Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
الدولة الإسلامية في العراق والشام (Arabic)
ad-Dawlah al-Islāmīyah fī al-‘Irāq wash-Shām
Primary participant in:
|Motto: باقية وتتمدد
“Remaining and Expanding”
|Anthem: أمتي قد لاح فجر
Ummatī, qad lāha fajrun
“My Nation, Dawn Has Appeared”
Military situation as of 16 February 2015, in Iraq and Syria (minus the Golan Heights).
Controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
Controlled by al-Nusra
Controlled by other Syrian rebels
Controlled by Syrian government
Controlled by Iraqi government
Controlled by Syrian Kurds
Controlled by Iraqi Kurds
Note: Syria and Iraq contain large desert areas with limited population. These areas are mapped as under the control of forces holding roads and towns within them.
|Administrative center||Ar-Raqqah, Syria
|Largest city||Mosul, Iraq|
|Type||Rebel group controlling territory|
|Military strength & operation areas||Inside Iraq and Syria
200,000 (Kurdish claim)
20,000–31,000 (CIA estimate)
Outside Iraq and Syria
21,000–35,800 (SeeMilitary of ISIL for more-detailed estimates.)
|–||Leader||Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi|
|–||Deputy leader in Iraq||Abu Muslim al-Turkmani † |
|–||Deputy leader in Syria||Abu Ali al-Anbari|
|–||Head of Military Shura||Abu Ayman al-Iraqi|
|–||Spokesman||Abu Muhammad al-Adnani|
|–||Field commander||Abu Omar al-Shishani|
|–||Formation (as Jamāʻat al-Tawḥīd wa-al-Jihād)||1999|
|–||Joined al-Qaeda||October 2004|
|–||Declaration of an Islamic statein 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 andPakistan||13 November 2014|
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL /ˈaɪsəl/) is a jihadistrebel group that controls territory in Iraq and Syria and also operates in eastern Libya, the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt, and other areas of the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia.The group’s Arabic name is transliterated as ad-Dawlah al-Islāmīyah fī al-‘Irāq wash-Shām leading to the Arabic acronym Da‘ish or DAESH(Arabic pronunciation: da:ʕeʃ). The name is also commonly translated as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS /ˈaɪsɪs/). On 29 June 2014, the group proclaimed itself to be a Worldwide Caliphate and renamed itself to theIslamic State (IS), but the new name has been widely criticized and condemned, with the UN, various governments, and mainstream Muslim groups refusing to acknowledge it.Many Islamic and non-Islamic communities judge the group to be unrepresentative of Islam. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was named its “caliph“. As caliphate it claims religious, political and military authority over all Muslims worldwide and that “the legality of all emirates, groups, states, and organizations, becomes null by the expansion of the khilāfah’s (caliphates’s) authority and arrival of its troops to their areas”.
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 beendesignated as a terrorist organization by the United Nations, theEuropean Union, the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, Canada, Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, 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. Following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, AQI took part in the Iraqi insurgency. In 2006, it joined other Sunni insurgent groups to form the Mujahideen Shura Council, which shortly afterwards proclaimed the formation of an Islamic state, naming it the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). The ISI gained a significant presence in Al Anbar,Nineveh, Kirkuk and other areas, but around 2008, its violent methods, including suicide attacks on civilian targets and the widespread killing of prisoners, led to a backlash from Sunni Iraqis and other insurgent groups.[a]
The group grew significantly under the leadership of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and after entering the Syrian Civil War, it established a large presence in Sunni-majority areas of Syria within the governorates of Ar-Raqqah, Idlib, Deir ez-Zor and Aleppo. Having expanded into Syria, the group changed its name in April 2013 to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), when al-Baghdadi announced its merger with the Syrian-based group al-Nusra Front. The group remained closely linked to al-Qaeda until February 2014, when after an eight-month power struggle, al-Qaeda cut all ties with ISIL—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. (See ISIL beheading incidents.)
The group gained notoriety after it drove the Iraqi government forces out of key western cities in Iraq while in Syria it conquered and conducted ground attacks against both the government forces and rebel factions in the Syrian Civil War. It gained those territories after an offensive, initiated in early 2014, which senior U.S. military commanders and members of the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs saw as a reemergence of Sunni insurgents and al-Qaeda militants. This territorial loss implied a failure of U.S. foreign policy and almost caused a collapse of the Iraqi government that required renewal of U.S. action in Iraq.
Part of a series on the
| Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
|Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (1999–2004)Tanzim Qaidat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn (2004–06)
Mujahideen Shura Council (2006)
Self-proclaimed as the Islamic State of Iraq (2006–13)
Self-proclaimed as theIslamic 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 (Organization 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)
The group has had various names since it was established.
- The group was founded in 1999 by Abu Musab al-Zarqawiunder the name Jamāʻat al-Tawḥīd wa-al-Jihād, “The Organization of Monotheism and Jihad” (JTJ).
- In October 2004, al-Zarqawi swore loyalty to Osama bin Ladenand changed the group’s name to Tanẓīm Qāʻidat al-Jihād fī Bilād al-Rāfidayn, “The Organization 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 Dawlat al-ʻIraq al-Islāmīyah, 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 US–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 al-Dawlah al-Islāmīyah fī al-ʻIrāq wa-al-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 for it sounds similar to the Arabic words Daes, “one who crushes something underfoot,” and Dahes, “one who sows discord.”—and 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 US officials shifted toward DAESH citing it was the preferred term used by Arab partners.
- On 29 June 2014, the group renamed itself the Islamic State (IS) and declared itself to be 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 criticized, with the UN, various governments, and mainstream Muslim groups refusing to use it.
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 Iraq insurgency, by (suicide) attackingShia Islamic mosques and civilians, Iraqi government institutions, and Italiansoldiers partaking in the U.S.-led ‘Multi-National Force‘.
Al-Zarqawi’s group in October 2004 it officially pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden‘s al-Qaeda network, changing its name to Tanzim Qaidat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn (تنظيم قاعدة الجهاد في بلاد الرافدين, “Organization of Jihad’s Base inMesopotamia“), also known as Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). Attacks by the group on civilians, Iraqi Government and security forces, foreign diplomats and soldiers, American convoys, continued with roughly the same intensity. In a letter to al-Zarqawi in July 2005, al-Qaeda‘s deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri outlined a four-stage plan to expand the Iraq War, which included expelling US forces from Iraq, establishing an Islamic authority, as caliphate, spreading the conflict to Iraq’s secular neighbors, and clash with Israel, which the letter says “was established only to challenge any new Islamic entity”.
In January 2006, AQI merged with several smaller Iraqi insurgent groups under an umbrella organization 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, notably the 2005 bombings by AQI of three hotels in Amman. On 7 June, al-Zarqawi was killed in a US airstrike and was succeeded as leader of the group by the Egyptian militant Abu Ayyub al-Masri.
On 12 October 2006, the Mujahideen Shura Council united with three smaller groups and six Sunni Islamic tribes to form the “Mutayibeen Coalition”, that 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…”.
On 13 October 2006, the Mujahideen Shura Council 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 itsEmir. 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 US 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,Nineveh, Kirkuk, most of Salah ad Din, parts ofBabil, Diyala and Baghdad, and claimed Baqubah as a capital city.
However, by late 2007, violent and indiscriminate attacks directed by rogue AQI elements against Iraqi civilians had severely damaged the group’s image and caused a loss of support among the population, thus isolating it. In a major blow to AQI, many former Sunni militants who had previously fought alongside the group started to work with the US armed forces. The US troops surge of 2007 supplied the U.S. military with more manpower for operations targeting the group, resulting in dozens of high-level AQI members being captured or killed.
Between July and October 2007, al-Qaeda in Iraq or ISI seemed to have lost their secure military bases in Anbar provinceand the Baghdad area. During 2008, a series of US 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 ofMosul, 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[clarification needed] from Sunni Iraqis and other insurgent groups and a temporary decline in the group,[clarification needed] which was attributable to a number of factors, notably the Anbar Awakening.
In late 2009, the commander of the US 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 US-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 US 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.
In July 2012, al-Baghdadi released an audio statement online announcing that the group was returning to the former strongholds from which US 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, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi began sending Syrian and Iraqi ISI members experienced in guerilla warfare across the border into Syria in order to establish an organization 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 (2013–2014)
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-Jawlani 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. In 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 US-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 organization 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 Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a video, along with the rest of the organization, 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 genocideto 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 US 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 US did not send in ground troops to halt ISIL’s advance. On 13 October, ISIL fighters advanced to within 25 kilometers—15.5 miles—of Baghdad Airport.
At the end of October 2014, 800 radical militants gained control of the Libyan city of Derna 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 US-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, it was revealed that ISIL had the dozens in Yemen since December 2014, 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 theTaliban, and ISIL’s top Afghan recruiter, Mullah Abdul Rauf, was captured by the Taliban.
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 to 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 2 Egyptian Christians. By the end of that day, 64 ISIL militants in Libya had been killed by the airstrikes, including 50 militants in Derna.
Group goals, structure and characteristics
From at least since 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 Abu Bakr 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 organizations 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.
In late 2014, ISIL claimed that they would humiliate U.S. soldiers in Syria and raise the “flag of Allah” over the White House. ISIL also threatened to “liberate” Istanbul if Turkey did not open a dam that has been limiting the flow of water to Syria and Iraq. Recruits are encouraged to “set out in jihad” if they “desire what God had promised.” Speaking to Westerners, one fighter from Belgium said, “God willing, the Caliphate has been established and we are going to invade you as you invaded us. We will capture your women as you captured our women. We will orphan your children as you orphaned our children.” Also, in late September 2014, it was revealed that ISIL planned to kill 10 million Americans as retribution for their perceived role of America in killing “10 million Muslims.”
Territorial control and provinces
In Iraq and Syria, ISIL uses many of the existing Governorate boundaries to subdivide its claimed territory; it calls these divisions wilayah or provinces. After a series of expansions, as of November 2014, it claims provinces and controls territory in Iraq, Syria, Sinai, and eastern Libya. ISIL also claims provinces and has members in Algeria, Lebanon, Jordan,Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Turkey, 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 Barka 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. The group was responsible for the 2015 Corinthia Hotel attack, which saw between 9–10 people killed. ISIL forces in Libya have also seized control of the city Derna.
On 10 November 2014, many members of the group Ansar Bait al-Maqdis took an oath of allegiance to Abu Bakr 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 assumed the designation Sinai Province of ISIL. They are estimated to have 1,000–2,000 fighters.
On 29 January 2014, Hafiz Saeed Khan and Abdul Rauf swore an oath of allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIL. Khan was named as the Emir (Governor) of the Province and Rauf as his deputy. The province includes Afghanistan, Pakistan, and “other nearby lands”.
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.
- Unidentified militants in Saudi Arabia and Yemen – are described as ISIL provinces
- Militants of the group Sons of the Call for Tawhid and Jihad (Jordan) pledging allegiance to ISIL
- Militants of the groups Jundallah, Tehreek-e-Khilafat, and Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (Pakistan) pledging allegiance to ISIL
- Militants of the group Abu Sayyaf (Philippines, Malaysia) pledging allegiance to ISIL
- Almost all the 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 Abu Bakr 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.
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 program in the areas under its control in Iraq and Syria, which includes social services, religious lectures and da’wah—proselytizing—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.
Ideology and beliefs
ISIL is a Salafi or Wahhabi extremist 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—see takfirism. ISIL has demonstrated that ideology and adherence to Islamic beliefs and laws are secondary to its criminal financial enterprises supporting the group’s activities. ISIL’s philosophy is well 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 the 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. Saudi Arabia was criticised by Noam Chomsky in October 2014 of having “long been the major source of funding for ISIS as well as providing its ideological roots” (i.e. Salafism or Wahhabism). According to Owen Jones at The Guardian, “Salafists across the Middle East receive ideological and material backing from within the kingdom” of Saudi Arabia, and America knows this, with Hillary Clinton having called Saudi donors “the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide”. Some people in Saudi Arabia applaud that ISIS is fighting Iranian Shiite “fire” with Sunni “fire”.
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 ofal-Qaeda and many other modern-day jihadist groups.
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 corrupt 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 fulfillment of prophecy. According to ISIL, true Islam ceased to exist for over a thousand years and was only restored in 2014 with the declaration of al-Baghdadi as caliph. They argue that one cannot be fully Islamic without pledging allegiance to a true caliph.
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.
Although the Islamic State 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 trainings.
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 organization
|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||United States Department of State|||
|Australia||2 March 2005||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 (id)|||
|UAE||20 August 2014||UAE Cabinet|||
|Israel||3 September 2014||Ministry of Defense|||
|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|||
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 Unionadopted 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 Armysoldiers near Tabqa Air base. Other known killing of military prisoners took place in Camp Speicher (1,095–1,700 Iraqi soldiers shot and “thousands” more “missing”) and the Shaer gas field (200 Syrian soldiers shot). Navi Pillay, UNHigh 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 appointedUN 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 andhuman rights abuses and of terrorizing 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 Ninevehprovince, 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 ofQuiniyeh (70–90 Yazidis killed), Hardan (60 Yazidis killed), Sinjar (200–500 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 Afarprison, 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.
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 The Reuters 1878 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 labeled “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. They carry out executions in various forms such as stoning to death, crucifixions, beheadings and some are thrown from the top storeys of 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 and even making arrests. 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 women’s bodies and that women living under their control were being captured and raped. Fighters are told that they are free to have sex and 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, rapeand 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 ofYazidi 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.” Yazidi girls in Iraq allegedly raped by ISIL fighters have committedsuicide by jumping to their death from Mount Sinjar, as described in a witness statement.
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 U.S. hostage Kayla Mueller was confirmed on February 10, 2015,. several media outlets reported that the U.S. intelligence community believed she may have been given as a wife to an ISIL fighter.
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 andQur’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”. Dabiqdescribes “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 says fighters are allowed to have sex with 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.ISIL claims that sexual slavery is justified only against infidels (non-Muslims) according to the koran. 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 unislamic, 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.
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 headaquarters 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, totaling 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 January 8, 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 traveling 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 termed “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.”
In order to finance its activities, ISIL is stealing artifacts 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 withInterpol, national customs authorities, museums, and major auction houses in attempts to prevent looted items 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 archeological sites. Bernard Haykel has described Abu Bakr 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 theAssyrian 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”.
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.
According to media reports, ISIL has established a system for harvesting and selling human organs from fighters, captives, and hostages, including minority children in Mosul and other areas. ISIL is using imported teams of doctors who are not allowed to interact with local medical staff.
ISIL has been at the receiving end of 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 anopen letter to the Islamic State’s leader Abu Bakr 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 “heinouswar 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, butKhawarij.
The group’s declaration of a caliphate has been criticized and its legitimacy disputed by Middle Eastern governments, other jihadist groups, and Sunni Muslimtheologians and historians. Qatar-based TV broadcaster and theologian Yusuf al-Qaradawi stated: “[The] declaration issued by the Islamic State is void under shariaand 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 criticized 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 governmentrecognises 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 U.S. envoy to coordinate the coalition, U.S. 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 summarized 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’sAssociation 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 andYouTube, with the use of hashtags, mock recruiting ads, fake news articles and YouTube videos. One parody, by aPalestinian TV satire show, portrays ISIL as “buffoon-like hypocrites”, and has had more than half a million views on YouTube.
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[which?] fear that ISIL may either inspire attacks in the United States by sympathizers or by those returning after joining ISIL, US intelligence agencies find there is no immediate threat or specific plots. US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagelsees 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 rumors that the U.S. is secretly behind the existence and emboldening of ISIL, as part of an attempt to further destabilize the Middle East. After such rumors became widespread, the U.S. embassy in Lebanon issued an official statement denying the allegations, calling them a complete fabrication.Others[which?] are convinced that ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is an Israeli Mossad agent and actor called Simon Elliot. The rumors 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 Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Libya, Afghanistan, and Yemen
|Iraqi Insurgency||Syrian Civil War||Other conflicts|
|Iraq-based opponents Iraqi Armed Forces
||Syria-based opponents Syrian Armed Forces
||Lebanon-based opponents Lebanese Armed Forces
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 delegitimization).
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 is coordinating the military portion of the response.
The following multi-national organizations 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 cooperation with EU/NATO/partners
|Humanitarian and other contributions
to identified coalition objectives
| NATO members:
Part of the Counter-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 localized truces and cooperation at times
- al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula
Kurdistan Workers Party of Turkey—ground troops in Iraqi Kurdistan 
Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran—ground troops in Iraqi Kurdistan
Houthis—Shi’ite insurgent group in Yemen backed by Iran, currently participating in an insurgency in Yemen
Groups with expressions of support
Memberships of these groups have declared support for ISIL, either fully or in part.
- Boko Haram
- Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters
- Jemaah Islamiyah
- Ansar al-Sharia (Tunisia)
- Ansar al-Sharia (Libya)
- Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem
- Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan
- Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid – (pledged support to ISIL; the majority of the group split off after its leader pledged allegiance to ISIL)
By mid-November 2014, the Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium (TRAC) in Florida had identified 60 jihadist groups in 30 countries that have pledged allegiance or support to ISIL. “We at TRAC are constantly adding to the list (nearly daily)”, it said. Many of these groups were previously affiliated with al-Qaeda, indicating a shift in global jihadist leadership toward ISIL.
Allegations of Turkish support
Turkey has been accused of supporting or colluding with ISIL, especially by Syrian Kurds. According to journalistPatrick 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 criticized 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 labeled 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 Newsexposed 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 Arabia’s support
Although Saudi Arabia‘s government rejected these claims, the Iraqi President Nouri al-Maliki and some media outlets like NBC, BBC, and NYTimes stated that Saudi Arabia is funding ISIL.
Military and resources
Alleged support by the US
Foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria
Statistics gathered on a nation by nation basis indicate: 7,000 from Saudi Arabia, 2,400–5,000 from Tunisia,500–2,000 from the United Kingdom, 1,000 from the Russian Federation, 1,000 from Turkey, 900 from France,550 from Germany, 300 from China, 250–400 from Belgium, 250 from Australia, 150 from Sweden, 140 from Norway, 130 from Canada, 130 from the Netherlands, 100 from the United States, 100 from Denmark, 50 from Finland, 40–50 from Israel, and 40 from Spain.
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 armor, guns, surface-to-air missiles, and even some aircraft, enabled rapid territorial growth and facilitated the capture of additional equipment.
Armored fighting vehicles
|T-55/55MV/AM/AMV||Main battle tank||45+||Soviet Union||Multiple captured|
|T-62M/K||Main battle tank||10-15||Soviet Union||Multiple captured|
|T-72/72M/A/AV /TURMS-T/M1 TURMS-T||Main battle tank||5+||Soviet Union||Multiple captured|
|M1A1M Abrams main battle tank||Main battle tank||1-5||United States||Multiple captured from Iraq Army|
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.
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).
In 2014, ISIL established the al-Hayat Media Center, 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 jihadistaudio chants. In December 2014, FBI Director James Comey stated that ISIL’s “propaganda is unusually slick. They are broadcasting… in something like 23 languages”.
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 ahadith about Armageddon.
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 organizing hashtag campaigns, encouraging Tweets on popular hashtags, and utilizing software applications that enable ISIL propaganda to be distributed to 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 publicized 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 its most recent “Cantlie presentation”, various current and former US officials were quoted, such as US President Barack Obama and former CIA station chief Michael Scheuer.
In 2014, the RAND Corporation carried out a study of 200 documents—personal letters, expense reports and membership rosters—that 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 organization 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.
Exporting oil from oilfields captured by ISIL brings in tens of millions of dollars. One US Treasury official has estimated that ISIL earns US$1 million a day from the export of oil. Much of the oil is sold illegally in Turkey. Dubai-based energy analysts have put the combined oil revenue from ISIL’s Iraqi-Syrian production as high as US$3 million per day. ISIL also extracts wealth through taxation and extortion.
Today the majority of the group’s funding comes from the production and sale of energy. It controls around 300 oil wells in Iraq alone. At its peak, it operated 350 oil wells in Iraq, but lost 45 to foreign airstrikes. It has captured 60% of Syria’s total production capacity. About one fifth of its total capacity is 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. 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.
Sales of artifacts 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 kingAshurnasirpal II at Kalhu. Tablets, manuscripts and cuneiforms were sold, worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Stolen artifacts 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”.
ISIL is widely reported as receiving funding from private donors in the Gulf states, and the governments of Iraq and Iranhave 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 organizations are used as fronts to pass funds to ISIL. As they use aliases on Facebook‘s WhatsApp and Kik, the individuals and organizations are untraceable. Donations transferred to fund ISIL’s operations are disguised as “humanitarian charity”. Saudi Arabia has imposed a blanket ban on unauthorized donations destined for Syria as the only means of stopping such funding.
On 11 November 2014, ISIL announced that they intended to mint their own gold, silver and copper coins, based on thecoinage 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 in order 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, and a crescent moon. Economics experts, such as Professor Steven H. Hanke of Johns Hopkins University, were skeptical of the plans. See also Modern gold dinar.
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.
- 8 February: ISIL reportedly took over the town of Nofaliya in Libya, after a convoy of 40 heavily armed vehicles arrived from Sirte and ordered Nofaliya’s residents to “repent” and pledge allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The fighters appointed Ali Al-Qarqaa as the ISIL emir of the town.
- 9 February: US airstrikes targeted ISIL strongholds in and around the town of Hawija, a mixed Kurdish-Arab city to the west of Kirkuk, which has been under ISIL control since June 2014.
- 10 February: President Obama confirmed the death of U.S. hostage Kayla Mueller by ISIL.
- 12 February: ISIL fighters seized most of the town of Khan al Baghdadi, with some reports indicating 90%, which is located 85 km northwest of Ramadi. It was also reported that ISIL had launched a direct attack on the Al Asad Airbase, where nearly 300 US soldiers are stationed.
- 14 February: The Libyan parliament confirmed the deaths of 21 kidnapped Egyptian Coptic Christian workers in Libya, after the ISIL English language publication Dabiq had released photos, claiming their execution.
- 16 February: Egypt retaliated against ISIL for the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians, by bombing ISIL camps, training sites, and weapons storage depots in neighboring Libya. 50 ISIL militants in Derna were killed by the initial airstrikes.
- 17 February: It was revealed that ISIL had launched another major assault on Erbil coming within 45 kilometers of the city.