The Islamic State (IS; Arabic: الدولة الإسلامية ad-Dawlah l-ʾIslāmiyyah), previously calling itself the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/ˈaɪsəl/) or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ˈaɪsɪs/; Arabic: الدولة الإسلامية في العراق والشام), and also known by the Arabic acronym Daʿesh (داعش),[a] is an unrecognized state and a Sunnijihadist group active in Iraq and Syria in the Middle East. In its self-proclaimed status as a caliphate, it claims religious authority over all Muslims across the world and aspires to bring most of the Muslim-inhabited regions of the world under its political control beginning with territory in the Levant region which includes Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Cyprus and part of southern Turkey.
As ISIS, the group grew significantly under the leadership of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, gaining support in Iraq as a result of alleged economic and political discrimination against Iraqi Sunnis. Then, after entering the Syrian Civil War, it established a large presence in the Syrian governorates of Ar-Raqqah, Idlib, Deir ez-Zor and Aleppo. In June 2014, it had at least 4,000 fighters in its ranks in Iraq. It has claimed responsibility for attacks on government and military targets and for attacks that have killed thousands of civilians. In August 2014, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claimed that the number of fighters in the group had increased to 50,000 in Syria and 30,000 in Iraq, while the CIA estimated in September 2014 that in both countries it had between 20,000 and 31,500 fighters. ISIS had close links to al-Qaeda until February 2014 when, after an eight-month power struggle, al-Qaeda cut all ties with the group, reportedly for its brutality and "notorious intractability".
The group's original aim was to establish an Islamic state in the Sunni-majority regions of Iraq, and following ISIS's involvement in the Syrian Civil War this expanded to include controlling Sunni-majority areas of Syria. A caliphate was proclaimed on 29 June 2014, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi—now known as Amir al-Mu'mininCaliph Ibrahim—was named as its caliph, and the group was renamed the Islamic State.
In January 2006, AQI merged with several smaller Iraqi insurgent groups under an umbrella organization called the "Mujahideen Shura Council". This was claimed to be little more than a media exercise and an attempt to give the group a more Iraqi flavour and perhaps to distance al-Qaeda from some of al-Zarqawi's tactical errors, notably the 2005 bombings by AQI of three hotels in Amman. Al-Zarqawi was killed in June 2006, after which the group's direction shifted again.
On 12 October 2006, the Mujahideen Shura Council joined four more insurgent factions and the representatives of a number of Iraqi Arab tribes, and together they swore the traditional Arab oath of allegiance known as Ḥilf al-Muṭayyabīn ("Oath of the Scented Ones").[b] During the ceremony, the participants swore to free Iraq's Sunnis from what they described as Shia and foreign oppression, and to further the name of Allah and restore Islam to glory.[c]
On 13 October 2006, the establishment of the Dawlat al-ʻIraq al-Islāmīyah, "Islamic State of Iraq" (ISI) was announced. A cabinet was formed and Abu Abdullah al-Rashid al-Baghdadi became ISI's figurehead emir, with the real power residing with the Egyptian Abu Ayyub al-Masri. The declaration was met with hostile criticism, not only from ISI's jihadist rivals in Iraq, but from leading jihadist ideologues outside the country. Al-Baghdadi and al-Masri were both killed in a US–Iraqi operation in April 2010. The next leader of the ISI was Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the current leader of ISIS.
On 8 April 2013, having expanded into Syria, the group adopted the name "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant", also known as "Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham." The name is abbreviated as ISIL or alternately ISIS or the uncapitalised Isis. The final "S" in the acronym ISIS stems from the Arabic word Shām (or Shaam), which in the context of global jihad—as in Jund al-Sham, for example—refers to the Levant or Greater Syria. ISIS was also known as al-Dawlah ("the State"), or al-Dawlat al-Islāmīyah ("the Islamic State"). These are short-forms of the name "Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham" in Arabic.
The name "Daʿesh" (pronounced "Daʔesh" and transliterated as "Dāʿesh") is used particularly by ISIS's detractors such as those in Syria. The term is based on the Arabic letters, Dāl, ʾAlif, ʿAyn and Šīn (Shin), which form the acronym (داعش) of the Arabic name translated as, "the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi Iraq wa ash-Sham). The group considers the term derogatory and reportedly uses flogging as a punishment for people who use the acronym in ISIS-controlled areas.
On 14 May 2014, the United States Department of State announced its decision to use "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) as the group's primary name. Which of these acronyms should be used to designate the group, ISIL or ISIS, has been discussed by several commentators.
On 29 June 2014, the establishment of a new caliphate was announced, and the group formally changed its name to the "Islamic State" (IS).[d]
In late August 2014, a leading Islamic authority, Dar al-Ifta al-Misriyyah in Egypt, advised Muslims to stop calling the group "Islamic State" and instead refer to it as "Al-Qaeda Separatists in Iraq and Syria" or "QSIS", because of the militant group's un-Islamic character.
Ideology and beliefs
ISIS is a Sunniextremist group that follows al-Qaeda's hard-line ideology and adheres to global jihadist principles. Like al-Qaeda and many other modern-day jihadist groups, ISIS emerged from the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood, the world’s first Islamist group dating back to the late 1920s in Egypt. ISIS follows an extreme anti-Western interpretation of Islam, promotes religious violence and regards those who do not agree with its interpretations as infidels or apostates. Concurrently, ISIS—now IS—aims to establish a Salafist-orientated Islamist state in Iraq, Syria and other parts of the Levant.
ISIS's ideology originates in the branch of modern Islam that aims to return to the early days of Islam, rejecting later "innovations" in the religion which it believes corrupt its original spirit. It condemns later caliphates and the Ottoman Empire for deviating from what it calls pure Islam and hence has been attempting to establish its own caliphate. However, some Sunni commentators, including Salafi and jihadist muftis such as Adnan al-Aroor and Abu Basir al-Tartusi, say that ISIS and related terrorist groups are not Sunnis, but modern-day Kharijites—Muslims who have stepped outside the mainstream of Islam—serving an imperial anti-Islamic agenda. Other critics of ISIS'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 who claims that ISIS is a creation of “Zionists, Crusaders and Safavids”, and the Jordanian-Palestinian writer Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi who was released from prison in Jordan in June 2014.
Salafists such as ISIS 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, when it comes to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, since ISIS regards the Palestinian Sunni group Hamas as apostates who have no legitimate authority to lead jihad, it regards fighting Hamas as the first step toward confrontation with Israel.
Since 2004, the group's goal has been the foundation of an Islamic state in the Levant. Specifically, ISIS sought the establishment of a caliphate, a type of Islamic state led by a group of religious authorities under a supreme leader—caliph—who is believed to be the successor to Mohammed. In June 2014, ISIS published a document which it claimed linked ISIS's leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to the prophet. That same month, ISIS removed "Iraq and the Levant" from its name and began to refer to itself as the Islamic State, declaring the territory that it occupied in Iraq and Syria a new caliphate and naming al-Baghdadi as its caliph. By declaring a caliphate, al-Baghdadi was demanding the allegiance of all devout Muslims according to Islamic jurisprudence—fiqh. ISIS has also stated: "The legality of all emirates, groups, states and organizations becomes null by the expansion of the khilafah's [caliphate's] authority and arrival of its troops to their areas." ISIS thus rejects the political divisions established by Western powers at the end of World War I in the Sykes–Picot Agreement as it absorbs territory in Syria and Iraq.
On 13 October 2006, the group announced the establishment of the Islamic State of Iraq, which claimed authority over the Iraqi governorates of Baghdad, Anbar, Diyala, Kirkuk, Salah al-Din, Nineveh and parts of Babil. Following the 2013 expansion of the group into Syria and the announcement of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the number of wilayah—provinces—which it claimed increased to 16. In addition to the seven Iraqi wilayah, the Syrian divisions, largely lying along existing provincial boundaries, are Al Barakah, Al Kheir, Ar-Raqqah, Al Badiya, Halab, Idlib, Hama, Damascus and the Coast. After taking control of both sides of the border in mid-2014, ISIS created a new province incorporating both Syrian territory around Albu Kamal and Iraqi territory around Qaim. This new wilayah was designated al-Furat—"Euphrates" province. In Syria, ISIS's seat of power is in Ar-Raqqah Governorate. Top ISIS leaders, including Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, are known to have visited its provincial capital, Ar-Raqqah.
The group is headed and run by Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, called Caliph, with a cabinet of advisers. There are two deputy leaders, Abu Muslim al-Turkmani for Iraq and Abu Ali al-Anbari for Syria, and 12 local governors in both Iraq and Syria. Beneath the governors are local 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.
Ar-Raqqah in Syria is the de facto capital of the Islamic State and is said to be a "test case" or "show case" of ISIS governance. As of September 2014, governance in Ar-Raqqah has been under the total control of ISIS where it has rebuilt the structure of modern government in less than a year. Former government workers from the Assad regime maintain their jobs after pledging allegiance to ISIS. Institutions, restored and restructured, are providing services. The Ar-Raqqah dam continues to provide electricity and water. Foreign expertise supplements Syrian officials in running civilian institutions. Only the police and soldiers are ISIS fighters, who receive confiscated lodging previously owned by non-Sunnis and others who fled. Welfare services are provided, price controls established, and taxes imposed on the wealthy. Exporting oil from oilfields that it has captured brings in tens of millions of dollars. ISIS runs a soft power program in the areas under its control in Iraq and Syria, which includes social services, religious lectures and da'wah—proselytizing—to local populations. It also performs public services such as repairing roads and maintaining the electricity supply.
British security expert Frank Gardner has concluded that ISIS's prospects of maintaining control and rule are greater in 2014 than they were in 2006. Despite being as brutal as before, ISIS has become "well entrenched" among the population and is not likely to be dislodged by ineffective Syrian or Iraqi forces. It has replaced corrupt governance with functioning locally-controlled authorities, services have been restored and there are adequate supplies of water and oil. With Western-backed intervention being unlikely, the group will "continue to hold their ground" and rule an area "the size of Pennsylvania for the foreseeable future", he said.
After significant setbacks for the group during the latter stages of the coalition forces' presence in Iraq, by late 2012 it was thought to have renewed its strength and more than doubled the number of its members to about 2,500, and since its formation in April 2013, ISIS grew rapidly in strength and influence in Iraq and Syria. Analysts have underlined the deliberate inflammation of sectarian conflict between Iraqi Shias and Sunnis during the Iraq War by various Sunni and Shia players as the root cause of ISIS's rise. The post-invasion policies of the international coalition forces have also been cited as a factor, with Fanar Haddad, a research fellow at the National University of Singapore's Middle East Institute, blaming the coalition forces during the Iraq War for "enshrining identity politics as the key marker of Iraqi politics".
By 2014, ISIS was increasingly being viewed as a militia rather than a terrorist group by some organizations. As major Iraqi cities fell to al-Baghdadi's cohorts in June, Jessica Lewis, a former US army intelligence officer at the Institute for the Study of War, described ISIS 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 ISIS "an advanced military leadership". She said, "They have incredible command and control and they have a sophisticated reporting mechanism from the field that can relay tactics and directives up and down the line. They are well-financed, and they have big sources of manpower, not just the foreign fighters, but also prisoner escapees."
According to the Institute for the Study of War, ISIS's 2013 annual report reveals a metrics-driven military command, which is "a strong indication of a unified, coherent leadership structure that commands from the top down".Middle East Forum's Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi said, "They are highly skilled in urban guerrilla warfare while the new Iraqi Army simply lacks tactical competence." Seasoned observers point to systemic corruption within the Iraq Army, it being little more than a system of patronage, and have attributed to this its spectacular collapse as ISIS and its allies took over large swaths of Iraq in June 2014.
While officials fear ISIS may either inspire attacks in the United States by sympathizers or those returning after joining ISIS, American intelligence agencies find there is no immediate threat or specific plots. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel sees an “imminent threat to every interest we have.” Daniel Benjamin, former top counterterrorism adviser, derides such alarmist talk as a “farce” that panics the public.
Hillary Clinton has stated: "The failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad—there were Islamists, there were secularists, there was everything in the middle—the failure to do that left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled."
Propaganda and social media
The logo of Al-Hayat Media Center
ISIS is also known for its effective use of propaganda. In November 2006, shortly after the creation of the Islamic State of Iraq, the group established the al-Furqan Institute for Media Production, which produces CDs, DVDs, posters, pamphlets, and web-related propaganda products. ISIS's main media outlet is the I'tisaam Media Foundation, which was formed in March 2013 and distributes through the Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF). In 2014, ISIS established the Al Hayat Media Center, which targets a Western audience and produces material in English, German, Russian and French. In 2014 it also launched the Ajnad Media Foundation, which releases jihadist audio chants.
In July 2014, ISIS began publishing a digital magazine called Dabiq in multiple languages, including English. According to the magazine, its name is taken from the town in northern Syria, which is mentioned in a hadith about Armageddon. Harleen K. Gambhir, of the Institute for the Study of War, found that while al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's Inspire magazine focused on encouraging its readers to carry out lone-wolf attacks on the West, Dabiq is more concerned with establishing the religious legitimacy of ISIS and its self-proclaimed caliphate, and encouraging Muslims to emigrate there.
ISIS's use of social media has been described by one expert as "probably more sophisticated than [that of] most US companies". It regularly takes advantage of social media, particularly Twitter, to distribute its message by organizing hashtag campaigns, encouraging Tweets on popular hashtags, and utilizing software applications that enable ISIS propaganda to be distributed to its supporters' accounts. Another comment is that "ISIS puts more emphasis on social media than other jihadi groups. ... They have a very coordinated social media presence." In August 2014, Twitter administrators shut down a number of accounts associated with ISIS. ISIS recreated and publicized new accounts the next day, which were also shut down by Twitter administrators. The group has attempted to branch out into alternative social media sites, such as Quitter, Friendica and Diaspora; Quitter and Friendica, however, almost immediately worked to remove ISIS's presence from their sites. ISIS released some special videos to influence Muslim youths in the Indian subcontinent. Reportedly two youths from Thane and four from Mumbai joined ISIS from India. After finding this to be a genuine report the Indian Government has introduced measures to stop youths joining ISIS. Four youths from Hyderabad were caught in Kolkata while flying to Syria to join ISIS.
On 19 August 2014, a propaganda video showing the beheading of US photojournalist James Foley was posted on the Internet. ISIS claimed that the killing had been carried out in revenge for the US bombing of ISIS targets. The video promised that a second captured US journalist Steven Sotloff would be killed next if the airstrikes continued. On 2 September 2014, ISIS released a video purportedly showing their beheading of Sotloff. In the video the executioner says, "I'm back, Obama, and I'm back because of your arrogant foreign policy towards the Islamic State, because of your insistence on continuing your bombings and on Mosul Dam, despite our serious warnings. So just as your missiles continue to strike our people, our knife will continue to strike the necks of your people."  The next scene shows the same executioner holding the orange jumpsuit of another prisoner, and saying "We take this opportunity to warn those governments that enter this evil alliance of America against the Islamic State to back off and leave our people alone." On 13 September 2014, ISIS released another similar video purportedly depicting the beheading of David C. Haines, a British aid worker they had been holding hostage.
There are many foreign fighters in ISIS's ranks. In June 2014, The Economist reported that "ISIS may have up to 6,000 fighters in Iraq and 3,000–5,000 in Syria, including perhaps 3,000 foreigners; nearly a thousand are reported to hail from Chechnya and perhaps 500 or so more from France, Britain and elsewhere in Europe". Chechen leader Abu Omar al-Shishani, for example, was made commander of the northern sector of ISIS in Syria in 2013. According to The New York Times, in September 2014 there were more than 2,000 Europeans and 100 Americans among ISIS's foreign fighters.
A study of 200 documents—personal letters, expense reports and membership rosters—captured from Al-Qaeda in Iraq and the Islamic State of Iraq was carried out by the RAND Corporation in 2014. It found that from 2005 until 2010, outside donations amounted to only 5% of the group’s operating budgets, with the rest being raised within Iraq. In the time-period studied, cells were required to send up to 20% of the income generated from kidnapping, extortion rackets and other activities to the next level of the group's leadership. Higher-ranking commanders would then redistribute the funds to provincial or local cells that were in difficulties or needed money to conduct attacks. The records show that the Islamic State of Iraq was dependent on members from Mosul for cash, which the leadership used to provide additional funds to struggling militants in Diyala, Salahuddin and Baghdad.
In mid-2014, Iraqi intelligence extracted information from an ISIS operative which revealed that the organization had assets worth US$2 billion, making it the richest jihadist group in the world. About three quarters of this sum is said to be represented by assets seized after the group captured Mosul in June 2014; this includes possibly up to US$429 million looted from Mosul's central bank, along with additional millions and a large quantity of gold bullion stolen from a number of other banks in Mosul. However, doubt was later cast on whether ISIS was able to retrieve anywhere near that sum from the central bank, and even on whether the bank robberies had actually occurred.
ISIS has routinely practised extortion, by demanding money from truck drivers and threatening to blow up businesses, for example. Robbing banks and gold shops has been another source of income. The group is widely reported as receiving funding from private donors in the Gulf states, and both Iran and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have accused Saudi Arabia and Qatar of funding ISIS, although there is reportedly no evidence that this is the case.
The group is also believed to receive considerable funds from its operations in Eastern Syria, where it has commandeered oilfields and engages in smuggling out raw materials and archaeological artifacts. ISIS also generates revenue from producing crude oil and selling electric power in northern Syria. Some of this electricity is reportedly sold back to the Syrian government.
Since 2012, ISIS has produced annual reports giving numerical information on its operations, somewhat in the style of corporate reports, seemingly in a bid to encourage potential donors.
ISIS captured nuclear materials from Mosul University in July 2014. In a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Iraq's UN Ambassador Mohamed Ali Alhakim said that the materials had been kept at the university and "can be used in manufacturing weapons of mass destruction". Nuclear experts regarded the threat as insignificant. International Atomic Energy Agency spokeswoman Gill Tudor said that the seized materials were "low grade and would not present a significant safety, security or nuclear proliferation risk".
As Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, Al-Qaeda in Iraq and Mujahideen Shura Council (1999-2005)
On 7 June 2006, al-Zarqawi was killed in an American airstrike and was succeeded as AQI's leader by the Egyptian militant Abu Ayyub al-Masri. On 13 October 2006, the Mujahideen Shura Council (MSC), an umbrella organisation of AQI and other insurgent groups, declared the establishment of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), comprising Iraq's six mostly Sunni Arab governorates, with Abu Omar al-Baghdadi being announced as the self-proclaimed state's Emir. Al-Masri was given the title of Minister of War within the ISI's ten-member cabinet. According to a study compiled by US intelligence agencies in early 2007, the ISI planned to seize power in the central and western areas of the country and turn it into a Sunni Islamic state.
As Islamic State of Iraq (2006–2013)
It has been suggested that this section be split into a new article. (Discuss) Proposed since September 2014.
Strength and activity
US Marines in Ramadi, May 2006. The Islamic State of Iraq had declared the city to be its capital.
In 2006, the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research estimated that Al-Qaeda in Iraq's core membership was "more than 1,000". These figures do not include the other six[irrelevant citation] AQI-led Salafi groups in the Islamic State of Iraq. In 2007, estimates of the group's strength ranged from just 850 to several thousand full-time fighters. The group was said to be suffering high manpower losses, including those from its many "martyrdom" operations, but for a long time this appeared to have little effect on its strength and capabilities, implying a constant flow of volunteers from Iraq and abroad. However, Al-Qaeda in Iraq more than doubled in strength, from 1,000 to 2,500 fighters, after the US withdrawal from Iraq in late 2011.
In 2007, some observers and scholars suggested that the threat posed by AQI was being exaggerated and that a "heavy focus on al-Qaeda obscures a much more complicated situation on the ground". According to National Intelligence Estimate and Defense Intelligence Agency reports in July 2007, AQI accounted for 15% percent of attacks in Iraq. However, the Congressional Research Service noted in its September 2007 report that attacks from al-Qaeda were less than 2% of the violence in Iraq. It criticized the Bush administration's statistics, noting that its false reporting of insurgency attacks as AQI attacks had increased since the surge operations began in 2007. In March 2007, the US-sponsored Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty analyzed AQI attacks for that month and concluded that the group had taken credit for 43 out of 439 attacks on Iraqi security forces and Shia militias, and 17 out of 357 attacks on US troops.
According to a US Government report in 2006, this group was most clearly associated with foreign jihadistcells operating in Iraq and had specifically targeted international forces and Iraqi citizens; most of Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI)'s operatives were not Iraqi, but were coming through a series of safe houses, the largest of which was on the Iraq–Syria border. AQI's operations were predominately Iraq-based, but the United States Department of State alleged that the group maintained an extensive logistical network throughout the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia and Europe. In a CNN special report in June 2008, Al-Qaeda in Iraq was called "a well-oiled … organization … almost as pedantically bureaucratic as was Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party", collecting new execution videos long after they stopped publicising them, and having a network of spies even in the US military bases. According to the report, Iraqis—many of them former members of Hussein's secret services—were now effectively running Al-Qaeda in Iraq, with "foreign fighters' roles" seeming to be "mostly relegated to the cannon fodder of suicide attacks", although the organization's top leadership was still dominated by non-Iraqis.
The high-profile attacks linked to the group continued through early 2007, as AQI claimed responsibility for attacks such as the March assassination attempt on Sunni Deputy Prime Minister of IraqSalam al-Zaubai, the April Iraqi Parliament bombing, and the May capture and subsequent execution of three American soldiers. Also in May, ISI leader al-Baghdadi was declared to have been killed in Baghdad, but his death was later denied by the insurgents; later, al-Baghdadi was even declared by the US to be non-existent. There were conflicting reports regarding the fate of al-Masri. From March to August, coalition forces fought the Battle of Baqubah as part of the largely successful attempts to wrest the Diyala Governorate from AQI-aligned forces. Through 2007, the majority of suicide bombings targeting civilians in Iraq were routinely identified by military and government sources as being the responsibility of al-Qaeda and its associated groups, even when there was no claim of responsibility, as was the case in the 2007 Yazidi communities bombings, which killed some 800 people in the deadliest terrorist attack in Iraq to date.
By late 2007, violent and indiscriminate attacks directed by rogue AQI elements against Iraqi civilians had severely damaged their image and caused loss of support among the population, thus isolating the group. In a major blow to AQI, many former Sunni militants who had previously fought alongside the group started to work with the American forces (see also below). The US troops surge supplied the military with more manpower for operations targeting the group, resulting in dozens of high-level AQI members being captured or killed. Al-Qaeda seemed to have lost its foothold in Iraq and appeared to be severely crippled. Accordingly, the bounty issued for al-Masri was eventually cut from $5 million to $100,000 in April 2008.
US soldiers and Sunni Arab tribesmen scan for enemy activity in a farm field in southern Arab Jibor, January 2008
AQI has long raised money, running into tens of millions of dollars, from kidnappings for ransom, car theft—sometimes killing drivers in the process—hijacking fuel trucks and other activities. According to an April 2007 statement by their Islamic Army in Iraq rivals, AQI was demanding jizya tax and killing members of wealthy families when it was not paid. According to both US and Iraqi sources, in May 2008 AQI was stepping up its fundraising campaigns as its strictly militant capabilities were on the wane, with especially lucrative activity said to be oil operations centered on the industrial city of Bayji. According to US military intelligence sources, in 2008 the group resembled a "Mafia-esque criminal gang".
The first reports of a split and even armed clashes between Al-Qaeda in Iraq and other Sunni groups date back to 2005. In the summer of 2006, local Sunni tribes and insurgent groups, including the prominent Islamist-nationalist group Islamic Army in Iraq (IAI), began to speak of their dissatisfaction with al-Qaeda and its tactics, openly criticizing the foreign fighters for their deliberate targeting of Iraqi civilians. In September 2006, 30 Anbar tribes formed their own local alliance called the Anbar Salvation Council (ASC), which was directed specifically at countering al-Qaeda-allied terrorist forces in the province, and they openly sided with the government and the US troops.
By the beginning of 2007, Sunni tribes and nationalist insurgents had begun battling with their former allies in AQI in order to retake control of their communities. In early 2007, forces allied to Al-Qaeda in Iraq committed a series of attacks on Sunnis critical of the group, including the February 2007 attack in which scores of people were killed when a truck bomb exploded near a Sunni mosque in Fallujah. Al-Qaeda supposedly played a role in the assassination of the leader of the Anbar-based insurgent group 1920 Revolution Brigade, the military wing of the Islamic Resistance Movement. In April 2007, the IAI spokesman accused the ISI of killing at least 30 members of the IAI, as well as members of the Jamaat Ansar al-Sunna and Mujahideen Army insurgent groups, and called on Osama bin Laden to intervene personally to rein in Al-Qaeda in Iraq. The following month, the government announced that AQI leader al-Masri had been killed by ASC fighters. Four days later, AQI released an audio tape in which a man claiming to be al-Masri warned Sunnis not to take part in the political process; he also said that reports of internal fighting between Sunni militia groups were "lies and fabrications". Later in May, the US forces announced the release of dozens of Iraqis who were tortured by AQI as a part of the group's intimidation campaign.
By June 2007, the growing hostility between foreign-influenced jihadists and Sunni nationalists had led to open gun battles between the groups in Baghdad. The Islamic Army soon reached a ceasefire agreement with AQI, but refused to sign on to the ISI. There were reports that Hamas of Iraq insurgents were involved in assisting US troops in their Diyala Governorate operations against Al-Qaeda in August 2007. In September 2007, AQI claimed responsibility for the assassination of three people including the prominent Sunni sheikhAbdul Sattar Abu Risha, leader of the Anbar "Awakening council". That same month, a suicide attack on a mosque in the city of Baqubah killed 28 people, including members of Hamas of Iraq and the 1920 Revolution Brigade, during a meeting at the mosque between tribal and guerilla leaders and the police. Meanwhile, the US military began arming moderate insurgent factions when they promised to fight Al-Qaeda in Iraq instead of the Americans.
By December 2007, the strength of the "Awakening" movement irregulars—also called "Concerned Local Citizens" and "Sons of Iraq"—was estimated at 65,000–80,000 fighters. Many of them were former insurgents, including alienated former AQI supporters, and they were now being armed and paid by the Americans specifically to combat al-Qaeda's presence in Iraq. As of July 2007, this highly controversial strategy proved to be effective in helping to secure the Sunni districts of Baghdad and the other hotspots of central Iraq, and to root out the al-Qaeda-aligned militants.
By 2008, the ISI was describing itself as being in a state of "extraordinary crisis", which was attributable to a number of factors, notably the Anbar Awakening.
Transformation and resurgence
In early 2009, US forces began pulling out of cities across the country, turning over the task of maintaining security to the Iraqi Army, the Iraqi Police Service and their paramilitary allies. Experts and many Iraqis were worried that in the absence of US soldiers the ISI might resurface and attempt mass-casualty attacks to destabilize the country. There was indeed a spike in the number of suicide attacks, and through mid- and late 2009, the ISI rebounded in strength and appeared to be launching a concerted effort to cripple the Iraqi government. During August and October 2009, the ISI claimed responsibility for four bombings targeting five government buildings in Baghdad, including attacks that killed 101 at the ministries of Foreign Affairs and Finance in August and 155 at the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Municipalities and Public Works in September; these were the deadliest attacks directed at the new government in more than six years of war. These attacks represented a shift away from the group's previous efforts to incite sectarian violence, although a series of suicide attacks in April targeted mainly Iranian Shia pilgrims, killing 76, and in June, a mosque bombing in Taza killed at least 73 Shias from the Turkmen ethnic minority.
In late 2009, the commander of the US forces in Iraq, General Ray Odierno, stated that the ISI "has transformed significantly in the last two years. What once was dominated by foreign individuals has now become more and more dominated by Iraqi citizens". Odierno's comments reinforced accusations by the government of Nouri al-Maliki that al-Qaeda and ex-Ba'athists were working together to undermine improved security and sabotage the planned Iraqi parliamentary elections in 2010. On 18 April 2010, the ISI’s two top leaders, Abu Ayyub al-Masri and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, were killed in a joint US-Iraqi raid near Tikrit. In a press conference in June 2010, General Odierno reported that 80% of the ISI’s top 42 leaders, including recruiters and financiers, had been killed or captured, with only eight remaining at large. He said that they had been cut off from Al Qaeda's leadership in Pakistan, and that improved intelligence had enabled the successful mission in April that led to the killing of al-Masri and al-Baghdadi; in addition, the number of attacks and casualty figures in Iraq for the first five months of 2010 were the lowest since 2003. In May 2011, the Islamic State of Iraq's "emir of Baghdad" Huthaifa al-Batawi, captured during the crackdown after the 2010 Baghdad church attack in which 68 people died, was killed during an attempted prison break, during which an Iraqi general and several others were also killed.
On 16 May 2010, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was appointed the new leader of the Islamic State of Iraq; he had previously been the general supervisor of the group's provincial sharia committees and a member of its senior consultative council. Al-Baghdadi replenished the group's leadership, many of whom had been killed or captured, by appointing former Ba'athist military and intelligence officers who had served during the Saddam Hussein regime. These men, nearly all of whom had spent time imprisoned by American forces, came to make up about one-third of Baghdadi's top 25 commanders. One of them was a former Colonel, Samir al-Khlifawi, also known as Haji Bakr, who became the overall military commander in charge of overseeing the group's operations.
In July 2012, al-Baghdadi’s first audio statement was released online. In this he announced that the group was returning to the former strongholds that US troops and their Sunni allies had driven them from prior to the withdrawal of US troops. He also declared the start of a new offensive in Iraq called Breaking the Walls which would focus on freeing members of the group held in Iraqi prisons. Violence in Iraq began to escalate that month, and in the following year the group carried out 24 waves of VBIED attacks and eight prison breaks. By July 2013, monthly fatalities had exceeded 1,000 for the first time since April 2008. The Breaking the Walls campaign culminated in July 2013, with the group carrying out simultaneous raids on Taji and Abu Ghraib prison, freeing more than 500 prisoners, many of them veterans of the Iraqi insurgency.
As Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (2013–2014)
Declaration and dispute with al-Nusra Front
In March 2011, protests began in Syria against the government of Bashar al-Assad. In the following months, violence between demonstrators and security forces led to a gradual militarisation of the conflict. In August 2011, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi began sending Syrian and Iraqi ISI members, experienced in guerilla warfare, across the border into Syria to establish an organization inside the country. Led by a Syrian known as Abu Muhammad al-Jawlani, the group began to recruit fighters and establish cells throughout the country. On 23 January 2012, the group announced its formation as Jabhat al-Nusra li Ahl as-Sham—Jabhat al-Nusra—more commonly known as al-Nusra Front. Al-Nusra grew rapidly into a capable fighting force with popular support among Syrian opposition.
In April 2013, al-Baghdadi released an audio statement in which he announced that al-Nusra Front had been established, financed and supported by the Islamic State of Iraq and that the two groups were merging under the name "Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham". Al-Jawlani issued a statement denying the merger and complaining that neither he nor anyone else in al-Nusra's leadership had been consulted about it. In June 2013, Al Jazeera reported that it had obtained a letter written by al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, addressed to both leaders, in which he ruled against the merger, and appointed an emissary to oversee relations between them to put an end to tensions. In the same month, al-Baghdadi released an audio message rejecting al-Zawahiri's ruling and declaring that the merger was going ahead. In October 2013, al-Zawahiri ordered the disbanding of ISIS, putting al-Nusra Front in charge of jihadist efforts in Syria, but al-Baghdadi contested al-Zawahiri's ruling on the basis of Islamic jurisprudence, and the group continued to operate in Syria. In February 2014, after an eight-month power struggle, al-Qaeda disavowed any relations with ISIS.
According to journalist Sarah Birke, there are "significant differences" between al-Nusra Front and ISIS. While al-Nusra actively calls for the overthrow of the Assad government, ISIS "tends to be more focused on establishing its own rule on conquered territory". ISIS 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, ISIS fighters have been described as "foreign 'occupiers'" by many Syrian refugees. It has a strong presence in central and northern Syria, where it has instituted sharia in a number of towns. The group reportedly controlled the four border towns of Atmeh, al-Bab, Azaz and Jarablus, allowing it to control the entrance and exit from Syria into Turkey. Foreign fighters in Syria include Russian-speaking jihadists who were part of Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar (JMA). In November 2013, the JMA's ethnic Chechen leader Abu Omar al-Shishani swore an oath of allegiance to al-Baghdadi; the group then split between those who followed al-Shishani in joining ISIS and those who continued to operate independently in the JMA under a new leadership.
In May 2014, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri ordered al-Nusra Front to stop attacks on its rival ISIS. In June 2014, after continued fighting between the two groups, al-Nusra's branch in the Syrian town of al-Bukamal pledged allegiance to ISIS.
In January 2014, The Daily Telegraph said that Western intelligence sources believed that the Syrian government had made secret oil deals with ISIS and al-Nusra Front, saying that the militants were funding their campaign by selling crude oil to the regime from the oilfields which they had captured.
The Syrian government did not begin to fight ISIS until June 2014, despite it having had a presence in Syria since April 2013, according to Kurdish officials.
As Islamic State (2014–present)
On 29 June 2014, ISIS removed "Iraq and the Levant" from its name and began to refer to itself as the Islamic State, declaring the territory under its control a new caliphate and naming Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as its caliph. On the first night of Ramadan, Shaykh Abu Muhammad al-Adnani al-Shami, spokesperson for ISIS, described the establishment of the caliphate as "a dream that lives in the depths of every Muslim believer" and "the abandoned obligation of the era". He said that the group's ruling Shura Council had decided to establish the caliphate formally and that Muslims around the world should now pledge their allegiance to the new caliph. The declaration of a caliphate has been criticized and ridiculed by Muslim scholars and rival Islamists inside and outside the occupied territory.
By that time, many moderate rebels had been assimilated into the group. In August 2014, a high-level IS commander said, "In the East of Syria, there is no Free Syrian Army any longer. All Free Syrian Army people [there] have joined the Islamic State". The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claimed that the Islamic State recruited more than 6,300 fighters in July 2014 alone, many of them coming from the Free Syrian Army.
Analysts observed that dropping the reference to region widened the group's scope, and Laith Alkhouri, a terrorism analyst, thought that after capturing many areas in Syria and Iraq, ISIS felt this was a suitable opportunity to take control of the global jihadist movement.
A week before it changed its name to the Islamic State, ISIS had captured the Trabil crossing on the Jordan–Iraq border, the only border crossing between the two countries. ISIS has received some public support in Jordan, albeit limited, partly owing to state repression there, but has undertaken a recruitment drive in Saudi Arabia, where tribes in the north are linked to those in western Iraq and eastern Syria.Raghad Hussein, the daughter of Saddam Hussein, now living in opulent asylum in Jordan, has publicly expressed support for the advance of ISIS in Iraq, reflecting the Ba'athist alliance of convenience with ISIS and its goal of return to power in Bagdad.
In June and July 2014, Jordan and Saudi Arabia moved troops to their borders with Iraq, after Iraq lost control of, or withdrew from, strategic crossing points that had then come under the control of ISIS. There was speculation that 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, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau declared support for the new caliphate and Caliph Ibrahim. In August, Shekau announced that Boko Haram had captured the Nigerian town of Gwoza. Shekau announced: "Thanks be to God who gave victory to our brethren in Gwoza and made it a state among the Islamic states". Boko Haram launched an offensive in Adamawa and Borno States in northeastern Nigeria in September, following the example of the Islamic State.
On 12 September 2014, there were reports that the moderate Free Syrian Army rebels, who have been been backed by the United States with weapons and training, had signed a "non-aggression" agreement with the Islamic State. However, on 14 September, doubt was cast on whether any Syrian opposition groups had entered into a ceasefire agreement with ISIS.
Human rights abuses
In early September 2014, the United Nations Human Rights Council agreed to send a team to Iraq and Syria to investigate the abuses and killings being carried out by the Islamic State on "an unimaginable scale". Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein of Jordan, who has taken over Navi Pillay's post as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, urged world leaders to step in to protect women and children suffering at the hands of Islamic State militants, who he said were trying to create a "house of blood". He appealed to the international community to concentrate its efforts on ending the conflict in Iraq and Syria.
War crimes accusations
In July 2014, the BBC reported the United Nations' chief investigator as stating: "Fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis) may be added to a list of war crimes suspects in Syria."
In August 2014, the United Nations accused the Islamic State of committing "mass atrocities" and war crimes.
During the Iraqi conflict in 2014, ISIS 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 occurring in the Iraqi war zone, and disclosed one UN report of ISIS militants murdering Iraqi Army soldiers and 17 civilians in a single street in Mosul. The United Nations reported that in the 17 days from 5 to 22 June, ISIS had killed more than 1,000 Iraqi civilians and injured more than 1,000. After ISIS released photographs of its fighters shooting scores of young men, the United Nations declared that cold-blooded "executions" said to have been carried out by militants in northern Iraq almost certainly amounted to war crimes.
ISIS's advance in Iraq in mid-2014 was accompanied by continuing violence in Syria. On 29 May, a village in Syria was raided by ISIS 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.
ISIS has recruited to its ranks Iraqi children, who can be seen with masks on their faces and guns in their hands patrolling the streets of Mosul.
Sexual violence allegations
According to one report, ISIS's capture of Iraqi cities in June 2014 was accompanied by an upsurge in crimes against women, including kidnap and rape.The Guardian reported that ISIS's extremist agenda extended to women's bodies and that women living under their control were being captured and raped. Hannaa Edwar, a leading women’s rights advocate in Baghdad who runs an NGO called Iraqi Al-Amal Association (IAA), said that none of her contacts in Mosul were able to confirm any cases of rape. However, another Baghdad-based women's rights activist, Basma al-Khateeb, said that a culture of violence existed in Iraq against women generally and felt sure that sexual violence against women was happening in Mosul involving not only ISIS but all armed groups.
During a meeting with Nouri al-Maliki, British Foreign Minister William Hague said with regard to ISIS: "Anyone glorifying, supporting or joining it should understand that they would be assisting a group responsible for kidnapping, torture, executions, rape and many other hideous crimes". According to Martin Williams in The Citizen, some hard-line Salafists apparently regard extramarital sex with multiple partners as a legitimate form of holy war and it is "difficult to reconcile this with a religion where some adherents insist that women must be covered from head to toe, with only a narrow slit for the eyes".
Haleh Esfandiari from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars has highlighted the abuse of local women by ISIS 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."Yezidi girls in Iraq allegedly raped by ISIS fighters have committed suicide by jumping to their death from Mount Sinjar, as described in a witness statement.
Guidelines for civilians
After the self-proclaimed Islamic State captured cities in Iraq, ISIS issued guidelines on how to wear clothes and veils. ISIS warned women in the city of Mosul to wear full-face veils or face severe punishment. A cleric told Reuters in Mosul that ISIS gunmen had ordered him to read out the warning in his mosque when worshippers gathered. ISIS also banned naked mannequins and ordered the faces of both male and female mannequins to be covered. ISIS released 16 notes labeled "Contract of the City", a set of rules aimed at civilians in Nineveh. One rule stipulated that women should stay at home and not go outside unless necessary. Another rule said that stealing would be punished by amputation.
In addition to banning the sale and use of alcohol (which is customary in Muslim culture), militants have banned the sale and use of cigarettes and hookah pipes. They have also banned "music and songs in cars, at parties, in shops and in public, as well as photographs of people in shop windows.”
Christians living in areas under ISIS control who wanted to remain in the "caliphate" faced three options: converting to Islam, paying a religious levy—jizya—or death. "We offer them three choices: Islam; the dhimma contract – involving payment of jizya; if they refuse this they will have nothing but the sword", ISIS said. ISIS had already set similar rules for Christians in Ar-Raqqah, Syria, once one of the nation's most liberal cities.
Timeline of events
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The group was founded in 1999 and its first leader was the Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who declared allegiance to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network on 17 October 2004. Foreign fighters from outside Iraq were thought to play a key role in its network. The group became a primary target of the Iraqi government and its foreign supporters, and attacks between these groups resulted in more than 1,000 deaths every year between 2004 and 2010.
The Islamic State of Iraq made clear its belief that targeting civilians was an acceptable strategy and it has been responsible for thousands of civilian deaths since 2004. In September 2005, al-Zarqawi declared war on Shia Muslims and the group used bombings—especially suicide bombings in public places—massacres and executions to carry out terrorist attacks on Shia-dominated and mixed sectarian neighbourhoods. Suicide attacks by the ISI also killed hundreds of Sunni civilians, which engendered widespread anger among Sunnis.
Between late 2006 and May 2007, the ISI brought the Dora neighborhood of southern Baghdad under its control. Numerous Christian families left, unwilling to pay the jizya tax. US efforts to drive out the ISI presence stalled in late June 2007, despite streets being walled off and the use of biometric identification technology. By November 2007, the ISI had been removed from Dora, and Assyrian churches could be re-opened.[not in citation given] In 2007 alone the ISI killed around 2,000 civilians, making that year the most violent in its campaign against the civilian population of Iraq.
19 April: The organization announced that it had set up a provisional government termed "the first Islamic administration" of post-invasion Iraq. The "emirate" was stated to be headed by Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and his "cabinet" of ten "ministers".
3 May: Iraqi sources claimed that Abu Omar al-Baghdadi had been killed a short time earlier. According to The Long War Journal, no evidence was provided to support this and US sources remained skeptical. The Islamic State of Iraq released a statement later that day which denied his death.
12 May: In what was apparently the same incident, it was announced that "Minister of Public Relations" Abu Bakr al-Jabouri had been killed on 12 May 2007 near Taji.[verification needed] The exact circumstances of the incident remain unknown. The initial version of the events at Taji, as given by the Iraqi Interior Ministry, was that there had been a shoot-out between rival Sunni militias. Coalition and Iraqi government operations were apparently being conducted in the same area at about the same time and later sources implied that they were directly involved, with al-Jabouri being killed while resisting arrest. (See Abu Omar al-Baghdadi for details.)
12 May: The ISI issued a press release claiming responsibility for an ambush at Al Taqa, Babil on 12 May 2007, in which one Iraqi soldier and four US 10th Mountain Division soldiers were killed. Three soldiers of the US unit were captured and one was found dead in the Euphrates 11 days later. After a 4,000-man hunt by the US and allied forces ended without success, the ISI released a video in which it was claimed that the other two soldiers had been killed and buried, but no direct proof was given. Their bodies were found a year later.
25 June: The suicide bombing of a meeting of Al Anbar tribal leaders and officials at Mansour Hotel, Baghdad killed 13 people, including six Sunni sheikhs and other prominent figures. This was proclaimed by the ISI to have been in retaliation for the rape of a Sunni woman by Iraqi police. Security at the hotel, which is 100 meters outside the Green Zone, was provided by a British contractor which had apparently hired guerrilla fighters to provide physical security.[not in citation given] There were allegations that an Egyptian Islamist group may have been responsible for the bombing, but this has never been proven.
In July, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi released an audio tape in which he issued an ultimatum to Iran. He said: "We are giving the Persians, and especially the rulers of Iran, a two-month period to end all kinds of support for the Iraqi Shia government and to stop direct and indirect intervention ... otherwise a severe war is waiting for you." He also warned Arab states against doing business with Iran. Iran supports the Iraqi government which many see as anti-Sunni.
Resistance to coalition operations in Baqubah turned out to be less than anticipated. In early July, US Army sources suggested that any ISI leadership in the area had largely relocated elsewhere in early June 2007, before the start of Operation Arrowhead Ripper.
8 February 2011: According to the SITE Institute, a statement of support for Egyptian protesters—which appears to have been the first reaction of any group affiliated with al-Qaeda to the protests in Egypt during the 2011 Arab Spring Movement—was issued by the Islamic State of Iraq on jihadist forums. The message addressed to the protesters was that the "market of jihad" had opened in Egypt, that "the doors of martyrdom had opened", and that every able-bodied man must participate. It urged Egyptians to ignore the "ignorant deceiving ways" of secularism, democracy and "rotten pagannationalism". "Your jihad", it went on, is in support of Islam and the weak and oppressed in Egypt, for "your people" in Gaza and Iraq, and "for every Muslim" who has been "touched by the oppression of the tyrant of Egypt and his masters in Washington and Tel Aviv".
23 July 2012: About 32 attacks occurred across Iraq, killing 116 people and wounding 299. The ISI claimed responsibility for the attacks, which took the form of bombings and shootings.
In August 2012, two Iraqi refugees who have resided in Kentucky were accused of assisting AQI by sending funds and weapons; one has pleaded guilty.
By 12 May, nine Turkish citizens, who were alleged to have links with Syria's intelligence service, had been detained. On 21 May 2013, the Turkish authorities charged the prime suspect, according to the state-run Anatolia news agency. Four other suspects were also charged and 12 people had been charged in total.[clarification needed] All suspects were Turkish nationals whom Ankara believed were backed by the Syrian government.
In July, Free Syrian Army battalion chief Kamal Hamami—better known by his nom de guerre Abu Bassir Al-Jeblawi—was killed by the group's Coastal region emir after his convoy was stopped at an ISIS checkpoint in Latakia's rural northern highlands. Al-Jeblawi was traveling to visit the Al-Izz Bin Abdulsalam Brigade operating in the region when ISIS members refused his passage, resulting in an exchange of fire in which Al-Jeblawi received a fatal gunshot wound.
Also in July, ISIS organised a mass break-out of its members being held in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison. British newspaper The Guardian reported that over 500 prisoners escaped, including senior commanders of the group. ISIS issued an online statement claiming responsibility for the prison break, describing the operation as involving 12 car bombs, numerous suicide bombers and mortar and rocket fire. It was described as the culmination of a one-year campaign called "destroying the walls", which was launched on 21 July 2012 by ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi; the aim was to replenish the group's ranks with comrades released from the prison.
In September, members of the group kidnapped and killed the Ahrar ash-Sham commander Abu Obeida Al-Binnishi, after he had intervened to protect members of a Malaysian Islamic charity; ISIS had mistaken their Malaysian flag for that of the United States.
Also in September, ISIS overran the Syrian town of Azaz, taking it from an FSA-affiliated rebel brigade. ISIS members had attempted to kidnap a German doctor working in Azaz. In November 2013, Today's Zaman, an English-language newspaper in Turkey, reported that Turkish authorities were on high alert, with the authorities saying that they had detailed information on ISIS's plans to carry out suicide bombings in major cities in Turkey, using seven explosive-laden cars being constructed in Ar-Raqqah.
From 30 September, several Turkish media websites reported that ISIS had accepted responsibility for the attack and had threatened further attacks on Turkey.
18 August: Pope Francis, leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, said that the international community would be justified in stopping Islamist militants in Iraq. He also said that it should not be up to a single nation to decide how to intervene in the conflict.
19 August: According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the Islamic State now has an army of more than 50,000 fighters in Syria. American journalist James Foley was beheaded by the Islamic State on video tape.
20 August: President Obama denounced the "brutal murder of Jim Foley by the terrorist group ISIL."
21 August: The US military admitted that a covert rescue attempt involving dozens of US Special Operations forces had been made to rescue James Foley and other Americans held captive in Syria by Islamic State militants. The air and ground assault, involving the first known US military ground action inside Syria, had the authorization of President Obama. The ensuing gunfight resulted in one US soldier being injured. The rescue was unsuccessful, as Foley and the other captives were not in the location targeted. This was the first known engagement by US ground forces with suspected Islamic State militants. The US Defense Secretary warned that the Islamic State were tremendously well-funded, adding, "They have no standard of decency, of responsible human behavior", and that they were an imminent threat to the US.
22 August: The US is considering airstrikes on ISIS in Syria, which would draw US military forces directly into the Syrian Civil War, as President Obama develops a long-term strategy to defeat the Islamic State.
26 August: The Islamic State carried out a suicide attack in Baghdad killing 15 people and injuring 37 others.
28 August: The Islamic State beheaded a Lebanese Army soldier whom they had kidnapped. The group also beheaded a Kurdish Peshmerga fighter in response to Kurdistan's alliance with the United States, and executed around 250 Syrian soldiers captured after the fall of Tabqa Air Base in Ar-Raqqah province. The soldiers had earlier been marched to their place of execution wearing just their underwear.
29 August: UK Prime Minister David Cameron raised the UK's terror level to "severe" and committed to fight radical Islam "at home and abroad".
31 August: Iraqi military forces supported by Shia militias and American airstrikes broke the two-month siege of the northern Iraqi town of Amerli by Islamic State militants. German Federal Minister of Defence Ursula von der Leyen announced that Germany will send enough weapons to arm 4,000 Peshmerga fighters in northern Iraq fighting Islamic State insurgents. The delivery to be scheduled in stages will include 16,000 assault rifles, 40 machine guns, 240 rocket-propelled grenades, 500 MILAN anti-tank missiles with 30 launchers and 10,000 hand grenades, with a total value of around 70 million euros. In order to assess the needs of the Peshmerga and prevent an excessive accumulation of arms, the Bundeswehr seconded six liaison officers to Erbil who will report to Berlin.
1 September: The German government's Cabinet decision to arm the Kurdish Peshmerga militia was ratified in the Bundestag by a "vast majority" of votes, after an emotional debate.
2 September: The IS released a video showing the beheading of a man whom they identified as American journalist Steven Sotloff.
5 September: The German Bundeswehr dispatched the first of a planned series of cargo planes to Iraq, loaded with helmets, vests, radios, and infrared night-vision rifle scopes. After a three-hour stopover in Baghdad for inspection, the aircraft will deliver the equipment to German personnel already in Erbil for distribution to the Kurdish fighters.Qassem Soleimani, Commander of the elite Iranian Revolutionary Guard Quds Force, has been to the Iraqi city of Amirli, to work with the United States in pushing back militants of the Islamic State.
8 September: The Islamic State carried out a double suicide attack in a town north of Baghdad killing 9 people and wounding 70 others.
10 September: After ISIS had outraged American opinion by beheading two American journalists and had seized control of large portions of Syria and Iraq in the face of ineffective opposition from American allies, President Obama decided on a new objective for a rollback policy in the Middle East. He announced: "America will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat. Our objective is clear: We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy."
12 September: A Western-backed Syrian rebels group operating around Damascus and the Islamic State signed a "non-aggression" agreement.
Conspiracy theorists in the Arab world have advanced false rumors that the US is secretly behind the existence and emboldening of ISIS, as part of an attempt to further destabilize the Middle East. After the rumors gained viral status, the US embassy in Lebanon issued an official statement denying the allegations, calling them a complete fabrication. Others are convinced that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is an Israeli Mossad agent and actor called "Simon Elliot". The rumors claim that NSA documents leaked by Edward Snowden reveal this connection. Snowden’s lawyer has called the story "a hoax".
^The Islamic State was previously known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), alternately called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (referring to Greater Syria; Arabic: الدولة الاسلامية في العراق والشام ad-Dawlah l-ʾIslāmiyyah fīl-ʿIrāq wash-Shām). The group is also known by the Arabic acronym DAʿESH (Arabic: داعش Dāʿesh). These names continue to be used.
^According to classical Islamic sources, Hilf al-Mutayyabin was an oath of allegiance taken in pre-Islamic times by several clans of the Quraysh tribe, in which they undertook to protect the oppressed and the wronged. The name "oath of the scented ones" apparently derives from the fact that the participants sealed the oath by dipping their hands in perfume and then rubbing them over the Kaʻbah. This practice was later adopted by the Islamic prophet Muhammad and incorporated into Islam.
^During this ceremony, the participants declared: "We swear by Allah...that we will strive to free the prisoners of their shackles, to end the oppression to which the Sunnis are being subjected by the malicious Shi'ites and by the occupying Crusaders, to assist the oppressed and restore their 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..."
^"Accordingly, the "Iraq and Shām" in the name of the Islamic State is henceforth removed from all official deliberations and communications, and the official name is the Islamic State from the date of this declaration."