS) could be an accurate and fair alternative name to describe this group and its agenda", further stating, "We need to work together and make sure that these fanatics don't get the propaganda that they feed off." The "Islamic State" is mocked on social media websites such as Twitter and YouTube, with the use of hashtags, mock recruiting ads, fake news articles and YouTube videos. One parody, by a Palestinian TV satire show, portrays ISIL as "buffoon-like hypocrites", and has had more than half a million views on YouTube.
Views of ISIL as Islamic
In mid-February 2015, Graeme Wood, a lecturer in political science at Yale University, said in The Atlantic, "Muslims who call the Islamic State un-Islamic are typically, as the Princeton scholar Bernard Haykel, the leading expert on the group’s theology, told me, 'embarrassed and politically correct, with a cotton-candy view of their own religion' that neglects 'what their religion has historically and legally required.' Many denials of the Islamic State’s religious nature, he said, are rooted in an 'interfaith-Christian-nonsense tradition.'" Wood further states, "The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. 'Very' Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam."
Mehdi Hasan, a political journalist, said in the New Statesman, "Whether Sunni or Shia, Salafi or Sufi, conservative or liberal, Muslims – and Muslim leaders – have almost unanimously condemned and denounced Isis not merely as un-Islamic but actively anti-Islamic." The British historian Tom Holland, writing for the New Statesman said, "Islamic State, in its conceit that it has trampled down the weeds and briars of tradition and penetrated to the truth of God’s dictates, is recognisably Salafist. When Islamic State fighters smash the statues of pagan gods, they are following the example of the Prophet; when they proclaim themselves the shock troops of a would-be global empire, they are following the example of the warriors of the original caliphate; when they execute enemy combatants, and impose discriminatory taxes on Christians, and take the women of defeated opponents as slaves, they are doing nothing that the first Muslims did not glory in. Such behaviour is certainly not synonymous with Islam; but if not Islamic, then it is hard to know what else it is."
Hassan Hassan, an analyst at the Delma Institute, wrote in The Guardian that because the Islamic State "bases its teachings on religious texts that mainstream Muslim clerics do not want to deal with head on, new recruits leave the camp feeling that they have stumbled on the true message of Islam".
By 2014, ISIL was increasingly being viewed as a militia rather than as a terrorist group. As major Iraqi cities fell to ISIL in June 2014, Jessica Lewis, a former US army intelligence officer at the Institute for the Study of War, described ISIL as "not a terrorism problem anymore", but rather "an army on the move in Iraq and Syria, and they are taking terrain. They have shadow governments in and around Baghdad, and they have an aspirational goal to govern. I don't know whether they want to control Baghdad, or if they want to destroy the functions of the Iraqi state, but either way the outcome will be disastrous for Iraq." Lewis has called ISIL "an advanced military leadership". She said, "They have incredible command and control and they have a sophisticated reporting mechanism from the field that can relay tactics and directives up and down the line. They are well-financed, and they have big sources of manpower, not just the foreign fighters, but also prisoner escapees."
While officials fear that ISIL may either inspire attacks in the United States by sympathisers or by those returning after joining ISIL, US intelligence agencies find there is no immediate threat or specific plots. Former US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel sees an "imminent threat to every interest we have", but former top counterterrorism adviser Daniel Benjamin has derided such alarmist talk as a "farce" that panics the public.
Some news commentators, such as international newspaper columnist Gwynne Dyer, and samples of American public opinion, such as surveys by NPR, have advocated a strong but measured response to ISIL's recent provocative acts.
Conspiracy theories in the Arab world
Conspiracy theorists in the Arab world have advanced rumours that the US is secretly behind the existence and emboldening of ISIL, as part of an attempt to further destabilise the Middle East. After such rumours became widespread, the US embassy in Lebanon issued an official statement denying the allegations, calling them a complete fabrication. Others are convinced that ISIL leader al-Baghdadi is an Israeli Mossad agent and actor called Simon Elliot. The rumours claim that NSA documents leaked by Edward Snowden reveal this connection. Snowden's lawyer has called the story "a hoax."
Countries and groups at war with ISIL
ISIL's expanding claims to territory have brought it into armed conflict with many governments, militias and other armed groups. International rejection of ISIL as a terrorist entity and rejection of its claim to even exist have placed it in conflict with countries around the world.
Opposition within Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and other nations
|Iraqi Insurgency||Syrian Civil War||Other conflicts|
Algerian Armed Forces
West Africa-based opponents
American-led Coalition to counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
The Global Coalition to counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or Daesh), also referred to as the Counter-ISIL Coalition or Counter-DAESH Coalition, is a US-led group of nations and non-state actors that have committed to "work together under a common, multifaceted, and long-term strategy to degrade and defeat ISIL/Daesh". According to a joint statement issued by 59 national governments and the European Union, participants in the Counter-ISIL Coalition are focused on multiple lines of effort:
- Supporting military operations, capacity building, and training;
- Stopping the flow of foreign terrorist fighters;
- Cutting off ISIL/Daesh's access to financing and funding;
- Addressing associated humanitarian relief and crises; and
- Exposing ISIL/Daesh's true nature (ideological delegitimisation).
Operation Inherent Resolve is the operational name given by the US to military operations against ISIL and Syrian al-Qaeda affiliates. Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF–OIR) is co-ordinating the military portion of the response.
The following multi-national organisations are part of the Counter-ISIL Coalition:
European Union – declared to be part, most members are participating;
NATO – all 28 members are taking part;
Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf or GCC – all six current members and the two pending members, Jordan and Morocco, are taking part.
|Military operations in or over Iraq and/or Syria |
airstrikes, air support, and ground forces performing training
|Supplying military equipment to opposition forces |
within Iraq and/or Syria in co-operation with EU/NATO/partners
|Humanitarian and other contributions |
to identified coalition objectives
Part of the anti-ISIL coalition engaged in anti-ISIL military operations within their own borders
Note: Listed countries in this box may also be supplying military and humanitarian aid, and contributing to group objectives in other ways.
NATO members: (also EU members except Albania)
European Union members (not in NATO)
Note: These countries may also be supplying humanitarian aid and contributing to group objectives in other ways.
NATO members: (who are also EU members, except Iceland)
European Union members (not in NATO)
Other state opponents
Other non-state opponents
- al-Nusra Front—with localised truces and co-operation at times
- al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula
Kurdistan Workers' Party of Turkey—ground troops in Iraqi Kurdistan and in Syrian Kurdistan
Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan—ground troops in Iraqi Kurdistan and in Syrian Kurdistan
Houthis—Shia faction in Yemen, fighting for control of the country
According to a March 2015 report to the UN Security Council, some 22,000 foreign fighters from 100 nations have traveled to Syria and Iraq, most to support Islamic State (IS). The report to UN Security Council filed in late March 2015 warned that Syria and Iraq had become a "finishing school for extremists". (In mid-2014, IS leader Abu Bakr had issued a call, "Rush O Muslims to your state ...")
Groups with expressions of support
One source (Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium (TRAC)) has identified 60 jihadist groups in 30 countries that have pledged allegiance or support to ISIL as of mid-November 2014. Many of these groups were previously affiliated with al-Qaeda, indicating a shift in global jihadist leadership toward ISIL.
Memberships of the following groups have declared support for ISIL, either fully or in part.
- Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters
- Jemaah Islamiyah
- Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia
- Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem
- Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid - (pledged support to ISIL; the majority of the group split off after its leader pledged allegiance to ISIL)
Allegations of Turkish support
Turkey has been accused of supporting or colluding with ISIL, especially by Syrian Kurds. According to journalist Patrick Cockburn, there is "strong evidence for a degree of collaboration" between the Turkish intelligence services and ISIL, although the "exact nature of the relationship ... remains cloudy". David L. Phillips of Columbia University's Institute for the Study of Human Rights, who compiled a list of allegations and claims accusing Turkey of assisting ISIL, writes that these allegations "range from military cooperation and weapons transfers to logistical support, financial assistance, and the provision of medical services". Several ISIL fighters and commanders have claimed Turkey supports ISIL. Within Turkey itself, ISIL is believed to have caused increasing political polarisation between secularists and Islamists.
Turkey has been further criticised for allowing individuals from outside the region to enter its territory and join ISIL in Syria. With many Islamist fighters passing through Turkey to fight in Syria, Turkey has been accused of becoming a transit country for such fighters and has been labelled the "Gateway to Jihad". Turkish border patrol officers are reported to have deliberately overlooked those entering Syria upon the payment of a small bribe. A report by Sky News exposed documents showing that passports of foreign Islamists wanting to join ISIL by crossing into Syria had been stamped by the Turkish government. An ISIL commander stated that "most of the fighters who joined us in the beginning of the war came via Turkey, and so did our equipment and supplies", adding that ISIL fighters received treatment in Turkish hospitals.
Allegations of Saudi Arabian support
Although Saudi Arabia's government rejected these claims, the Iraqi President Nouri al-Maliki accused Saudi Arabia of funding ISIL. Some media outlets like NBC, BBC, and The New York Times and the US-based think tank Washington Institute for Near East Policy have written of individual Saudi donations to the group, and the Saudi state's decade long sponsorship of Salafism around the world, but have concluded that there is no evidence of direct Saudi state support for ISIL.
Allegations of Syrian support
During the Syrian Civil War, multiple parties in the conflict have accused the Syrian government of some form of collusion with ISIL, whose dominance in the opposition against the Bashar al-Assad government, would give that government a basis for its claim to being under attack by "terrorists" and "a secular bulwark against al-Qaida and jihadi fanaticism". Several sources have claimed that ISIL prisoners were strategically released from Syrian prisons at the beginning of the Syrian Civil War in 2011. The Syrian government has bought oil directly from ISIS, and in March 2015 a European Union report brought to light that the Syrian government and ISIL jointly run a HESCO gas plant in Tabqa, central Syria; the facility continues to supply government-held areas, and electricity continues to be supplied to ISIL-held areas from government-run power plants. United States Secretary of State John Kerry has stated that the Syrian government has tactically avoided Isis forces in order to weaken moderate opposition such as the Free Syrian Army, as well as "even purposely ceding some territory to them [ISIS] in order to make them more of a problem so he can make the argument that he is somehow the protector against them". A IHS Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Center database analysis confirmed that only 6% of Syrian government forces attacks were targeted at ISIL in Jan 1–Nov 21, 2014, while in the same period only 13% of all ISIS attacks targeted government forces. The National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces has stated that the Syrian government has operatives inside ISIS, as has the leadership of Ahrar ash-Sham. ISIS members captured by the FSA have claimed that they were directed to commit attacks by Syrian government operatives.
Allegations of United States support
Rand Paul, the junior Senator from Kentucky, accused the US government of indirectly supporting ISIL in the Syrian Civil War by arming their allies and fighting their enemies in that country. A Syrian rebel spokesmen rejected the statements, saying “The Free Syrian Army has been fighting ISIS since January and continues to do so at great cost and risk. Thousands of Syrian freedom fighters have died fighting this terrorist threat”.
Abu Yusaf, a commander of the ISIL, said in August 2014 that Free Syrian Army members who had been trained by United States' and Turkish and Arab military officers had subsequently joined ISIL. In September 2014, some US-backed Syrian rebels and ISIL reportedly signed a "non-aggression" agreement. These reports were denied by the Islamic Front, the Syria Revolutionaries Front, and other rebel groups, and the fighting between these groups and ISIL continued.
Military and resources
Foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq
As of early 2015, journalist Mary Anne Weaver estimates that half of ISIS fighters are made up of foreigners. A UN report estimated a total of 15,000 fighters from over 80 countries in ISIL's ranks as of November 2014. US intelligence estimated an increase to around 20,000 foreign fighters in February 2015, including 3,400 from Western countries.
|Saudi Arabia|| |
|United Kingdom|| |
Statistics gathered by nation indicate up to: 3,000 from Tunisia, 2,500 from Saudi Arabia, 1,700 from Russia, 1,500 from Jordan, 1,500 from Morocco, 1,200 from France, 1,000 from Turkey, 900 from Lebanon, 650 from Germany, 600 from the United Kingdom, 600 from Libya, 500 from Uzbekistan, 500 from Pakistan, 440 from Belgium, 360 from Turkmenistan, 360 from Egypt, 350 from Serbia, 330 from Bosnia, 300 from China, 300 from Kosovo, 300 from Sweden, 250 from Australia, 250 from Kazakhstan, 250 from the Netherlands, 200 from Austria, 200 from Algeria, 190 from Tajikistan, 180 from the United States, 150 from Norway, 150 from Denmark, 140 from Albania, 130 from Canada, 110 from Yemen, 100 from Sudan, 100 from Kyrgyzstan, 100 from Spain, 80 from Italy, 70-80 from Palestine, 70 from Somalia, 70 from Kuwait, 70 from Finland, 50 from Ukraine, 40-50 from Israel, 40 from Switzerland, 30 from Ireland, and 18 from India.
According to a statement of a former senior leader of IS, these fighters receive food and housing but have not received salary.
ISIL relies mostly on captured weapons. Major sources are Saddam Hussein's Iraqi stockpiles from the 2003–11 Iraq insurgency and weapons from government and opposition forces fighting in the Syrian Civil War and during the post-US withdrawal Iraqi insurgency. The captured weapons, including armour, guns, surface-to-air missiles, and even some aircraft, enabled rapid territorial growth and facilitated the capture of additional equipment.
The group has a long history of using truck and car bombs, suicide bombers, and IEDs, and has used chemical weapons in Iraq and Syria. ISIL captured nuclear materials from Mosul University in July 2014, but is unlikely to be able to turn them into weapons.
Propaganda and social media
ISIL is known for its extensive and effective use of propaganda. It uses a version of the Muslim Black Standard flag and developed an emblem which has clear symbolic meaning in the Muslim world.
In November 2006, shortly after the group's rebranding as the "Islamic State of Iraq", the group established the al-Furqan Institute for Media Production, which produces CDs, DVDs, posters, pamphlets, and web-related propaganda products. ISIL's main media outlet is the I'tisaam Media Foundation, which was formed in March 2013 and distributes through the Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF). When ISIL announced it's expansion to other countries in November 2014 it established media departments for the new branches, and its media apparatus ensured that the new branches follow the same models it uses in Iraq and Syria.
In 2014, ISIL established the al-Hayat Media Centre, which targets a Western audience and produces material in English, German, Russian and French. Also in 2014, ISIL launched the Ajnad Media Foundation, which releases jihadist audio chants. In December 2014, FBI Director James Comey stated that ISIL's "propaganda is unusually slick. They are broadcasting... in something like 23 languages". In April 2015 hackers claiming allegiance to ISIL managed to black out 11 global television channels belonging to TV5Monde for several hours, and take over the company's social media pages for nearly a day.
From July 2014, al-Hayat began publishing a digital magazine called Dabiq, in a number of different languages including English. According to the magazine, its name is taken from the town of Dabiq in northern Syria, which is mentioned in a hadith about Armageddon. The group also runs a radio network called al-Bayan, which airs bulletins in Arabic, Russian and English and provides coverage of its activities in Iraq, Syria and Libya.
ISIL's use of social media has been described by one expert as "probably more sophisticated than [that of] most US companies". It regularly takes advantage of social media, particularly Twitter, to distribute its message by organising hashtag campaigns, encouraging Tweets on popular hashtags, and utilising software applications that enable ISIL propaganda to be distributed automatically via its supporters' accounts. Another comment is that "ISIS puts more emphasis on social media than other jihadi groups... They have a very coordinated social media presence." In August 2014, Twitter administrators shut down a number of accounts associated with ISIL. ISIL recreated and publicised new accounts the next day, which were also shut down by Twitter administrators. The group has attempted to branch out into alternative social media sites, such as Quitter, Friendica and Diaspora; Quitter and Friendica, however, almost immediately worked to remove ISIL's presence from their sites.
In a switch from its former practices, ISIL's media arm imposed a social media blackout on 27 September 2014, fearing that tweets and posts would give away military positions. ISIL has also attempted to present a more "rational argument" in its series of "press release/discussions" performed by hostage/captive John Cantlie and posted on YouTube. In one "Cantlie presentation", various current and former US officials were quoted, such as US President Barack Obama and former CIA Officer Michael Scheuer.
ISIL has been flexible in using numerous sources of funding to sustain its operations. According to a 2015 study by the Financial Action Task Force, its five primary sources of revenue are as followed (listed in order of significance):
- Illicit proceeds from the occupation of territory (including control of banks, oil and gas reservoirs, taxation, extortion, and robbery of economic assets);
- Kidnapping for ransom;
- Donations, including through non-profit organizations;
- Material support provided by foreign fighters;
- Fundraising through modern communication networks;
The contribution of such sources was also analyzed in a 2014 study by the RAND Corporation using 200 documents — personal letters, expense reports and membership rosters — which had been captured from Islamic State of Iraq (al-Qaeda in Iraq). It found that from 2005 until 2010, outside donations amounted to only 5% of the group's operating budgets, with the rest being raised within Iraq. In the time period studied, cells were required to send up to 20% of the income generated from kidnapping, extortion rackets and other activities to the next level of the group's leadership. Higher-ranking commanders would then redistribute the funds to provincial or local cells that were in difficulties or needed money to conduct attacks. The records show that the Islamic State of Iraq was dependent on members from Mosul for cash, which the leadership used to provide additional funds to struggling militants in Diyala, Salahuddin and Baghdad.
In mid-2014, Iraqi intelligence obtained information from an ISIL operative which revealed that the organisation had assets worth US$2 billion, making it the richest jihadist group in the world. About three-quarters of this sum is said to be represented by assets seized after the group captured Mosul in June 2014; this includes possibly up to US$429 million looted from Mosul's central bank, along with additional millions and a large quantity of gold bullion stolen from a number of other banks in Mosul. However, doubt was later cast on whether ISIL was able to retrieve anywhere near that sum from the central bank, and even on whether the bank robberies had actually occurred.
On 11 November 2014, ISIL announced its intent to mint its own gold, silver, and copper coins, based on the coinage used by the Umayyad Caliphate in the 7th century. Following the announcement, the group began buying up gold, silver, and copper in markets throughout northern and western Iraq, according to precious metal traders in the area. Members of the group also reportedly began stripping the insulation off electrical power cables to obtain the copper wiring. The announcement included designs of the proposed coins, which displayed imagery including a map of the world, a sword and shield, the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, and a crescent moon. Economics experts, such as Professor Steven H. Hanke of Johns Hopkins University, were sceptical of the plans. See also Modern gold dinar.
Exporting oil from oilfields captured by ISIL brought in tens of millions of dollars. One US Treasury official had estimated that ISIL earns US$1 million a day from the export of oil. Much of the oil is sold illegally in Turkey. In 2014 Dubai-based energy analysts put the combined oil revenue from ISIL's Iraqi-Syrian production as high as US$3 million per day.
In 2014, the majority of the group's funding came from the production and sale of energy controlling around 300 oil wells in Iraq alone. At its peak, it operated 350 oil wells in Iraq, but lost 45 to foreign airstrikes. It had captured 60% of Syria's total production capacity. About one fifth of its total capacity had been in operation. ISIL earned US$2.5 million a day by selling 50,000–60,000 barrels of oil daily. Foreign sales rely on a long-standing black market to export via Turkey. Many of the smugglers and corrupt Turkish border guards who helped Saddam Hussein to evade sanctions are helping ISIL to export oil and import cash.
Other energy sales include selling electric power from captured power plants in northern Syria; some of this electricity is reportedly sold back to the Syrian government.
Sale of antiques and artefacts
Sales of artefacts may be the second largest source of funding for ISIL, according to an article in Newsweek. More than a third of Iraq's important sites are under ISIL's control. It looted the 9th century BC grand palace of the Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II at Kalhu. Tablets, manuscripts and cuneiforms were sold, worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Stolen artefacts are smuggled into Turkey and Jordan. Abdulamir al-Hamdani, an archaeologist from SUNY Stony Brook, has said that ISIL is "looting... the very roots of humanity, artifacts from the oldest civilizations in the world".
Taxation and extortion
ISIL extracts wealth through taxation and extortion. Regarding taxation, Christians and foreigners are at times required to pay a tax known as a "Jizya." In addition, the group routinely practices extortion, by demanding money from truck drivers and threatening to blow up businesses, for example. Robbing banks and gold shops has been another source of income. The Iraq government indirectly finances ISIS, as they continue to pay the salaries of the thousands of government employees who continue to work in areas controlled by ISIS, which then confiscates as much as half of those Iraqi government employees' pay.
ISIL is widely reported as receiving funding from private donors in the Gulf states, and the governments of Iraq and Iran have repeatedly accused Saudi Arabia and Qatar of financing and supporting the group. Ahead of the conference of the US-led anti-ISIL coalition held in Paris in September 2014, France's foreign minister acknowledged that a number of countries at the table had "very probably" financed ISIL's advances.
Although Iran and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have accused Saudi Arabia and Qatar of funding the group, there is reportedly no evidence that this is the case. However, according to The Atlantic, ISIL may have been a major part of Saudi Arabian Bandar bin Sultan's covert-ops strategy in Syria.
Unregistered charity organisations are used as fronts to pass funds to ISIL. As they use aliases on Facebook's WhatsApp and Kik, the individuals and organisations are untraceable. Donations transferred to fund ISIL's operations are disguised as "humanitarian charity". Saudi Arabia has imposed a blanket ban on unauthorised donations destined for Syria as the only means of stopping such funding.
Timeline of recent events
- Index to main: 2013 events; 2014 events: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December; 2015 events: January, February, March, April.
- 17 April: 130 ISIL sleeper agents hiding in Tikrit were found and killed by Iraq security forces, which finally ended the Second Battle of Tikrit. Additionally thousands of families fleeing Iraq’s western city of Ramadi choked checkpoints leading to Baghdad on Friday, after an Islamic State advance spread panic and left security forces clinging to control. U.S. and Iraqi officials have warned that the city is at risk of falling to the Islamic State despite seven months of airstrikes by U.S. planes in Anbar.
- 18 April: ISIL's Wilayat Khorasan claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in Afghanistan on April 18 that killed at least 33 people and injured more than 100, according to a statement believed to be from the movement.
- 19 April: ISIL produced a video showing the murder by shooting and decapitation of approximately 30 people, who were identified as Ethiopian Christians. The killings were strongly decried by U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan, who called for stability in the midst of Libya's political unrest.
- 20 April: A 18-year-old boy from New Zealand joins ISIL and is reported missing. New Zealand and Australia are concerned about ISIL-related terrorism at Anzac day. Also, ISIL was defeated in Yarmouk Camp, with the Syrian rebel groups driving the militant organization out of the region.
- 21 April: It was reported that al-Bagdadi had not yet recovered enough from the injuries he received from a 18 March Coalition airstrike to reassume daily control of ISIL.
- 22 April: The Iraqi Army regains ground in Ramadi from ISIL forces. Additionally, it was reported that Abu Alaa Afri, the self-proclaimed Caliph's deputy and a former Iraqi physics teacher, has now been installed as the stand-in leader while Baghdadi recuperates from his injuries.
- 25 April: A video is reported in which ISIS executioners in Homs province are shown staging a purported display of sympathy wherein they embrace and "forgive" two gay men for their "sins" before bludgeoning them to death with huge rocks. Additionally, ISIL reportedly shot down a Syrian fighter jet over the As-Suwayda Governorate, with the militant group claiming to have captured the pilot near the Khalkhalah airport.
- ↑ "Colonial Caliphate: The Ambitions of the 'Islamic State'". Retrieved 16 December 2014.
- ↑ "How ISIS got its anthem". The Guardian. 9 November 2014. Retrieved 16 November 2014.
- ↑ "LiveLeak.com - Islamic state caliphate anthem!Nasheed of Islamic state .. la ilàha illa Allàh".
- ↑ "ISIS on offense in Iraq". Al-Monitor. 10 June 2014. Retrieved 11 June 2014.
- ↑ Kelley, Michael B. (20 August 2014). "One Big Question Surrounds The Murder of US Journalist James Foley By ISIS". Business Insider. Retrieved 20 August 2014.
... the de facto ISIS capital of Raqqa, Syria ...
- ↑ Perry, Tom (31 March 2015). "Islamic State attacks Syrian village, kills 37: monitor". Retrieved 31 March 2015.
- ↑ "Turkey helped Islamists take over Idlib, Syrian military source accuses". 30 March 2015. Retrieved 31 March 2015.
- ↑ 8.0 8.1 8.2 "Islamic State". Australian National Security. Australian Government. Retrieved 22 July 2014.
- ↑ "The Islamic State". Stanford University. 23 January 2015. Retrieved 23 April 2015.
- ↑ 10.0 10.1 "Islamic State: The Changing Face of Modern Jihadism" (PDF). Quilliam Foundation. November 2014. Retrieved 23 April 2015.
- ↑ 11.0 11.1 Crooke, Alastair (5 September 2014). "You Can't Understand ISIS If You Don't Know the History of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia". The Huffington Post.
- ↑ Mroue, Baseem (17 April 2015). "Hezbollah blames Saudi". Yahoo News. Retrieved 2 May 2015.
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The Islamic State has de facto control of a whole swathe of territory stretching from eastern Syria to the environs of Baghdad and last month declared a caliphate...
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But American officials didn't anticipate that they would become not only adjuncts to al-Qaeda, but core members of the jihadist group.
They were instrumental in the group’s rebirth from the defeats inflicted on insurgents by the US military, which is now back in Iraq bombing many of the same men it had already fought twice before.
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transcript of an interview conducted by the author at the National Museum of Syria with an employee of the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM). The gentleman had been working in the governorate of Raqqa, in eastern Syria, when armed groups were looting museums and conducting illegal excavations of heritage sites.
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JOHN KERRY: Regrettably Congressman, no we're not going to be undercut, because. If Assad's forces indeed do decide to focus on ISIL significantly, which they haven't been doing throughout this period, one of our judgements is there is evidence that Assad has played footsie with them, and he has used them as a tool of weakening the opposition. He never took on their headquarters, which were there and obvious, and other assets that they have. So we have no confidence that Assad is either capable of or willing to take on ISIL."
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excerpt from, interview with Abu Hajjar, a former "senior leader of IS": "How much money would a foreign fighter receive as a wage?" "A foreigner? They aren't given a salary. They are given food and housing, not money."
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|title=(help) Retrieved on 22 March 2015.
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