Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant(Redirected from ISIS)
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The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, IPA: //), also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria[note 1] (ISIS //), Islamic State (IS), and by its Arabic language acronym Daesh (Arabic: داعش dāʿish, Hebrew: דעא"ש, IPA: [ˈdaːʕɪʃ]), is a Salafi jihadist militant group and unrecognised proto-state that follows a fundamentalist, Wahhabi doctrine of Sunni Islam. ISIL gained global prominence in early 2014 when it drove Iraqi government forces out of key cities in its Western Iraq offensive, followed by its capture of Mosul and the Sinjar massacre.
|Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant|
الدولة الإسلامية في العراق والشام
Primary target of Operation Inherent Resolve and of the military intervention against ISIL: in Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Nigeria.
|Area of operations||
Areas of control as of August 21, 2017, in the Iraqi, Syrian, and Lebanese conflicts
|Originated as||Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (1999)|
This group has been designated a terrorist organisation by the United Nations and many individual countries. ISIL is widely known for its videos of beheadings of both soldiers and civilians, including journalists and aid workers, and its destruction of cultural heritage sites. The United Nations holds ISIL responsible for human rights abuses and war crimes, and Amnesty International has charged the group with ethnic cleansing on a "historic scale" in northern Iraq.
ISIL originated as Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad in 1999, which pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda and participated in the Iraqi insurgency following the 2003 invasion of Iraq by Western forces. The group proclaimed itself a worldwide caliphate and began referring to itself as Islamic State (الدولة الإسلامية ad-Dawlah al-Islāmiyah) or IS in June 2014. As a caliphate, it claims religious, political, and military authority over all Muslims worldwide. Its adoption of the name Islamic State and its idea of a caliphate have been widely criticised, with the United Nations, various governments, and mainstream Muslim groups rejecting its statehood.
In Syria, the group conducted ground attacks on both government forces and opposition factions, and by December 2015 it held a large area in western Iraq and eastern Syria containing an estimated 2.8 to 8 million people, where it enforced its interpretation of sharia law. ISIL is now believed to be operational in 18 countries across the world, including Afghanistan and Pakistan, with "aspiring branches" in Mali, Egypt, Somalia, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and the Philippines. As of 2015, ISIL was estimated to have an annual budget of more than US$1 billion and a force of more than 30,000 fighters.
In July of 2017 the group lost control of its largest city, Mosul, to the Iraqi army. Following this major defeat, in August of 2017 ISIL continued to lose territory to the various states and other military forces allied against it, resulting in significant territorial losses for ISIL in the areas of Syria and Iraq.
In April 2013, having expanded into Syria, the group adopted the name ad-Dawlah al-Islāmiyah fī 'l-ʿIrāq wa-sh-Shām (الدولة الإسلامية في العراق والشام). As al-Shām is a region often compared with the Levant or Greater Syria, the group's name has been variously translated as "Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham", "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (both abbreviated as ISIS), or "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (abbreviated as ISIL).
While the use of either one or the other acronym has been the subject of debate, the distinction between the two and its relevance has been considered not so great. Of greater relevance is the name Daesh, which is an acronym of ISIL's Arabic name al-Dawlah al-Islamīyah fī al-ʻIrāq wa-al-Shām. Daesh, or Da'ish (داعش). This name has been widely used by ISIL's Arabic-speaking detractors,[clarification needed] although – and to a certain extent because – it is considered derogatory, as it resembles the Arabic words Daes (lit. "one who crushes, or tramples down, something underfoot") and Dāhis (loosely translated: "one who sows discord"). Within areas under its control, ISIL considers use of the name Daesh punishable by flogging or cutting out the tongue.
In late June 2014, the group renamed itself ad-Dawlah al-Islāmiyah (lit. Islamic State or IS), declaring itself a worldwide caliphate. The name "Islamic State" and the group's claim to be a caliphate have been widely rejected, with the UN, various governments, and mainstream Muslim groups refusing to use the new name. The group's declaration of a new caliphate in June 2014 and its adoption of the name "Islamic State" have been criticised and ridiculed by Muslim scholars and rival Islamists both 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, while 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 appointed to co-ordinate the coalition; U.S. Army Lieutenant General James Terry, head of operations against the group; and Secretary of State John Kerry had all shifted towards use of the term DAESH by December 2014.
Purpose and strategy
ISIL is a theocracy, proto-state and a Salafi or Wahhabi group. It follows an extremist interpretation of Islam, promotes religious violence, and regards Muslims 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 Prophet 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 God". 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 to Wahhabism.
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.— David D. Kirkpatrick, The New York Times
According to The Economist, dissidents in the ISIL capital of Raqqa 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 or re-purposing of any non-Sunni religious buildings. Bernard Haykel has described ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's creed as "a kind of untamed Wahhabism".
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 Arabian 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 see fighting Hamas as the first step toward confrontation by ISIL with Israel.
One difference between ISIL and other Islamist and jihadist movements, including al-Qaeda, is the group's emphasis on eschatology and apocalypticism – that is, a belief in a final Day of Judgment by God, and specifically, a belief that the arrival of one known as Imam Mahdi is near. ISIL believes that it will defeat the army of "Rome" at the town of Dabiq, in fulfilment of prophecy. Following its interpretation of the Hadith of the Twelve Successors, ISIL also believes that after al-Baghdadi there will be only four more legitimate caliphs.
The noted scholar of militant Islamism William McCants writes:
References to the End Times fill Islamic State propaganda. It's a big selling point with foreign fighters, who want to travel to the lands where the final battles of the apocalypse will take place. The civil wars raging in those countries today [Iraq and Syria] lend credibility to the prophecies. The Islamic State has stoked the apocalyptic fire. [...] For Bin Laden's generation, the apocalypse wasn't a great recruiting pitch. Governments in the Middle East two decades ago were more stable, and sectarianism was more subdued. It was better to recruit by calling to arms against corruption and tyranny than against the Antichrist. Today, though, the apocalyptic recruiting pitch makes more sense than before.— The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State
Since at least 2004, a significant goal of the group has been the foundation of a Sunni 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 Prophet 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).
ISIL has detailed its goals in its Dabiq magazine, saying it will continue to seize land and take over the entire Earth until its:
Blessed flag...covers all eastern and western extents of the Earth, filling the world with the truth and justice of Islam and putting an end to the falsehood and tyranny of jahiliyyah [state of ignorance], even if American and its coalition despise such.— 5th edition of Dabiq, the Islamic State's English-language magazine 
According to German journalist Jürgen Todenhöfer, who spent ten days embedded with ISIL in Mosul, the view he kept hearing was that ISIL wants to "conquer the world", and that all who do not believe in the group's interpretation of the Quran will be killed. Todenhöfer was struck by the ISIL fighters' belief that "all religions who agree with democracy have to die", and by their "incredible enthusiasm" – including enthusiasm for killing "hundreds of millions" of people.
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 Southwestern Asia that were established by the UK and France during World War I in the Sykes–Picot Agreement.
Documents found after the death of Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi, a former colonel in the intelligence service of the Iraqi Air Force before the US invasion who had been described as "the strategic head" of ISIL, detailed planning for the ISIL takeover of northern Syria which made possible "the group's later advances into Iraq". Al-Khlifawi called for the infiltration of areas to be conquered with spies who would find out "as much as possible about the target towns: Who lived there, who was in charge, which families were religious, which Islamic school of religious jurisprudence they belonged to, how many mosques there were, who the imam was, how many wives and children he had and how old they were". Following this surveillance and espionage would come murder and kidnapping – "the elimination of every person who might have been a potential leader or opponent". In Raqqa, after rebel forces drove out the Assad regime and ISIL infiltrated the town, "first dozens and then hundreds of people disappeared". 
Security and intelligence expert Martin Reardon has described ISIL's purpose as being to psychologically "break" those under its control, "[...] so as to ensure their absolute allegiance through fear and intimidation," while generating, "[...]outright hate and vengeance" among its enemies. Jason Burke, a journalist writing on Salafi jihadism, has written that ISIL's goal is to "terrorize, mobilize [and] polarize". Its efforts to terrorise are intended to intimidate civilian populations and force governments of the target enemy "to make rash decisions that they otherwise would not choose". It aims to mobilise its supporters by motivating them with, for example, spectacular deadly attacks deep in Western territory (such as the November 2015 Paris attacks), to polarise by driving Muslim populations – particularly in the West – away from their governments, thus increasing the appeal of ISIL's self-proclaimed caliphate among them, and to: "Eliminate neutral parties through either absorption or elimination". Journalist Rukmini Maria Callimachi also emphasises ISIL's interest in polarization or in eliminating what it calls the "grey zone" between the black (non-Muslims) and white (ISIL). "The gray is moderate Muslims who are living in the West and are happy and feel engaged in the society here."
A work published online in 2004 entitled Management of Savagery (Idarat at Tawahoush), described by several media outlets as influential on ISIL and intended to provide a strategy to create a new Islamic caliphate, recommended a strategy of attack outside its territory in which fighters would, "Diversify and widen the vexation strikes against the Crusader-Zionist enemy in every place in the Islamic world, and even outside of it if possible, so as to disperse the efforts of the alliance of the enemy and thus drain it to the greatest extent possible."
The group has been accused of attempting to "bolster morale" and distract attention from its lose of territory to enemies by staging terror attacks abroad (such as the 6 June 2017 attacks on Tehran, the May 22, 2017 bombing in Manchester, UK, and the 3 June 2017 attacks in London that ISIL claimed credit for).
Leadership and governance
ISIL is headed and run by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Before their deaths, he had two deputy leaders, Abu Muslim al-Turkmani for Iraq and Abu Ali al-Anbari (also known as Abu Ala al-Afri) for Syria, both ethnic Turkmen. Advising al-Baghdadi is a cabinet of senior leaders, while its operations in Iraq and Syria are controlled by local governors. 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. While al-Baghdadi has told followers to "advise me when I err" in sermons, according to observers "any threat, opposition, or even contradiction is instantly eradicated".
According to Iraqis, Syrians and analysts who study the group, almost all of ISIL's leaders—including the members of its military and security committees and the majority of its emirs and princes—are former Iraqi military and intelligence officers, specifically former members of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath government who lost their jobs and pensions in the de-Ba'athification process after that regime was overthrown. The former Chief Strategist in the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism of the US State Department, David Kilcullen, has said that "There undeniably would be no Isis if we had not invaded Iraq." It has been reported that Iraqis and Syrians have been given greater precedence over other nationalities within ISIL because the group needs the loyalties of the local Sunni populations in both Syria and Iraq in order to be sustainable. Other reports, however, have indicated that Syrians are at a disadvantage to foreign members, with some native Syrian fighters resenting "favouritism" allegedly shown towards foreigners over pay and accommodation.
In August 2016, media reports based on briefings by Western intelligence agencies suggested that ISIL had a multilevel secret service known in Arabic as Emni, established in 2014, that has become a combination of an internal police force and an external operations directorate complete with regional branches. The unit was believed to be under the overall command of ISIL's most senior Syrian operative, spokesman and propaganda chief Abu Mohammad al-Adnani until his death by airstrike in late August 2016.
Civilians in ISIL-controlled areas
In 2014 The Wall Street Journal estimated that eight million people lived in the Islamic State. The United Nations Commission on Human Rights has stated that ISIL "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". Civilians, as well as the Islamic State itself, have released footage of some of the human rights abuses.
Social control of civilians is by imposition of ISIL's reading of sharia law, enforced by morality police forces known as Al-Hisbah and the all-women Al-Khanssaa Brigade, a general police force, courts, and other entities managing recruitment, tribal relations, and education. Al-Hisbah is led by Abu Muhammad al-Jazrawi.
Number of combatants
Estimates of the size of ISIL's military vary widely, from tens of thousands up to 200,000. In early 2015, journalist Mary Anne Weaver estimated that half of ISIL fighters are foreigners. A UN report estimated a total of 15,000 fighters from over 80 countries were in ISIL's ranks in November 2014. US intelligence estimated an increase to around 20,000 foreign fighters in February 2015, including 3,400 from the Western world. In September 2015, the CIA estimated that 30,000 foreign fighters had joined ISIL.
According to Abu Hajjar, a former senior leader of ISIL, foreign fighters receive food, petrol and housing, but unlike native Iraqi or Syrian fighters, they do not receive payment in wages.
ISIL relies mostly on captured weapons with major sources including 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. For example, ISIL captured US-made TOW anti-tank missiles supplied by the United States and Saudi Arabia to the Free Syrian Army in Syria.
The group uses 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 convert them into weapons. In September 2015 a US official stated that ISIL was manufacturing and using mustard agent in Syria and Iraq, and had an active chemical weapons research team. ISIL has also used water as a weapon of war. The group closed the gates of the smaller Nuaimiyah dam in Fallujah in April 2014, flooding the surrounding regions, while cutting the water supply to the Shia-dominated south. Around 12,000 families lost their homes and 200 km² of villages and fields were either flooded or dried up. The economy of the region also suffered with destruction of cropland and electricity shortages.
During the Battle of Mosul it was reported that commercially available quadcopters and drones were being used by ISIL as surveillance and weapons delivery platforms using extemporised cradles to drop grenades and other explosives. The ISIL drone facility became a target of Royal Air Force strike aircraft.
Although ISIL attracts followers from different parts of the world by promoting the image of holy war, not all of its recruits end up in combatant roles. There have been several cases of new recruits expecting to be mujahideen who have returned from Syria disappointed by the everyday jobs that were assigned to them, such as drawing water or cleaning toilets, or by the ban imposed on use of mobile phones during military training sessions.
ISIL publishes material directed at women. Although women are not allowed to take up arms, media groups encourage them to play supportive roles within ISIL, such as providing first aid, cooking, nursing and sewing skills, in order to become "good wives of jihad". In a document entitled Women in the Islamic State: Manifesto and Case Study released by the media wing of ISIL's all-female Al-Khanssaa Brigade, emphasis is given to the paramount importance of marriage and motherhood (as early as nine years old). Women should live a life of "sedentariness", fulfilling her "divine duty of motherhood" at home, with a few exceptions like teachers and doctors. Equality for women is opposed, as is education on non-religious subjects, the "worthless worldly sciences".
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", it established the Al-Furqan Foundation for Media Production, which produces CDs, DVDs, posters, pamphlets, and web-related propaganda products and official statements. It began to expand its media presence in 2013, with the formation of a second media wing, Al-I'tisam Media Foundation, in March and the Ajnad Foundation for Media Production, specialising in nasheeds and audio content, in August. In mid-2014, ISIL established the Al-Hayat Media Center, which targets Western audiences and produces material in English, German, Russian and French. When ISIL announced its 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. FBI Director James Comey has said that ISIL's "propaganda is unusually slick," noting that, "They are broadcasting... in something like 23 languages".
In 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. Al-Hayat also began publishing other digital magazines, including the Turkish language Konstantiniyye, the Ottoman word for Istanbul, and the French language Dar al-Islam. By late 2016, these magazines had apparently all been discontinued, with Al-Hayat's material being consolidated into a new magazine called Rumiyah (Arabic for Rome).
ISIL's use of social media has been described by one expert as "probably more sophisticated than [that of] most US companies". It regularly uses social media, particularly Twitter, to distribute its messages. The group uses the encrypted instant messaging service Telegram to disseminate images, videos and updates.
The group is known for releasing videos and photographs of executions of prisoners, whether beheadings, shootings, caged prisoners being burnt alive or submerged gradually until drowned. Journalist Abdel Bari Atwan described ISIL's media content as part of a "systematically applied policy". The escalating violence of its killings "guarantees" the attention of the media and public.
Along with images of brutality, ISIL presents itself as "an emotionally attractive place where people 'belong', where everyone is a 'brother' or 'sister'". The "most potent psychological pitch" of ISIL media is the promise of heavenly reward to dead jihadist fighters. Frequently posted in their media are dead jihadists' smiling faces, the ISIL 'salute' of a 'right-hand index finger pointing heavenward', and testimonies of happy widows. ISIL has also attempted to present a more "rational argument" in a series of videos hosted by the kidnapped journalist John Cantlie. In one video, various current and former US officials were quoted, such as the then US President Barack Obama and former CIA Officer Michael Scheuer.
According to a 2015 study by the Financial Action Task Force, ISIL's five primary sources of revenue are as followed (listed in order of significance):
- proceeds from the occupation of territory (including control of banks, petroleum reservoirs, taxation, extortion, and robbery of economic assets)
- kidnapping for ransom
- donations from Saudi Arabia and Gulf states, often disguised as meant for "humanitarian charity"
- material support provided by foreign fighters
- fundraising through modern communication networks
In 2014, the RAND Corporation analysed ISIL's funding sources from documents captured between 2005 and 2010. It found that outside donations amounted to only 5% of the group's operating budgets, and that cells inside Iraq 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, which would then redistribute the funds to provincial or local cells that were in difficulties or needed money to conduct attacks. In 2016, RAND estimated that ISIL finances from its largest source of income — oil revenues and the taxes it extracts from people under its control — had fallen from about $1.9 billion in 2014 to $870 million.
In mid-2014, the Iraqi National Intelligence Service obtained information that ISIL had assets worth US$2 billion, making it the richest jihadist group in the world. About three-quarters of this sum was said to looted from Mosul's central bank and commercial banks in the city. 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 looting had actually occurred.
ISIL mints its own gold, silver, and copper coins, based on the coinage used by the Umayyad Caliphate in the 7th century. It believes paper money is or will be "worthless". (Economists believe this use of gold will present problems as users will want to hoard rather than spend gold coins and will use paper currency instead.)
The group was founded in 1999 by Jordanian Salafi jihadist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi under the name Jamāʻat al-Tawḥīd wa-al-Jihād (lit. "The Organisation of Monotheism and Jihad"). Following the 2003 invasion of Iraq by Western forces, al-Zarqawi and Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad achieved notoriety in the early stages of the Iraqi insurgency for their suicide attacks on Shia mosques, civilians, Iraqi government institutions and Italian soldiers of the US-led 'Multi-National Force'.
In October 2004, when al-Zarqawi swore loyalty to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, he renamed the group Tanẓīm Qāʻidat al-Jihād fī Bilād al-Rāfidayn (lit. "The Organisation of Jihad's Base in Mesopotamia"), commonly known as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). Although the group never called itself al-Qaeda in Iraq, this remained its informal name for many years. Attacks by the group on civilians, Iraqi government 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 said, "[...] was established only to challenge any new Islamic entity".
In January 2006, AQI joined with several smaller Iraqi Sunni insurgent groups under an umbrella organisation called the Mujahideen Shura Council (MSC). According to counterterrorism researcher Brian Fishman, the merger was an attempt to give the group a more Iraqi flavour, and perhaps to distance al-Qaeda from some of al-Zarqawi's tactical errors, such as 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.
Islamic State of Iraq, 2006–13
On 12 October 2006, MSC united with three smaller groups and six Sunni tribes to form the Mutayibeen Coalition, pledging "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), comprising Iraq's six mostly Sunni Arab governorates, with Abu Omar al-Baghdadi its emir and al-Masri Minister of War within ISI's ten-member cabinet.
According to a study compiled by United States intelligence agencies in early 2007, ISI planned to seize power in the central and western areas of Iraq and turn it into a Sunni caliphate. The group built in strength and at its height enjoyed a significant presence in the Iraqi governorates of Al Anbar, Diyala and Baghdad, claiming Baqubah as a capital city.
The Iraq War troop surge of 2007 supplied the US military with more manpower for operations, and dozens of high-level AQI members being captured or killed. Between July and October 2007, al-Qaeda in Iraq was reported to have lost its secure military bases in Al Anbar province and the Baghdad area. During 2008, a series of US and Iraqi offensives managed to drive out 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.
By 2008, the ISI was describing itself as being in a state of "extraordinary crisis". Its violent attempts to govern territory led to a backlash from Sunni Arab 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 US forces in Iraq, General Ray Odierno, stated that 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, ISI's two top leaders, al-Masri and 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 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 the new leader of ISI. Al-Baghdadi replenished the group's leadership by appointing former Iraqi military and Intelligence Service officers who had served during Saddam Hussein's rule. These men, nearly all of whom had spent time imprisoned by the US military at Camp Bucca, came to make up about one third of Baghdadi's top 25 commanders, including Abu Abdulrahman al-Bilawi, Abu Ayman al-Iraqi, and Abu Muslim al-Turkmani. One of them, a former colonel called Samir al-Khlifawi, also known as Haji Bakr, became the overall military commander in charge of overseeing the group's operations. Al-Khlifawi was instrumental in doing the ground work that led to the growth of ISIL.
In July 2012, al-Baghdadi released an audio statement online announcing that the group was returning to former strongholds from which US troops and the Sons of Iraq had driven them in 2007 and 2008. He 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 with AQI's car bomb attacks, and by July 2013, monthly fatalities exceeded 1,000 for the first time since April 2008.
Syrian Civil War
In March 2011, protests began in Syria against the Syrian 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, following the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War, al-Baghdadi began sending Syrian and Iraqi ISI members experienced in guerilla warfare across the border into Syria to establish an organisation there. Under the name Jabhat an-Nuṣrah li-Ahli ash-Shām (or al-Nusra Front), it established a large presence in Sunni-majority Raqqa, Idlib, Deir ez-Zor, and Aleppo provinces. 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 Syrian group called itself Jabhat al-Nusra li Ahl as-Sham, 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.
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 ISI, and that the two groups were merging under the name Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIL, Al-Sham also translates as the Levant). However, Abu Mohammad al-Julani and Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leaders of al-Nusra and al-Qaeda respectively, rejected the merger. 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. That same month, al-Baghdadi released an audio message rejecting al-Zawahiri's ruling and declaring that the merger was going ahead.
Meanwhile, the ISIL campaign to free its imprisoned members culminated in simultaneous raids on Taji and Abu Ghraib prisons in July 2013, 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 rejected al-Zawahiri's order, and his group continued to operate in Syria. In February 2014, after an eight-month power struggle, al-Qaeda publicly disavowed any relations with ISIL.
According to journalist Sarah Birke, there are "significant differences" between 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. Foreign fighters in Syria include Russian-speaking jihadists who were part of Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar (JMA). In November 2013, Abu Omar al-Shishani, leader of the Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar (JMA), 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, following months of tensions over ISIL's behavior, which included the seizure of property and weapons from rebel groups, and the arrests and killings of activists. Months of clashes ensued, causing thousands of casualties, with ISIL withdrawing its forces from Idlib and Latakia provinces and redeploying them to reinforce its strongholds in Raqqa and Aleppo. It also launched an offensive against all other opposition forces active in the eastern province of Deir ez-Zor, on the border with Iraq. By June 2014, ISIL had largely defeated its rivals in the province, with many who had not been killed or driven away pledging allegiance to it.
In early 2014, ISIL drove Iraqi government forces out of key cities in its Anbar campaign, which was followed by the capture of Mosul and the Sinjar massacre. The loss of control almost caused a collapse of the Iraqi government and prompted a renewal of US military action in Iraq. In Syria, ISIL has conducted ground attacks on both the Syrian Arab Army and rebel factions.
So called Islamic State, 2014–present
On 29 June 2014, ISIL proclaimed itself to be 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 ad-Dawlah al-Islāmiyah ("Islamic State" (IS)). As a "Caliphate", it claims religious, political and military authority over all Muslims worldwide. The concept of it being a caliphate and the name "Islamic State" have 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 the Iraqi government lost control of (or withdrew from) strategic crossing points that then came under the control of either ISIL or tribes that supported it. 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. On 23 July 2014, Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Totoni Hapilon and some masked men swore loyalty to al-Baghdadi in a video, giving ISIL a presence in the Philippines. In September 2014, the group began kidnapping people for ransom.
Capture of territory
On 3 August 2014, ISIL captured the cities of Zumar, Sinjar, and Wana in northern Iraq. Thousands of Yazidis fled up Mount Sinjar, fearful of the approaching hostile ISIL militants. The stranded Yazidis' need for food and water, the threat of genocide to them and to others announced by ISIL, along with the desire to protect US citizens in Iraq and support the Iraqi government in its fight against ISIL, were all reasons given for the 2014 American intervention in Iraq, which began on 7 August. A US aerial bombing campaign began the following day.
At the end of October 2014, 800 militants gained partial 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 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 because of their recruitment drive. The same month, Afghan officials confirmed that ISIL had a military presence in Afghanistan. However, by February 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 US drone strike.
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. By March, ISIL had captured additional territory, 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, a group of militants from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan swore allegiance to ISIL; the group released another video on 31 July 2015 showing its spiritual leader also pledging allegiance. In June 2015, the US Deputy Secretary of State announced that ISIL had lost more than 10,000 members in airstrikes over the preceding nine months.
Terrorist attacks outside Iraq and Syria
In 2015, 2016 and 2017, ISIL claimed responsibility for a number of high-profile terrorist attacks outside Iraq and Syria, including a mass shooting at a Tunisian tourist resort (38 European tourists killed), the Suruç bombing in Turkey (33 leftist and pro-Kurdish activists killed), the Tunisian National Museum attack (24 foreign tourists and Tunisians killed), the Sana'a mosque bombings (142 Shia civilians killed), the crash of Metrojet Flight 9268 (224 killed, mostly Russian tourists), the bombings in Ankara (102 pro-Kurdish and leftist activists killed), the bombings in Beirut (43 Shia civilians killed), the November 2015 Paris attacks (130 civilians killed), the killing of Jaafar Mohammed Saad, the governor of Aden, the January 2016 Istanbul bombing (11 foreign tourists killed), the 2016 Brussels bombings (32 civilians killed), the 2016 Nice attack (86 civilians killed), the July 2016 Kabul bombing (at least 80 civilians killed, mostly Shia Hazaras), the 2016 Berlin attack (12 civilians killed), the 2017 Istanbul nightclub shooting (39 foreigners and Turks killed), the 2017 Saint Petersburg Metro bombing (15 civilians killed), the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing (22 civilians killed) and the 2017 Tehran attacks (18 civilians killed). The Saudi Arabian government reports that in one relatively short period -- the first 8 months of 2016 -- there were 25 attacks in the kingdom by ISIL.
On 30 August 2016, a survey conducted by the Associated Press found that around 72 mass graves have been discovered in areas that have been liberated from ISIL control. In total, these mass graves contain the bodies of approximately 15,000 people killed by ISIL. The report stated that the mass graves were evidence of genocides conducted by ISIL in the region, including the genocide of Yazidis. Seventeen graves were discovered in Syria, with the rest being found in Iraq. At least 16 of the graves in Iraq contained remains that were not counted, as they are located in dangerous conflict zones. Instead, the number of dead in these graves has been estimated.
Timeline of events
- 2013 events.
- Index 2014 events: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December.
- Index 2015 events: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December.
- Index 2016 events: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December.
- Index 2017 events: January, February, March, June
Territorial control and claims
As a self-proclaimed worldwide caliphate, ISIL 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". Outside Iraq and Syria, it controls territory only in Sinai, Afghanistan, and Libya.
Iraq and Syria
Since December 2013, ongoing clashes have occurred throughout western Iraq between tribal militias, Iraqi security forces, and ISIL. In early January 2014, ISIL militants successfully captured the cities of Fallujah and Hīt, bringing much of Anbar Province under their control. In June 2014 ISIL took over the Iraqi city of Mosul. By December 2015, the Islamic State covered a vast landlocked territory in western Iraq and eastern Syria, with a population estimate of 2.8 to 8 million people.
In Iraq and Syria, ISIL uses many of those countries' existing governorate boundaries to subdivide its claimed territory; it calls these divisions wilayah or provinces. By June 2015, it had established official "provinces" in Libya, Egypt (Sinai Peninsula), Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Algeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and the North Caucasus. Since then, ISIL has continued to receive pledges of allegiance and publish media releases from groups in countries like Somalia, Bangladesh and the Philippines, but it has not announced any further official branches, instead identifying new affiliates as simply "soldiers of the caliphate".
On July 10th, 2017, Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi formally declared a local Iraqi victory over ISIL in the recent Iraqi army expulsion of ISIL from the city of Mosul. Since the fall of ISIL in Mosul, the overall extent of ISIL held terretory in both Syria and Iraq has significantly diminished.
ISIL organises its Libyan branch using the country's three historical regions, Cyrenaica in the east, Fezzan in the desert south, and Tripolitania in the west. They have been the most active and successful of all ISIL branches outside Iraq and Syria. It has been active particularly around Derna, and Gaddafi's hometown Sirte. The group grew quickly following the allegiance of militant groups like the Shura Council of Islamic Youth.
ISIL temporarily controlled part of Derna before being driven out in mid-2015 by a rival militant Islamist group, with support from the Libyan Air Force. Libya’s Interim Government launched a major offensive against ISIL territory around Sirte in May 2016, capturing the city by December 2016. The Libyan National Army, led by Commander General Khalifa Haftar, has also clashed with ISIL, making advances against the group in Benghazi and Ajdabiya.
Since the Battle of Sirte (12 May – 6 December 2016) ISIL lost most of its territories in Libya to the forces of the Government of National Accord (GNA), backed by the United States. As of 2017, the ISIL-affiliated Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries controls only small parts of Benghazi.
On 10 November 2014, many members of the group Ansar Bait al-Maqdis took an oath of allegiance to al-Baghdadi. Following this, the group assumed the designation Sinai Province (Wilayat Sinai). They are estimated to have 1,000–2,000 fighters. A faction of the Sinai group also operates in the Gaza Strip, calling itself the Islamic State in Gaza. It claimed responsibility for the downing of Russian Metrojet Flight 9268, which killed all 224 people on board, although Egyptian officials disputed the claim.
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.
On 26 January 2015, Khorasan Province (Wilayat Khorasan) was established, with Hafiz Saeed Khan named as Wāli (Governor) and Abdul Rauf as his deputy after both swore an oath of allegiance to al-Baghdadi. The name Khorasan refers to a historical region that includes Afghanistan, Pakistan, and "other nearby lands".
On 9 February 2015, Mullah Abdul Rauf was killed by a NATO airstrike, and his replacement, Hafiz Wahidi, was killed by the Afghan Armed Forces on 18 March 2015. Hafiz Saeed Khan, the Emir of ISIL's Khorasan Province, was reportedly killed in a US drone strike in eastern Afghanistan on 25 July 2016.
On 13 November 2014, unidentified militants in Yemen pledged allegiance to ISIL. By December of that year, ISIL had built an active presence inside Yemen, with its recruitment drive bringing it into direct competition with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). In February 2015, it was reported that some members of Ansar al-Sharia in Yemen had split from AQAP and pledged allegiance to ISIL. As the Yemeni Civil War escalated in March 2015, at least seven ISIL Wilayat, named after existing provincial boundaries in Yemen, claimed responsibility for attacks against the Houthis, including the Hadhramaut Province, the Shabwah Province, and the Sana'a Province.
Zaidiyyah Houthis (organised in the Supreme Revolutionary Committee) are the principal enemies of Yemen's ISIL branch. While the US government supports the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen against the Houthis, many in United States Special Operations Command favour the Houthis, as they have been an effective force in rolling back al-Qaeda and recently ISIL in Yemen, "something that hundreds of U.S. drone strikes and large numbers of advisers to Yemen's military had failed to accomplish". The Guardian reported: "As another 50 civilians die in the forgotten war, only Isis and al-Qaida are gaining from a conflict tearing Yemen apart and leaving 20 million people in need of aid."
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 audio tape in which he welcomed the pledge of allegiance, and described it as an expansion of the group's caliphate into West Africa. ISIL publications from late March 2015 began referring to members of Boko Haram as part of Wilayat Gharb Afriqiya (West Africa Province). The group suffered a split in 2016, with ISIL appointing 'Abu Musab al-Barnawi' as the group's new leader, due to disagreements with Abubakar Shekau's leadership. This was rejected by Shekau and his supporters, who continued to operate independently.
North Caucasus Province
Some commanders of the Caucasus Emirate in Chechnya and Dagestan switched their allegiance to ISIL in late 2014 and early 2015. On 23 June 2015, ISIL spokesman Abu Mohammad al-Adnani accepted the pledges of allegiance and announced a new Caucasus Province (Wilayat al-Qawqaz) under the leadership of Rustam Asildarov.
On 23 July 2014, Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Totoni Hapilon in the Philippines swore an oath of loyalty to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIL. In September 2014, the group began kidnapping people so they could be held for ransom, in the name of ISIL. In early 2015, members of Khalifa Islamiyah Mindanao pledged allegiance to ISIL. At the same time, Ansar Khalifa Philippines was born from a merger of Ansar Khalifah Sarangani with other umbrella groups that are pro-ISIL in nature. In May 2017, a pro-ISIL group called the Maute group attacked and seized parts of a southern Philippine city of Marawi on Mindanao island.
Islamic State in Gaza
In February 2014, the Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem declared its support for ISIL. On 2 April 2015, elements of this group, along with members of the Army of Islam and the Gaza faction of Ansar Bait al-Maqdis, formed the Sheikh Omar Hadid Brigade, also known as Islamic State in Gaza, as it predominantly operates in the Gaza Strip.
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.
- Janood-ul-Khalifa-e-Hind (India) pledged allegiance to ISIL.
- Ansar al-Khilafah (Brazil) pledged allegiance to ISIL.
- Profetens Ummah (Norway) pledged allegiance to ISIL.
Classification as a terrorist organisation
Many countries and international bodies have officially designated ISIL as a terrorist organisation.
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'." ISIL has been classified a terrorist organisation by the United Nations, the European Union and its member states, the United States, Russia, India, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and many other countries (see § Classification). Over 60 countries are directly or indirectly waging war against ISIL (see § Countries and groups at war with ISIL). The group was described as a cult in a Huffington Post column by notable cult authority Steven Hassan.
Around the world, Islamic religious leaders have overwhelmingly condemned ISIL's ideology and actions, arguing that the group has strayed from the path of true Islam and that its actions do not reflect the religion's real teachings or virtues.
Extremism within Islam goes back to the 7th century, to the Khawarijes. From their essentially political position, the Kharijites developed extreme doctrines which set them apart from both mainstream Sunni and Shia Muslims. They were particularly noted for adopting a radical approach to takfir, whereby they declared other Muslims to be unbelievers and therefore deemed worthy of death. Other scholars have also described the group not as Sunnis, but as Khawarij. 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 are instead modern-day Kharijites (Muslims who have stepped outside the mainstream of Islam) serving an imperial anti-Islamic agenda.
ISIL has received severe criticism from Muslim religious scholars and theologians. In late August 2014, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Abdul-Aziz ibn Abdullah Al ash-Sheikh, condemned ISIL and al-Qaeda saying, "Extremist and militant ideas and terrorism which spread decay on Earth, destroying human civilization, 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 Quran and hadith, which it used in order 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.
According to The New York Times, "All of the most influential jihadist theorists are criticising the Islamic State as deviant, calling its self-proclaimed caliphate null and void" and they have denounced it for its beheadings of journalists and aid workers. ISIL is widely denounced by a broad range of Islamic clerics, including al-Qaeda-oriented clerics and Saudi clerics. Muhammad al-Yaqoubi states, "It is enough of a proof of the extreme ideology of ISIS that the top leaders of Salafi-Jihadism have disclaimed it." 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 accused ISIL of driving a wedge between Muslims.
The group's declaration of a caliphate has been criticised and its legitimacy has been disputed by Middle Eastern governments, other jihadist groups, and by 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. The group's execution of Muslims for breach of traditional sharia law while violating it itself (encouraging women to emigrate to its territory, travelling without a Wali—male guardian—and in violation of his wishes) has been criticised; as has its love of archaic imagery (horsemen and swords) while engaging in bid‘ah (religious innovation) in establishing female religious police (known as Al-Khansaa Brigade). In a similar vein, the Syrian Islamic scholar Muhammad al-Yaqoubi says, "[t]he followers of ISIS do not want to adhere to Islamic law but rather they want to twist Islamic law to conform to their fantasies. To this end, they pick and choose the evidences that corroborate their misguidance, despite being weak or abrogated."
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.
An Islamic Front sharia court judge in Aleppo, Mohamed Najeeb Bannan, stated: "The legal reference is the Islamic Sharia. The cases are different, from robberies to drug use, to moral crimes. It's our duty to look at any crime that comes to us. . . After the regime has fallen, we believe that the Muslim majority in Syria will ask for an Islamic state. Of course, it's very important to point out that some say the Islamic Sharia will cut off people's hands and heads, but it only applies to criminals. And to start off by killing, crucifying etc. That is not correct at all." In response to being asked what the difference between the Islamic Front's and ISIL's version of sharia would be, he said, "One of their mistakes is before the regime has fallen, and before they've established what in Sharia is called Tamkeen [having a stable state], they started applying Sharia, thinking God gave them permission to control the land and establish a Caliphate. This goes against the beliefs of religious scholars around the world. This is what [IS] did wrong. This is going to cause a lot of trouble. Anyone who opposes [IS] will be considered against Sharia and will be severely punished."
Al-Qaeda and al-Nusra have been trying to take advantage of ISIL's rise, by attempting to present themselves as "moderate" compared to "extremist" ISIL, although it has the same aim of establishing sharia and a caliphate but doing so in a more gradual manner. Al-Nusra has criticised the way in which ISIL fully and immediately institutes sharia in the areas that fall under its control, since it alienates people too much. It supports the gradual, slower approach favoured by al-Qaeda, preparing society to accept sharia and indoctrinating people through education before implementing the hudud aspects of sharia, such as throwing gays from the top of buildings, chopping limbs off, and public stoning. Al-Nusra and ISIL are both hostile towards the Druze. However, while al-Nusra has typically destroyed Druze shrines and pressured them to convert to Sunni Islam, ISIL regards the entire Druze community as a valid target for violence, as it does the Yazidis.
Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaeda, has called for consultation (shura) within the "prophetic method" to be used when establishing the caliphate, criticising al-Baghdadi for not following the required steps. Al-Zawahiri has called upon ISIL members to close ranks and join al-Qaeda in fighting against Assad, the Shia, Russia, Europe, and America and to stop the infighting between jihadist groups. He called upon jihadists to establish Islamic entities in Egypt and the Levant, slowly implementing sharia before establishing a caliphate, and has called for violent assaults against America and the West.
The Jaysh al-Islam group within the Islamic Front criticised ISIL, saying: "They killed the people of Islam and leave the idol worshippers ... They use the verses talking about the disbelievers and implement it on the Muslims". The main criticism of defectors from ISIL has been that the group is fighting and killing other Sunni Muslims, as opposed to just non-Sunnis being brutalised. In one case, a supposed defector from ISIL executed two activists of a Syrian opposition group in Turkey who had sheltered them.
The current Grand Imam of al-Azhar and former president of al-Azhar University, Ahmed el-Tayeb, has strongly condemned the Islamic State, stating that it is acting "under the guise of this holy religion and have given themselves the name 'Islamic State' in an attempt to export their false Islam". Citing the Quran, he stated: "The punishment for those who wage war against God and his Prophet and who strive to sow corruption on earth is death, crucifixion, the severing of hands and feet on opposite sides or banishment from the land. This is the disgrace for them in this world and in the hereafter they will receive grievous torment." Although el-Tayeb has been criticised for not expressly stating that the Islamic State is heretical, the Ash'ari school of Islamic theology, to which el-Tayeb belongs, does not allow calling a person who follows the shahada an apostate. El-Tayeb has strongly come out against the practice of takfirism (declaring a Muslim an apostate) which is used by the Islamic State to "judge and accuse anyone who doesn’t tow their line with apostasy and outside the realm of the faith" declaring "Jihad on peaceful Muslims" using "flawed interpretations of some Qur’anic texts, the prophet's Sunna, and the Imams’ views believing incorrectly, that they are leaders of Muslim armies fighting infidel peoples, in unbelieving lands".
In late December 2015, nearly 70,000 Indian Muslim clerics associated with the Indian Barelvi movement issued a fatwa condemning ISIL and similar organisations, saying they are "not Islamic organisations". Approximately 1.5 million Sunni Muslim followers of this movement have formally decried violent extremists.
Whether Sunni or Shia, Salafi or Sufi, conservative or liberal, Muslims – and Muslim leaders – have almost unanimously condemned and denounced ISIL not merely as un-Islamic but actively anti-Islamic.
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". In mid-February 2015, Graeme Wood, a lecturer in political science at Yale University, said in The Atlantic, "The religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam."
Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian Islamic theologian based in Qatar, said in his official website that the "United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the leaders of Daesh (ISIS/ISIL) terrorist group are from one species and they are two sides of the same coin".
Designation as a terrorist organisation
|United Nations||18 October 2004 (as al-Qaeda in Iraq)
30 May 2013 (after separation from al‑Qaeda)
|United Nations Security Council|||
|European Union||2004||EU Council (via adoption of UN al-Qaeda 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|||
|Russian Federation||29 December 2014||Supreme Court of Russia|||
|Kyrgyzstan||25 March 2015||Kyrgyz State Committee of National Security|||
|Trinidad and Tobago|||
|Pakistan||29 August 2015||Ministry of Interior|||
|Republic of China (Taiwan)||26 November 2015||National Security Bureau|||
|People's Republic of China||Ministry of Public 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. The following are 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", said German politician Thomas de Maizière. He added, "Today's ban is directed solely against terrorists who abuse religion for their criminal goals." Being a member of ISIL is also illegal in accordance with § 129a and § 129b of the German criminal code.
In October 2014, Switzerland banned ISIL's activities in the country, including propaganda and financial support of the fighters, with prison sentences as potential penalties.
In mid-December 2014, India banned ISIL after the arrest of an operator of a pro-ISIL Twitter account.
Pakistan designated ISIL as a banned organisation in late August 2015, under which all elements expressing sympathy for the group would be blacklisted and sanctioned.
By 2014, ISIL was increasingly being viewed as a militia rather than just 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 at that time 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. 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.
Former US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel saw an "imminent threat to every interest we have", but former top counter-terrorism adviser Daniel Benjamin derided such talk as a "farce" that panics the public.
In actuality, Isis is the canniest of all traders in the flourishing international economy of disaffection: the most resourceful among all those who offer the security of collective identity to isolated and fearful individuals. It promises, along with others who retail racial, national and religious supremacy, to release the anxiety and frustrations of the private life into the violence of the global.
A certain change of attitude occurred following the inauguration of US President Trump. On January 28, 2017, he issued a National Security Presidential Memorandum which called for a comprehensive plan to destroy ISIS to be formulated by the Defense Department within 30 days.
According to a Reuters report that cited "jihadist ideologues" as a source, 90% of ISIL's fighters in Iraq are Iraqi, and 70% of its fighters in Syria are Syrian. The article stated that the group has 40,000 fighters and 60,000 supporters across its two primary strongholds in Iraq and Syria. According to scholar Fawaz Gerges writing in ISIS: A History, some "30 percent of the senior figures" in ISIL's military command are former army and police officers from the disbanded Iraqi security forces, drawn to ISIL by the US De-Ba'athification policy and turned towards Sunni Islamism, following the US invasion of Iraq.
According to a poll by Pew Research Center, Muslim populations of various countries have overwhelmingly negative views of ISIS with Lebanon having the most unfavorable views. In most of these countries, concerns about Islamic extremism have been growing.
Allegations of state support
Although Saudi Arabia's government rejected the claims, former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki accused Saudi Arabia of funding ISIL. Some media outlets, such as NBC, the BBC and The New York Times, and the US-based think tank Washington Institute for Near East Policy have written about individual Saudi donations to the group and the Saudi state's decade-long sponsorship of Wahhabism around the world, but have concluded that there is no evidence of direct Saudi state support for ISIL.
Richard Dearlove, former head of Britain's Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), said that the Saudis were "deeply attracted to any militancy that can effectively challenge Shia-dom [Shia version of Islam]." Dearlove stated that, "For ISIS to be able to surge into the Sunni areas of Iraq in the way that it has done recently has to be the consequence of substantial and sustained funding."
In an August 2014 email, leaked by WikiLeaks, former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sent then counselor to Barack Obama John Podesta a memo that states that both Saudi Arabia and Qatar "are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the region".
During the ongoing Syrian civil war, President Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian government, and the Syrian Alawite community have been accused by many opposition and anti-Assad parties of collusion with ISIL, despite massacres of Alawite civilians and executions of captured Syrian Army Alawite soldiers. Several sources have claimed Islamist 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 ISIL, and the Syrian government and ISIL jointly run a HESCO gas plant in Tabqah. The facility supplies electricity to government-held areas, and government-run power plants supply ISIL-held areas. The Syrian government has tactically avoided ISIL forces in order to weaken opposition such as the Free Syrian Army (FSA), and according to United States Secretary of State John Kerry the Syrian government has purposely ceded territory to ISIL. An IHS Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Center database analysis confirmed that only 6% of Syrian government forces attacks were targeted at ISIL from January to November 2014, while in the same period only 13% of all ISIL attacks targeted government forces. The National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces has stated that the Syrian government has operatives inside ISIL, as has the leadership of Ahrar ash-Sham. A report on 25 June 2015 said that ISIL kept gas flowing to Assad regime-controlled power stations. Furthermore, ISIL allowed grain to pass from the Kurdish-held north-east to regime controlled areas at the cost of a 25% levy.
On 1 June 2015, the United States embassy in Syria stated that the Syrian government was "making air-strikes in support" of an ISIL advance on Syrian opposition positions north of Aleppo. The president of the Syrian National Coalition, Khaled Koja, accused Assad of acting "as an air force for [ISIL]", with the Defence Minister of the SNC Salim Idris stating that approximately 180 Syrian government officers were serving in ISIL and coordinating the group's attacks with the Syrian Arab Army.
However, in an April 2017 report, IHS Markit, the leading UK security and defense information provider, stated that the Islamic State fought Syrian government forces more than any other opponent between 1 April 2016 and 31 March 2017. According to the report "43 percent of all Islamic State fighting in Syria was directed against President Assad’s forces, 17 against the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the remaining 40 percent involved fighting rival Sunni opposition groups".
Turkey has been accused by experts, Syrian Kurds, and United States Vice-President Joe Biden of supporting or colluding with ISIL. A raid by US special forces on a compound housing the Islamic State's "chief financial officer", Abu Sayyaf, in July 2015, produced evidence that Turkish officials dealt directly with ranking ISIL members. According to a senior Western official, documents and flash drives seized during the Sayyaf raid revealed links "so clear" and "undeniable" between Turkey and ISIL "that they could end up having profound policy implications for the relationship between us and Ankara".
Journalist Patrick Cockburn wrote in November 2014 of "strong evidence for a degree of collaboration" between the Turkish intelligence services and ISIL, although the "exact nature of the relationship ... remains cloudy". In July 2014, Cockburn stated that "Saudi Arabia has created a Frankenstein's monster over which it is rapidly losing control. The same is true of its allies such as Turkey which has been a vital back-base for Isis and Jabhat al-Nusra by keeping the 820-kilometer-long (510 mi) Turkish-Syrian border open." 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, wrote 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 that 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 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.
Qatar has long been accused of acting as a conduit for the flow of funds to ISIL. While there is no proof that the Qatari government is behind the movement of funds from the gas-rich nation to ISIL, it has been criticised for not doing enough to stem the flow of financing. Private donors within Qatar, sympathetic to the aims of radical groups such as al-Nusra Front and ISIL, are believed to be channeling their resources to support these organisations. According to the US Treasury Department, a number of terrorist financiers have been operating in Qatar. Qatari citizen Abd Al-Rahman al-Nuaimi has served as an interlocutor between Qatari donors and leaders of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). Nuaimi reportedly oversaw the transfer of US$2 million per month to AQI over a period of time. He is also one of several of Qatar-based al-Qaeda financiers sanctioned by the US Treasury in recent years. According to some reports, US officials believe that the largest portion of private donations supporting ISIS and al Qaeda-linked groups now comes from Qatar rather than Saudi Arabia.
In August 2014, a German minister Gerd Müller accused Qatar of having links to ISIL, stating: "You have to ask who is arming, who is financing ISIS troops. The keyword there is Qatar." Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid bin Mohammad Al Attiyah rejected this statement, saying: "Qatar does not support extremist groups, including [ISIL], in any way. We are repelled by their views, their violent methods and their ambitions."
Rand Paul, junior U.S. Senator from Kentucky, has accused the U.S. government of indirectly supporting ISIL in the Syrian Civil War, by arming their allies and fighting their enemies in that country. The US has assisted the moderate Syrian opposition (see CIA-led Timber Sycamore operation), but whether that assistance has been commandeered by ISIS allies remains unclear.
In 12 September 2014, several media outlets began reporting that the Free Syrian Army had signed a "non-aggression pact" with ISIS in order to focus their attentions elsewhere. These reports later proved to be false, as opposition soldiers and activists on the ground reported continued fighting between the two groups. According to Mohammed Alaa Ghanem, director of government relations for the Syrian American Council, "The only report we have received on anything resembling a ceasefire was that ISIS and Sons of Golan, an FSA brigade outside Damascus, halted fighting for 24 hours to collect bodies before hostilities resumed." "FSA commanders declared that they will continue that fight until ISIS is completely eradicated in Damascus suburbs. No truce or cease fire with ISIS," said Syrian National Coalition spokesman Monzer Abkik.
A United Nations report from May 2015[update] showed that 25,000 "foreign terrorist fighters" from 100 countries had joined "Islamist" groups, many of them working for ISIL or al-Qaeda. The US-trained commander of Tajikistan's Interior Ministry OMON police special forces, Gulmurod Khalimov, has been raised to the rank of "Minister of War" within the Islamic State.
A 2015 report by the Program on Extremism at George Washington University found 71 individuals charged in the United States with supporting ISIL, 250 travelling or attempting to travel to Syria or Iraq from the United States to join ISIL, and about 900 active domestic ISIL-related investigations.
An October 2016 World Bank study found that "ISIL’s foreign fighters are surprisingly well-educated." Using the fighters' self-reported educational levels, the study concluded that "69% of recruits reported at least a secondary-level education" of which "a large fraction have gone on to study at university" and also that "only 15% of recruits left school before high school; less than 2% are illiterate." The study also found that foreign fighters are often more educated than their countrymen where those "from Europe and in Central Asia have similar levels of education to their countrymen" while those "from the Middle East, North Africa, and South and East Asia are significantly more educated than what is typical in their home nations." The report notes that its conclusions that terrorism is not driven by poverty and low levels of education does not conform with previous research. However, the report did find a strong correlation "between a country’s male unemployment rate and the propensity of the country to supply foreign fighters" leading the report to recommend that governments pursue a policy of lowering the unemployment rate among the educated as a counter-terrorism strategy.
Groups expressing support for ISIL
The Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium (TRAC) has identified 60 jihadist groups in 30 countries that have pledged allegiance to or support for ISIL as of mid-November 2014. That many of these groups were previously affiliated with al-Qaeda suggests a shift in global jihadist leadership towards ISIL.
Members of the following groups have declared support for ISIL, either fully or in part:
- Boko Haram
- Ansar al-Sharia (Tunisia)
- Jund al-Khilafah
- 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)
- Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan
- Jundallah (Pakistan)
- Caucasus Emirate (Multiple Caucasus Emirate commanders switched allegiance to ISIL)
- Sheikh Omar Hadid Brigade
- Khalifa Islamiyah Mindanao
Countries and groups at war with ISIL
ISIL's 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.
The Global 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), 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 on 3 December 2014, 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.
Other state opponents not part of the Counter-ISIL Coalition
Russia – arms supplier to Iraqi and Syrian governments. In June 2014, the Iraqi army received Russian Sukhoi Su-25 and Sukhoi Su-30 fighter aircraft to combat the ISIL. Security operations within state borders in 2015. Airstrikes in Syria (see Russian military intervention in the Syrian Civil War).
Other non-state opponents
- al-Nusra Front—with localised truces and co-operation at times
- al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula Syriac Military Council
- al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb
Al-Nusra Front is a branch of al-Qaeda operating in Syria. Al-Nusra has launched many attacks and bombings, mostly against targets affiliated with or supportive of the Syrian government. There have been media reports that many of al-Nusra's foreign fighters have left to join al-Baghdadi's ISIL.
In February 2014, after continued tensions, al-Qaeda publicly disavowed any relations with ISIL. However, ISIL and al-Nusra Front still cooperate with each other occasionally when they fight against the Syrian government.
The two groups [ISIL and al-Nusra] share a nihilistic worldview, a loathing for modernity, and for the West. They subscribe to the same perverted interpretations of Islam. Other common traits include a penchant for suicide attacks, and sophisticated exploitation of the internet and social media. Like ISIL, several Al Qaeda franchises are interested in taking and holding territory; AQAP has been much less successful at it. The main differences between Al Qaeda and ISIL are largely political—and personal. Over the past decade, Al Qaeda has twice embraced ISIL (and its previous manifestations) as brothers-in-arms.
On 10 September 2015, an audio message was released by al-Qaeda's leader Ayman al-Zawahiri criticising ISIL's self-proclaimed caliphate and accusing it of "sedition". This was described by some media outlets as a "declaration of war". However, although al-Zawahiri denied ISIL's legitimacy, he suggested that there was still room for cooperation against common enemies, and said that if he were in Iraq, he would fight alongside ISIL.
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 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 live according to its interpretation of 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, Alawites, Assyrian, Chaldean, Syriac and Armenian Christians, Yazidis, Druze, Shabaks and Mandeans in particular.
ISIL fighters are targeting Syria's minority Alawite sect. The Islamic State and affiliated jihadist groups reportedly took the lead in an offensive on Alawite villages in Latakia Governorate of Syria in August 2013.
Amnesty International has held ISIL responsible for the ethnic cleansing of ethnic and religious minority groups in northern Iraq on a "historic scale", putting entire communities "at risk of being wiped off the map of Iraq". In a special report released on 2 September 2014, the organization described how ISIL had "systematically targeted non-Arab and non-Sunni Muslim communities, killing or abducting hundreds, possibly thousands, of individuals and forcing more than 830,000 others to flee the areas it has captured since 10 June 2014". Among these people were Assyrian Christians, Turkmen Shia, Shabak Shia, Kaka'i, Yazidis and Sabean Mandeans, who have lived together for centuries in Nineveh province, large parts of which have come 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 Yazidis 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 face four options: converting to Islam, paying a religious levy called the jizya, leaving the "Caliphate", 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 leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi further noted that Christians who do not agree with those terms must "leave the borders of the Islamic Caliphate" within a specified deadline. ISIL had already set similar rules for Christians in Raqqa, once one of Syria's more liberal cities. However, on 29 March 2016, ISIL issued a decree preventing Christians and Armenians from leaving Raqqa.
On 23 February 2015, in response to a major Kurdish offensive in the Al-Hasakah Governorate, ISIL abducted 150 Assyrian Christians from villages 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 Raqqa 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, 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 sodomy, adultery, usage and possession of contraband, rape, blasphemy, witchcraft, renouncing Islam and murder. Before the accused are executed their charges are read to them and the spectators. Executions take various forms, including stoning to death, crucifixions, beheadings, burning people alive, and throwing people from tall buildings. The Islamic State in Iraq frequently carries out mass executions in Mosul and Hawija.
The Islamic State militants were accused of using civilian residents of towns as human shields. The Telegraph reported that "Extremist fighters are deliberately hiding among civilian buildings and residents to try to prevent strikes." Civil rights activist told ARA News that "ISIS militants prevent the people of Manbij and Jarablus from leaving their hometowns despite the fierce airstrikes by Russian warplanes". The use of human shields and executions of civilians who tried to flee continued in Iraq right through until the group lost is final major urban territory there after its defeat in the Battle for Mosul in July 2017.
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 practice 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." A UN report indicated that at least 89 children, mostly from the ages of 12 to 16 had been killed fighting for the Islamic State in 2015, 39% of which died in suicide bombing attacks. Der Spiegel estimated in 2016 that 1,500 boys were serving as child soldiers for ISIL. It was reported that on 12 March 2017, ISIS used 6 child suicide bombers against the Syrian Army soldiers besieged in Deir Ez-zor.
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. Fighters are told that they are free to have sex with or rape non-Muslim captive women. 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."
The capture of Iraqi cities by the group in June 2014 was accompanied by an upsurge in crimes against women, including kidnap and rape. 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".
As of August 2015, the trade in sex slaves appeared to remain restricted to Yazidi women and girls. It has reportedly become a recruiting technique to attract men from conservative Muslim societies, where dating and casual sex are not allowed. Nazand Begikhani said of the Yazidi victims, "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." According to UN Reports the price list for IS sex slaves range from 40 to 160 US dollars. The younger the slave the more expensive. Girls and boys between the age 1–9 are referred to as the most expensive, with the cheapest being women between 40 and 50 years old. According to another source the price of a slave equals the price of an AK-47.
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. In August 2015 it was confirmed that she had been forced into marriage to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who raped her repeatedly. The Mueller family was informed by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had sexually abused Ms. Mueller, and that Ms. Mueller had also been tortured. Abu Sayyaf's widow, Umm Sayyaf, confirmed that it was her husband who had been Mueller's primary abuser.
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 Quran 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 Quran 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 Quran to derive a ruling in isolation, rather than considering the entire Quran 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 owners. Charlie Winter, a researcher at the counter-extremist think tank Quilliam, described the pamphlet as "abhorrent". 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 ISIL's 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 had created ongoing friction among fighters within ISIL. Sajad Jiyad, a Research Fellow and Associate Member at the Iraqi Institute for Economic Reform, told the newspaper 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. The New York Times said in August 2015 that "[t]he systematic rape of women and girls from the Yazidi religious minority has become deeply enmeshed in the organization and the radical theology of the Islamic State in the year since the group announced it was reviving slavery as an institution." The article claims that ISIL is not merely exonerating but sacralising rape, and illustrated this with the testimony of escapees. One 15-year-old victim said that, while she was being assaulted, her rapist "kept telling me this is ibadah"; a 12-year-old victim related how her assailant claimed that, "by raping me, he is drawing closer to God"; and one adult prisoner told how, when she challenged her captor about repeatedly raping a 12 year old, she was met with the retort, "No, she's not a little girl, she's a slave and she knows exactly how to have sex and having sex with her pleases God."
In July 2016 it was reported by an AP investigation that ISIL was using mobile apps like Telegram to sell their sex slaves and identify the slaves of other ISIL members at checkpoints. In 2016, the Commission for International Justice and Accountability said they had identified 34 senior ISIL members who were instrumental in the systematic sex slave trade and planned to prosecute them after the end of hostilities.
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 was kidnapped and beheaded, after a demand for a $200 million ransom payment was not met.
Beheadings and mass executions
An unknown number of Syrians and Iraqis, several Lebanese soldiers, male and female Kurdish fighters near Kobanî, two American journalists, one American and two British aid workers, 30 Ethiopian Christians and 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya 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. ISIL was reported to have beheaded about 100 foreign fighters as deserters who tried to leave Raqqa.
They also engage in public and mass executions of Syrian and Iraqi soldiers and civilians, sometimes forcing prisoners to dig their own graves before shooting lines of prisoners and pushing them in. Among the known mass executions of captured soldiers carried out by ISIL are those in Tikrit (ISIS executed up to 1,700 Shia Iraqi Air Force cadets from Camp Speicher near Tikrit on 12 June 2014), Al-Thawrah (ISIS executed 250 Syrian soldiers captured at the Al-Tabqa air base between 27 and 28 August 2014), Palmyra (up to 280 Syrian soldiers and government loyalists were shot in the head or beheaded in a public square on 22 May 2015), and Deir ez-Zor (ISIS killed at least 300 Syrian soldiers, pro-government militiamen and their families on 16 January 2016).
ISIS executed 600 Shia prisoners in Mosul in June 2014. In November 2014, there were reports that ISIS fighters massacred more than 630 members of the Albu Nimr tribe in Iraq. Albu Nimr was one of the Sunni Arab tribes that fiercely opposed the Islamic State. On 17 December 2014, it was reported by Turkish media, that the ISIS had executed at least 150 women from the Albu Nimr tribe in Falluja for refusing to marry ISIS militants.
Use of chemical weapons
Kurds in northern Iraq reported being attacked by ISIS with chemical weapons in August 2015, which was later confirmed to be mustard gas. At Kobanî, it is highly likely that ISIS used chlorine gas. These chemical weapons may be from a chemical weapons storage site at Al-Muthanna, which contained 2,500 chemical rockets. Although the rockets' chemical contents were deteriorated, ISIS may have used them in a concentrated manner.
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. 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.
ISIL has burned or stolen collections of books and papers from the various locations including the Central Library of Mosul (which they rigged with explosives and burned down), the library at the University of Mosul, a Sunni Muslim library, a 265-year-old Latin Church and Monastery of the Dominican Fathers, and the Mosul Museum Library. Some destroyed or stolen works date back to 5000 BCE and include "Iraq newspapers dating to the early 20th century, maps and books from the Ottoman Empire, and book collections contributed by about 100 of Mosul's establishment families." The stated goal is to destroy all non-Islamic books.
- or Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham
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It has also created a female morality police, a shadowy group called the al-Khansa’ Brigades, who insure proper deportment in ISIS-held towns. ... Al-Khansa’ was a female poet of the pre-Islamic era who converted to Islam and became a companion of the Prophet, and her elegies for her male relations are keystones of the genre [of Islamic poetry]. The name therefore suggests an institution with deep roots in the past, and yet there has never been anything like the Brigades in Islamic history, nor do they have an equivalent anywhere else in the Arab world.
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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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