What is IS ?
Islamic State (IS) is an Islamic extremist rebel group controlling territory in at least four countries, including Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Nigeria, with operations or affiliates in Lebanon, Egypt, and other areas of the Middle East, North and West Africa, South, and Southeast Asia.
The group is known in Arabic as ad-Dawlah al-Islamiyah fil-?Iraq wash-Sham, leading to the acronym Da’ish or DAESH the Arabic equivalent of “IS”.
Its brutal tactics – including mass killings and abductions of members of religious and ethnic minorities, as well as the beheadings of soldiers and journalists – have sparked fear and outrage across the world and US military intervention.
IS is known for its well-funded web and social media propaganda, which includes Internet videos of the beheadings of soldiers, civilians, journalists and aid workers, as well as the deliberate destruction of cultural heritage sites.
The United Nations has held IS responsible for human rights abuses and war crimes, and Amnesty International has reported ethnic cleansing by the group on a “historic scale”. The group has been designated as a terrorist organisation by the United Nations, the European Union, the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, Canada, Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Syria, Egypt, India, and Russia. Over 60 countries are directly or indirectly waging war against IS.
- 1 What does IS want?
- 2 What are its origins?
- 3 Ideology and beliefs
- 4 How much territory does IS control?
- 5 Designation as a terrorist organisation
- 6 Human rights abuse and war crime findings
- 7 International criticism
- 8 Views of the IS as Islamic
- 9 Supporters
- 10 Military and resources
What does IS want?
The group aims to establish a “caliphate”, a state ruled by a single political and religious leader according to Islamic law, or Sharia. On 29 June 2014, the group proclaimed itself to be a worldwide caliphate, with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi being named its caliph, and renamed itself Islamic State (ad-Dawlah al-Islamiyah).
Although currently limited to Iraq and Syria, IS has promised to “break the borders” of Jordan and Lebanon and to “free Palestine”. It attracts support from Muslims across the world and demands that all swear allegiance to its leader – Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarrai, better known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
The name and the idea of a caliphate has been widely criticised and condemned, with the UN, various governments and mainstream Muslim groups refusing to acknowledge it. As caliphate, it claims religious, political and military authority over all Muslims worldwide and that “the legality of all emirates, groups, states, and organisations, becomes null by the expansion of the khilafah’s [caliphate’s] authority and arrival of its troops to their areas”.Many Islamic and non-Islamic communities judge the group unrepresentative of Islam.
What are its origins?
IS can trace its roots back to the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian who set up Tawhid wa al-Jihad in 2002. A year after the US-led invasion of Iraq, Zarqawi pledged allegiance to Osama Bin Laden and formed al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), which became a major force in the insurgency.
After Zarqawi’s death in 2006, AQI created an umbrella organisation, Islamic State in Iraq (ISI). ISI was steadily weakened by the US troop surge and the creation of Sahwa (Awakening) councils by Sunni Arab tribesmen who rejected its brutality. After becoming leader in 2010, Baghdadi rebuilt ISI’s capabilities. By 2013, it was once again carrying out dozens of attacks a month in Iraq. It had also joined the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, setting up the al-Nusra Front. In April 2013, Baghdadi announced the merger of his forces in Iraq and Syria and the creation of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis). The leaders of al-Nusra and al-Qaeda rejected the move, but fighters loyal to Baghdadi split from al-Nusra and helped Isis remain in Syria.
At the end of December 2013, Isis shifted its focus back to Iraq and exploited a political stand-off between the Shia-led government and the minority Sunni Arab community. Aided by tribesmen, the group took control of the central city of Falluja.
In June 2014, Isis overran the northern city of Mosul, and then advanced southwards towards Baghdad. At the end of the month, after consolidating its hold over dozens of cities and towns, Isis declared the creation of a caliphate and changed its name to Islamic State.
Ideology and beliefs
IS is a Salafi group. It follows an extreme interpretation of Islam, promotes religious violence, and regards those who do not agree with its interpretations as infidels or apostates. IS has demonstrated that ideology and adherence to Islamic beliefs and laws are secondary to its criminal financial enterprises supporting the group’s activities. According to Hayder al Khoei, IS’s philosophy is represented by the symbolism in the Black Standard variant of the legendary battle flag of Muhammad that it has adopted: the flag shows the Seal of Muhammad within a white circle, with the phrase above it, “There is no God but Allah”. Such symbolism has been said to point to IS’s belief that it represents the restoration of the caliphate of early Islam, with all the political, religious and eschatological ramifications that this would imply. Saudi Arabia was criticised by Noam Chomsky in October 2014 of having “long been the major source of funding for ISIS as well as providing its ideological roots” (i.e. Salafism or Wahhabism).According to Owen Jones at The Guardian, “Salafists across the Middle East receive ideological and material backing from within the kingdom” of Saudi Arabia, and America knows this, with Hillary Clinton having called Saudi donors “the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide”. Some people in Saudi Arabia applaud IS for fighting Iranian Shi’ite “fire” with Sunni “fire”.
According to some observers, IS 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.
IS 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, IS condemns the followers of secular law as disbelievers, putting the current Saudi government in that category.
Salafists such as IS 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, IS regards the Palestinian Sunni group Hamas as apostates who have no legitimate authority to lead jihad and it regards fighting Hamas as the first step toward confrontation with Israel.
How much territory does IS control?
In Iraq and Syria, ISIL uses many of the existing Governorate boundaries to subdivide its claimed territory; it calls these divisions wilayah or provinces. As of February 2015, it claims a total 24 provincial divisions divided between Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt (Sinai Peninsula), Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Algeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Of these countries, it controls territory in Iraq, Syria, Sinai, and eastern Libya. ISIL also has members in Morocco, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Israel and Palestine, but it does not control territory in these areas.
Some estimate that IS and its allies control about 40,000 sq km (15,000 sq miles) of Iraq and Syria – roughly the size of Belgium. Others believe they control closer to 90,000 sq km (35,000 sq miles) – about the size of Jordan. That territory includes cities – Mosul, Tikrit, Falluja and Tal Afar in Iraq; Raqqa in Syria – oil fields, dams, main roads and border crossings.
Eight million people are believed to be living under partial or full IS control, where the group implements a strict interpretation of Sharia, forcing women to wear veils, non-Muslims to pay a special tax or convert, and imposing punishments that include floggings and executions.
Other areas of operation
- Boko Haram (West Africa) – pledged allegiance to ISIL.
- Unidentified militants in Saudi Arabia pledges allegiance to ISIL – designated as a province of ISIL.
- Ansar al-Sharia (Yemen) pledged allegiance to ISIL.
- The Free Sunnis of Baalbek Brigade (Lebanon) pledged allegiance to ISIL.
- Sons of the Call for Tawhid and Jihad (Jordan) pledged allegiance to ISIL.
- Abu Sayyaf (Philippines) – pledged allegiance to ISIL.
- Almost all of the commanders of the Caucasus Emirate in Chechnya and Dagestan switched their allegiance to ISIL.
Designation as a terrorist organisation
The UN’s Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee first listed ISIL in its Sanctions List under the name “Al-Qaida in Iraq” on 18 October 2004, as an entity/group associated with al-Qaeda. On 2 June 2014, the group was added to its listing under the name “Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant”. The European Union adopted the UN Sanctions List in 2002.
Many world leaders and government spokespeople have called ISIL a terrorist group or banned it, without their countries having formally designated it as such. Some examples:
The Government of Germany banned ISIL in September 2014.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 arresting the operator of a pro-ISIL Twitter account.
Media sources worldwide have also called ISIL a terrorist organisation.
Human rights abuse and war crime findings
In July 2014, the BBC reported the United Nations’ chief investigator as stating: “Fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) may be added to a list of war crimes suspects in Syria.” By June 2014, according to United Nations reports, ISIL had killed hundreds of prisoners of war and over 1,000 civilians.In August 2014, the UN accused ISIL of committing “mass atrocities” and war crimes, including the mass killing of up to 250 Syrian Army soldiers near Tabqa Air base. Other known killings of military prisoners took place in Camp Speicher, where 1,095–1,700 Iraqi soldiers were shot and “thousands” more went “missing”, and the Shaer gas field, where 200 Syrian soldiers were shot.Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that they were performing “widespread ethnic and religious cleansing in the areas under their control.”
Speaking of ISIL’s methods, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights has stated that the group “seeks to subjugate civilians under its control and dominate every aspect of their lives through terror, indoctrination, and the provision of services to those who obey”.
Religious and minority group persecution
ISIL compels people in the areas that it controls to declare Islamic creed and live according to its interpretation of Sunni Islam and sharia law. There have been many reports of the group’s use of death threats, torture and mutilation to compel conversion to Islam, and of clerics being killed for refusal to pledge allegiance to the so-called “Islamic State”.ISIL directs violence against Shia Muslims, indigenous Assyrian, Chaldean, Syriac and Armenian Christians, Yazidis, Druze, Shabaks and Mandeans in particular.
Amnesty International has held ISIL responsible for the ethnic cleansing of ethnic and religious minority groups in northern Iraq on a “historic scale”. In a special report released on 2 September 2014, it describes how ISIL has “systematically targeted non-Arab and non-Sunni Muslim communities, killing or abducting hundreds, possibly thousands, and forcing more than 830,000 others to flee the areas it has captured since 10 June 2014”. Among these people are Assyrian Christians, Turkmen Shia, Shabak Shia, Yazidis, Kaka’i and Sabean Mandeans, who have lived together for centuries in Nineveh province, large parts of which are now under ISIL’s control.
Among the known killings of religious and minority group civilians carried out by ISIL are those in the villages and towns of Quiniyeh (70–90 Yazidis killed), Hardan (60 Yazidis killed), Sinjar (500–2,000 Yazidis killed), Ramadi Jabal (60–70 Yazidis killed), Dhola (50 Yazidis killed), Khana Sor (100 Yazidis killed), Hardan (250–300 Yazidis killed), al-Shimal (dozens of Yazidis killed), Khocho (400 Yazidis killed and 1,000 abducted), Jadala (14 Yadizis killed) and Beshir (700 Shia Turkmen killed), and others committed near Mosul (670 Shia inmates of the Badush prison killed), and in Tal Afar prison, Iraq (200 Yazidis killed for refusing conversion). The UN estimated that 5,000 Yazidis were killed by ISIL during the takeover of parts of northern Iraq in August 2014. In late May 2014, 150 Kurdish boys from Kobani aged 14–16 were abducted and subjected to torture and abuse, according to Human Rights Watch. In the Syrian towns of Ghraneij, Abu Haman and Kashkiyeh 700 members of the Sunni Al-Shaitat tribe were killed for attempting an uprising against ISIL control. The UN reported that in June 2014 ISIL had killed a number of Sunni Islamic clerics who refused to pledge allegiance to it.
Christians living in areas under ISIL control who want to remain in the “caliphate” face three options: converting to Islam, paying a religious levy—jizya—or death. “We offer them three choices: Islam; the dhimma contract – involving payment of jizya; if they refuse this they will have nothing but the sword”, ISIL said. ISIL had already set similar rules for Christians in Ar-Raqqah, once one of Syria’s more liberal cities.
On 23 February 2015, in response to a major Kurdish offensive in the Al-Hasakah Governorate, ISIL abducted 150 Assyrian Christians from villages near near Tal Tamr (Tell Tamer) in northeastern Syria, after launching a large offensive in the region.
Treatment of civilians
During the Iraqi conflict in 2014, ISIL released dozens of videos showing its ill treatment of civilians, many of whom had apparently been targeted on the basis of their religion or ethnicity. Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, warned of war crimes being committed in the Iraqi war zone, and disclosed a UN report of ISIL militants murdering Iraqi Army soldiers and 17 civilians in a single street in Mosul. The UN reported that in the 17 days from 5 to 22 June, ISIL killed more than 1,000 Iraqi civilians and injured more than 1,000. After ISIL released photographs of its fighters shooting scores of young men, the UN declared that cold-blooded “executions” by militants in northern Iraq almost certainly amounted to war crimes.
In Mosul, ISIL has implemented a sharia school curriculum which bans the teaching of art, music, national history, literature and Christianity. Although Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution has never been taught in Iraqi schools, the subject has been banned from the school curriculum. Patriotic songs have been declared blasphemous, and orders have been given to remove certain pictures from school textbooks. Iraqi parents have largely boycotted schools in which the new curriculum has been introduced.
After capturing cities in Iraq, ISIL issued guidelines on how to wear clothes and veils. ISIL warned women in the city of Mosul to wear full-face veils or face severe punishment. A cleric told Reuters in Mosul that ISIL gunmen had ordered him to read out the warning in his mosque when worshippers gathered. ISIL ordered the faces of both male and female mannequins to be covered, in an order which also banned the use of naked mannequins. In Ar-Raqqah the group uses its two battalions of female fighters in the city to enforce compliance by women with its strict laws on individual conduct.
ISIL released 16 notes labelled “Contract of the City”, a set of rules aimed at civilians in Nineveh. One rule stipulated that women should stay at home and not go outside unless necessary. Another rule said that stealing would be punished by amputation. In addition to the Muslim custom of banning the sale and use of alcohol, ISIL has banned the sale and use of cigarettes and hookah pipes. It has also banned “music and songs in cars, at parties, in shops and in public, as well as photographs of people in shop windows”.
According to The Economist, dissidents in the ISIL capital of Ar-Raqqah report that “all 12 of the judges who now run its court system … are Saudis”. Saudi practices also followed by the group include the establishment of religious police to root out “vice” and enforce attendance at salat prayers, the widespread use of capital punishment, and the destruction of Christian churches and non-Sunni mosques or their conversion to other uses.
ISIL carried out executions on both men and women who were accused of various acts and found guilty of crimes against Islam such as homosexuality, adultery, watching pornography, usage and possession of contraband, rape, blasphemy, renouncing Islam and murder. Before the accused are executed their charges are read toward them and the spectators. Executions take various forms, including stoning to death, crucifixions, beheadings, burning people alive, and throwing people from tall buildings.
ISIL has recruited Iraqi children as young as nine to its ranks, who can be seen with masks on their faces and guns in their hands patrolling the streets of Mosul. According to a report by the magazine Foreign Policy, children as young as six are recruited or kidnapped and sent to military and religious training camps, where they practise beheading with dolls and are indoctrinated with the religious views of ISIL. Children are used as human shields on front lines and to provide blood transfusions for Islamic State soldiers, according to Shelly Whitman of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative. The second instalment of a Vice News documentary about ISIL focused on how the group is specifically grooming children for the future. A spokesman told VICE News that those under the age of 15 go to sharia camp to learn about religion, while those older than 16 can go to military training camp. Children are also used for propaganda. According to a UN report, “In mid-August, ISIL entered a cancer hospital in Mosul, forced at least two sick children to hold the ISIL flag and posted the pictures on the internet.” Misty Buswell, a Save the Children representative working with refugees in Jordan, said, “It’s not an exaggeration to say we could lose a whole generation of children to trauma.”
Sexual violence and slavery
There are many reports of sexual abuse and enslavement in ISIL controlled areas of women and girls, predominantly from the minority Christian and Yazidi communities. According to one report, ISIL’s capture of Iraqi cities in June 2014 was accompanied by an upsurge in crimes against women, including kidnap and rape. The Guardian reported that ISIL’s extremist agenda extended to women’s bodies and that women living under their control were being captured and raped. Fighters are told that they are free to have sex with or rape non-Muslim captive women. A Baghdad-based women’s rights activist, Basma al-Khateeb, said that a culture of violence existed in Iraq against women generally and felt sure that sexual violence against women was happening in Mosul involving not only ISIL but all armed groups. During a meeting with Nouri al-Maliki, British Foreign Minister William Hague said with regard to ISIL: “Anyone glorifying, supporting or joining it should understand that they would be assisting a group responsible for kidnapping, torture, executions, rape and many other hideous crimes”. According to Martin Williams in The Citizen, some hard-line Salafists apparently regard extramarital sex with multiple partners as a legitimate form of holy war and it is “difficult to reconcile this with a religion where some adherents insist that women must be covered from head to toe, with only a narrow slit for the eyes”.
Haleh Esfandiari from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars has highlighted the abuse of local women by ISIL militants after they have captured an area. “They usually take the older women to a makeshift slave market and try to sell them. The younger girls … are raped or married off to fighters”, she said, adding, “It’s based on temporary marriages, and once these fighters have had sex with these young girls, they just pass them on to other fighters.” Speaking of Yazidi women captured by ISIL, Nazand Begikhani said, “These women have been treated like cattle… They have been subjected to physical and sexual violence, including systematic rape and sex slavery. They’ve been exposed in markets in Mosul and in Raqqa, Syria, carrying price tags.” This evidence contradicts a report from Vice News documenting the life of citizens within Raqqa. Abu Ibrahim Raqqawi, a 22 year old resident, and member of the group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, dismissed the notion of Yazidi girls brought as sex slaves to Raqqa as propaganda. However, in February 2015, the group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently reported on the subjugation of women, including the presence sex slaves within the city of Raqqa.
A United Nations report issued on 2 October 2014, based on 500 interviews with witnesses, said that ISIL took 450–500 women and girls to Iraq’s Nineveh region in August, where “150 unmarried girls and women, predominantly from the Yazidi and Christian communities, were reportedly transported to Syria, either to be given to ISIL fighters as a reward or to be sold as sex slaves”. In mid-October, the UN confirmed that 5,000–7,000 Yazidi women and children had been abducted by ISIL and sold into slavery. In November 2014 The New York Times reported on the accounts given by five who escaped ISIL of their captivity and abuse. In December 2014, the Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights announced that ISIL had killed over 150 women and girls in Fallujah who refused to participate in sexual jihad. Non-Muslim women have reportedly been married off to fighters against their will. ISIL claims the women provide the new converts and children necessary to spread ISIL’s control. Shortly after the death of US hostage Kayla Mueller was confirmed on 10 February 2015, several media outlets reported that the US intelligence community believed she may have been given as a wife to an ISIL fighter. Yazidi girls in Iraq allegedly raped by ISIL fighters have committed suicide by jumping to their death from Mount Sinjar, as described in a witness statement.
In its digital magazine Dabiq, ISIL explicitly claimed religious justification for enslaving Yazidi women.According to The Wall Street Journal, ISIL appeals to apocalyptic beliefs and claims “justification by a Hadith that they interpret as portraying the revival of slavery as a precursor to the end of the world”. ISIL appeals to the Hadith and Qur’an when claiming the right to enslave and rape captive non-Muslim women. According to Dabiq, “enslaving the families of the kuffar and taking their women as concubines is a firmly established aspect of the Sharia’s that if one were to deny or mock, he would be denying or mocking the verses of the Qur’an and the narration of the Prophet … and thereby apostatizing from Islam.” Captured Yazidi women and children are divided among the fighters who captured them, with one fifth taken as a tax. ISIL has received widespread criticism from Muslim scholars and others in the Muslim world for using part of the Qur’an to derive a ruling in isolation, rather than considering the entire Qur’an and Hadith. According to Mona Siddiqui, ISIL’s “narrative may well be wrapped up in the familiar language of jihad and ‘fighting in the cause of Allah’, but it amounts to little more than destruction of anything and anyone who doesn’t agree with them”; she describes ISIL as reflecting a “lethal mix of violence and sexual power” and a “deeply flawed view of manhood”. Dabiq describes “this large-scale enslavement” of non-Muslims as “probably the first since the abandonment of Shariah law”.
In late 2014, ISIL released a pamphlet that focused on the treatment of female slaves. It claims that the Quran allows fighters to have sex with captives, including adolescent girls, and to beat slaves as discipline. The pamphlet’s guidelines also allow fighters to trade slaves, including for sex, as long as they have not been impregnated by their owner. The Islamic state justifies sexual slavery by quoting Quran 23:5-6 : It is permissible to have sexual intercourse with the female captive. Allah the almighty said: ‘[Successful are the believers] who guard their chastity, except from their wives or (the captives and slaves) that their right hands possess, for then they are free from blame.
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.
Beheadings and mass executions
An unknown number of Syrians and Iraqis, several Lebanese soldiers, at least ten Kurds, two American journalists, one American and two British aid workers, and three Libyans have been beheaded by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. ISIL uses beheadings to intimidate local populations and has released a series of propaganda videos aimed at Western countries. They also engage in public and mass executions, sometimes forcing prisoners to dig their own graves before shooting lines of prisoners and pushing them in. ISIL was reported to have beheaded about 100 foreign fighters as deserters who tried to leave Raqqa.
Destruction of cultural and religious heritage
UNESCO’s Director-General Irina Bokova has warned that ISIL is destroying Iraq’s cultural heritage, in what she has called “cultural cleansing”. “We don’t have time to lose because extremists are trying to erase the identity, because they know that if there is no identity, there is no memory, there is no history”, she said. Referring to the ancient cultures of Christians, Yazidis and other minorities, she said, “This is a way to destroy identity. You deprive them of their culture, you deprive them of their history, their heritage, and that is why it goes hand in hand with genocide. Along with the physical persecution they want to eliminate – to delete – the memory of these different cultures. … we think this is appalling, and this is not acceptable.” Saad Eskander, head of Iraq’s National Archives said, “For the first time you have cultural cleansing… For the Yazidis, religion is oral, nothing is written. By destroying their places of worship … you are killing cultural memory. It is the same with the Christians – it really is a threat beyond belief.”
In July 2014, ISIL demolished the mosque dedicated to Jonah in Mosul.
To finance its activities, ISIL is stealing artefacts from Syria and Iraq and sending them to Europe to be sold. It is estimated that ISIL raises US$200 million a year from cultural looting. UNESCO has asked for United Nations Security Council controls on the sale of antiquities, similar to those imposed after the 2003 Iraq War. UNESCO is working with Interpol, national customs authorities, museums, and major auction houses in attempts to prevent looted items from being sold.ISIL occupied Mosul Museum, the second most important museum in Iraq, as it was about to reopen after years of rebuilding following the Iraq War, saying that the statues were against Islam and threatening to destroy the museum’s contents.
ISIL considers worshipping at graves tantamount to idolatry, and seeks to purify the community of unbelievers. It has used bulldozers to crush buildings and archaeological sites. Bernard Haykel has described al-Baghdadi’s creed as “a kind of untamed Wahhabism”, saying, “For Al Qaeda, violence is a means to an ends; for ISIS, it is an end in itself”. The destruction by ISIL in July 2014 of the tomb and shrine of the prophet Yunus—Jonah in Christianity—the 13th-century mosque of Imam Yahya Abu al-Qassimin, the 14th-century shrine of prophet Jerjis—St George to Christians—and the attempted destruction of the Hadba minaret at the 12th-century Great Mosque of Al-Nuri have been described as “an unchecked outburst of extreme Wahhabism”. “There were explosions that destroyed buildings dating back to the Assyrian era”, said National Museum of Iraq director Qais Rashid, referring to the destruction of the shrine of Yunus. He cited another case where “Daesh (ISIL) gathered over 1,500 manuscripts from convents and other holy places and burnt all of them in the middle of the city square”. In March 2015, ISIL reportedly bulldozed the 13th-century BC Assyrian city of Nimrud, believing its sculptures to be idolatrous. UNESCO head Irina Bokova deemed this to be a war crime.
There is also the fear that warfare waged on any side will harm cultural heritage. “The worst thing about wars is that they do not distinguish between the past and the future”, Mosul calligrapher and conservationist Abdallah Ismail told a local correspondent for the German-funded publication Niqash.org. He suggested that ISIL was “taking the pulse” of the local population to see how it would react to their appetite for destruction. Philippe Lalliot, France’s ambassador to UNESCO gave this perspective: “When people die in their tens of thousands, must we be concerned about cultural cleansing? Yes, definitely yes … It’s because culture is a powerful incentive for dialogue that the most extreme and the most fanatical groups strive to annihilate it.” According to the London Charter and several Hague Conventions, the deliberate destruction of historical sites and places of worship, unless such destruction is a necessity during war, is a war crime.
According to media reports, ISIL has established a system for harvesting and selling human organs from fighters, captives, and hostages, including minority children in Mosul and other areas. ISIL is using imported teams of doctors who are not allowed to interact with local medical staff.
The group has attracted widespread criticism internationally for its extremism, from governments and international bodies such as the United Nations and Amnesty International. On 24 September 2014, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon stated: “As Muslim leaders around the world have said, groups like ISIL – or Da’ish – have nothing to do with Islam, and they certainly do not represent a state. They should more fittingly be called the ‘Un-Islamic Non-State’.”The group was described as a cult in a Huffington Post column by notable cult authority Steven Hassan.
The declaration of a new caliphate in June 2014 and the name “Islamic State” have been criticised and ridiculed by Muslim scholars and rival Islamists inside and outside the territory it controls. In a speech in September 2014, President Obama said that ISIL is not “Islamic” on the basis that no religion condones the killing of innocents and that no government recognises the group as a state, and many object to using the name “Islamic State” owing to the far-reaching religious and political claims to authority which that name implies. The United Nations Security Council, the United States, Canada, Turkey, Australia, Russia, the United Kingdom and other countries generally call the group “ISIL”, while much of the Arab world uses the Arabic acronym “Da?ish”. France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said “This is a terrorist group and not a state. I do not recommend using the term Islamic State because it blurs the lines between Islam, Muslims, and Islamists. The Arabs call it ‘Daesh’ and I will be calling them the ‘Daesh cutthroats.'” Retired general John Allen, the US envoy to co-ordinate the coalition, US military Lieutenant General James Terry, head of operations against the group, and Secretary of State John Kerry have all shifted toward the term DAESH by December 2014.
Views of the IS as Islamic
In mid-February 2015, Graeme Wood, a lecturer in political science at Yale University, said in The Atlantic, “Muslims who call the Islamic State un-Islamic are typically, as the Princeton scholar Bernard Haykel, the leading expert on the group’s theology, told me, ’embarrassed and politically correct, with a cotton-candy view of their own religion’ that neglects ‘what their religion has historically and legally required.’ Many denials of the Islamic State’s religious nature, he said, are rooted in an ‘interfaith-Christian-nonsense tradition.'” Wood further states, “The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. ‘Very’ Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.”
The British historian Tom Holland, writing for the New Statesman said, “Islamic State, in its conceit that it has trampled down the weeds and briars of tradition and penetrated to the truth of God’s dictates, is recognisably Salafist. When Islamic State fighters smash the statues of pagan gods, they are following the example of the Prophet; when they proclaim themselves the shock troops of a would-be global empire, they are following the example of the warriors of the original caliphate; when they execute enemy combatants, and impose discriminatory taxes on Christians, and take the women of defeated opponents as slaves, they are doing nothing that the first Muslims did not glory in. Such behaviour is certainly not synonymous with Islam; but if not Islamic, then it is hard to know what else it is.”
Hassan Hassan, an analyst at the Delma Institute, wrote in The Guardian that because the Islamic State “bases its teachings on religious texts that mainstream Muslim clerics do not want to deal with head on, new recruits leave the camp feeling that they have stumbled on the true message of Islam”.
According to a March 2015 report to the UN Security Council, some 22,000 foreign fighters from 100 nations have traveled to Syria and Iraq, most to support Islamic State (IS). The report to UN Security Council filed in late March 2015 warned that Syria and Iraq had become a “finishing school for extremists”. (In mid-2014, IS leader Abu Bakr had issued a call, “Rush O Muslims to your state …”)
Groups with expressions of support
Once source (Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium (TRAC)) has identified 60 jihadist groups in 30 countries that have pledged allegiance or support to ISIL as of mid-November 2014. Many of these groups were previously affiliated with al-Qaeda, indicating a shift in global jihadist leadership toward ISIL.
Memberships of the following groups have declared support for ISIL, either fully or in part.
-Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters
-Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia
-Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem
-Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid – (pledged support to ISIL; the majority of the group split off after its leader pledged allegiance to ISIL)
Allegations of Turkish support
Turkey has been accused of supporting or colluding with ISIL, especially by Syrian Kurds. According to journalist Patrick Cockburn, there is “strong evidence for a degree of collaboration” between the Turkish intelligence services and ISIL, although the “exact nature of the relationship … remains cloudy”. David L. Phillips of Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights, who compiled a list of allegations and claims accusing Turkey of assisting ISIL, writes that these allegations “range from military cooperation and weapons transfers to logistical support, financial assistance, and the provision of medical services”. Several ISIL fighters and commanders have claimed Turkey supports ISIL.Within Turkey itself, ISIL is believed to have caused increasing political polarisation between secularists and Islamists.
Turkey has been further criticised for allowing individuals from outside the region to enter its territory and join ISIL in Syria. With many Islamist fighters passing through Turkey to fight in Syria, Turkey has been accused of becoming a transit country for such fighters and has been labelled the “Gateway to Jihad”. Turkish border patrol officers are reported to have deliberately overlooked those entering Syria upon the payment of a small bribe. A report by Sky News exposed documents showing that passports of foreign Islamists wanting to join ISIL by crossing into Syria had been stamped by the Turkish government. An ISIL commander stated that “most of the fighters who joined us in the beginning of the war came via Turkey, and so did our equipment and supplies”, adding that ISIL fighters received treatment in Turkish hospitals.
Allegations of Saudi Arabian support
Although Saudi Arabia’s government rejected these claims, the Iraqi President Nouri al-Maliki accused Saudi Arabia of funding ISIL. Some media outlets like NBC, BBC, and The New York Times and the US-based think tank Washington Institute for Near East Policy have written of individual Saudi donations to the group, and the Saudi state’s decade long sponsorship of Salafism around the world, but have concluded that there is no evidence of direct Saudi state support for ISIL.
Allegations of Syrian support
During the Syrian Civil War, multiple parties in the conflict have accused the Syrian government of some form of collusion with ISIL, whose dominance in the opposition against the Bashar al-Assad government, would give that government a basis for its claim to being under attack by “terrorists” and “a secular bulwark against al-Qaida and jihadi fanaticism”. Several sources have claimed that ISIL prisoners were strategically released from Syrian prisons at the beginning of the Syrian Civil War in 2011. The Syrian government has bought oil directly from ISIS, and in March 2015 a European Union report brought to light that the Syrian government and ISIL jointly run a HESCO gas plant in Tabqa, central Syria; the facility continues to supply government-held areas, and electricity continues to be supplied to ISIL-held areas from government-run power plants. United States Secretary of State John Kerry has stated that the Syrian government has tactically avoided Isis forces in order to weaken moderate opposition such as the Free Syrian Army, as well as “even purposely ceding some territory to them [ISIS] in order to make them more of a problem so he can make the argument that he is somehow the protector against them”. A IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Center database analysis confirmed that only 6% of Syrian government forces attacks were targeted at ISIL in Jan 1–Nov 21, 2014, while in the same period only 13% of all ISIS attacks targeted government forces. The National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces has stated that the Syrian government has operatives inside ISIS, as has the leadership of Ahrar ash-Sham. ISIS members captured by the FSA have claimed that they were directed to commit attacks by Syrian government operatives.
Allegations of United States support
Rand Paul, the junior Senator from Kentucky, accused the US government of indirectly supporting ISIL in the Syrian Civil War by arming their allies and fighting their enemies in that country.
Abu Yusaf, a commander of the ISIL, said in August 2014 that many of the Free Syrian Army members who had been trained by United States’ and Turkish and Arab military officers subsequently joined ISIL. In September 2014, some US-backed Syrian rebels and ISIL signed a “non-aggression” agreement.
Military and resources
Estimates of the size of ISIL’s military vary widely from tens of thousands up to 200,000.
Foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq
A UN report estimated a total of 15,000 fighters from over 80 countries in ISIL’s ranks as of November 2014. US intelligence estimated an increase to around 20,000 foreign fighters in February 2015, including 3,400 from Western countries.
Statistics gathered by nation indicate up to: 3,000 from Tunisia, 2,500 from Saudi Arabia, 1,700 from Russia, 1,500 from Jordan, 1,500 from Morocco, 1,200 from France, 1,000 from Turkey, 900 from Lebanon, 650 from Germany, 600 from the United Kingdom, 600 from Libya, 500 from Uzbekistan, 500 from Pakistan, 440 from Belgium, 360 from Turkmenistan, 360 from Egypt, 350 from Serbia, 330 from Bosnia, 300 from China, 300 from Kosovo, 300 from Sweden, 250 from Australia, 250 from Kazakhstan, 250 from the Netherlands, 200 from Austria, 200 from Algeria, 190 from Tajikistan, 180 from the United States, 150 from Norway, 150 from Denmark, 140 from Albania,130 from Canada, 120 from Israel/Palestine, 110 from Yemen, 100 from Sudan, 100 from Kyrgyzstan,100 from Spain, 80 from Italy,70 from Somalia, 70 from Kuwait, 70 from Finland, 50 from Ukraine, 40 from Switzerland,30 from Ireland, and 18 from India.
ISIL relies mostly on captured weapons. Major sources are Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi stockpiles from the 2003–11 Iraq insurgency and weapons from government and opposition forces fighting in the Syrian Civil War and during the post-US withdrawal Iraqi insurgency. The captured weapons, including armour, guns, surface-to-air missiles, and even some aircraft, enabled rapid territorial growth and facilitated the capture of additional equipment.
The group has a long history of using truck and car bombs, suicide bombers, and IEDs, and has used chemical weapons in Iraq and Syria. ISIL captured nuclear materials from Mosul University in July 2014, but is unlikely to be able to turn them into weapons.
The logo of al-Hayat Media Centre, a near-copy of that of Al Jazeera.
ISIL is known for its extensive and effective use of propaganda. It uses a version of the Muslim Black Standard flag and developed an emblem which has clear symbolic meaning in the Muslim world.
In November 2006, shortly after the group’s rebranding as the “Islamic State of Iraq”, the group established the al-Furqan Institute for Media Production, which produces CDs, DVDs, posters, pamphlets, and web-related propaganda products. ISIL’s main media outlet is the I’tisaam Media Foundation, which was formed in March 2013 and distributes through the Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF). When ISIL announced it’s expansion to other countries in November 2014 it established media departments for the new branches, and it’s media apparatus ensured that the new branches follow the same models it uses in Iraq and Syria.
In 2014, ISIL established the al-Hayat Media Centre, which targets a Western audience and produces material in English, German, Russian and French. Also in 2014, ISIL launched the Ajnad Media Foundation, which releases jihadist audio chants. In December 2014, FBI Director James Comey stated that ISIL’s “propaganda is unusually slick. They are broadcasting… in something like 23 languages”. Hackers claiming allegiance to ISIL managed to black out 11 global TV channels belonging to TV5Monde and take over the company’s social media pages.
From July 2014, al-Hayat began publishing a digital magazine called Dabiq, in a number of different languages including English. According to the magazine, its name is taken from the town of Dabiq in northern Syria, which is mentioned in a hadith about Armageddon. The group also runs a radio network called al-Bayan, which airs bulletins in Arabic, Russian and English and provides coverage of it’s activities in Iraq, Syria and Libya.
ISIL’s use of social media has been described by one expert as “probably more sophisticated than [that of] most US companies”. It regularly takes advantage of social media, particularly Twitter, to distribute its message by organising hashtag campaigns, encouraging Tweets on popular hashtags, and utilising software applications that enable ISIL propaganda to be distributed automatically via its supporters’ accounts. Another comment is that “ISIS puts more emphasis on social media than other jihadi groups… They have a very coordinated social media presence.”In August 2014, Twitter administrators shut down a number of accounts associated with ISIL. ISIL recreated and publicised new accounts the next day, which were also shut down by Twitter administrators. The group has attempted to branch out into alternative social media sites, such as Quitter, Friendica and Diaspora; Quitter and Friendica, however, almost immediately worked to remove ISIL’s presence from their sites.
In a switch from its former practices, ISIL’s media arm imposed a social media blackout on 27 September 2014, fearing that tweets and posts would give away military positions. ISIL has also attempted to present a more “rational argument” in its series of “press release/discussions” performed by hostage/captive John Cantlie and posted on YouTube. In one “Cantlie presentation”, various current and former US officials were quoted, such as US President Barack Obama and former CIA Officer Michael Scheuer.
In 2014, the RAND Corporation carried out a study of 200 documents — personal letters, expense reports and membership rosters — which had been captured from Islamic State of Iraq (al-Qaeda in Iraq). It found that from 2005 until 2010, outside donations amounted to only 5% of the group’s operating budgets, with the rest being raised within Iraq.In the time period studied, cells were required to send up to 20% of the income generated from kidnapping, extortion rackets and other activities to the next level of the group’s leadership. Higher-ranking commanders would then redistribute the funds to provincial or local cells that were in difficulties or needed money to conduct attacks. The records show that the Islamic State of Iraq was dependent on members from Mosul for cash, which the leadership used to provide additional funds to struggling militants in Diyala, Salahuddin and Baghdad.
In mid-2014, Iraqi intelligence obtained information from an ISIL operative which revealed that the organisation had assets worth US$2 billion, making it the richest jihadist group in the world. About three-quarters of this sum is said to be represented by assets seized after the group captured Mosul in June 2014; this includes possibly up to US$429 million looted from Mosul’s central bank, along with additional millions and a large quantity of gold bullion stolen from a number of other banks in Mosul. However, doubt was later cast on whether ISIL was able to retrieve anywhere near that sum from the central bank, and even on whether the bank robberies had actually occurred.
Exporting oil from oilfields captured by ISIL brought in tens of millions of dollars. One US Treasury official had estimated that ISIL earns US$1 million a day from the export of oil. Much of the oil is sold illegally in Turkey. In 2014 Dubai-based energy analysts put the combined oil revenue from ISIL’s Iraqi-Syrian production as high as US$3 million per day. ISIL also extracts wealth through taxation and extortion.
In 2014, the majority of the group’s funding came from the production and sale of energy controlling around 300 oil wells in Iraq alone. At its peak, it operated 350 oil wells in Iraq, but lost 45 to foreign airstrikes. It had captured 60% of Syria’s total production capacity. About one fifth of its total capacity had been in operation. ISIL earned US$2.5 million a day by selling 50,000–60,000 barrels of oil daily. Foreign sales rely on a long-standing black market to export via Turkey. Many of the smugglers and corrupt Turkish border guards who helped Saddam Hussein to evade sanctions are helping ISIL to export oil and import cash. Energy sales include selling electric power from captured power plants in northern Syria; some of this electricity is reportedly sold back to the Syrian government.
Sales of artefacts may be the second largest source of funding for ISIL, according to an article in Newsweek. More than a third of Iraq’s important sites are under ISIL’s control. It looted the 9th century BC grand palace of the Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II at Kalhu. Tablets, manuscripts and cuneiforms were sold, worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Stolen artefacts are smuggled into Turkey and Jordan. Abdulamir al-Hamdani, an archaeologist from SUNY Stony Brook, has said that ISIL is “looting… the very roots of humanity, artifacts from the oldest civilizations in the world”.
The group routinely practices extortion, by demanding money from truck drivers and threatening to blow up businesses, for example. Robbing banks and gold shops has been another source of income. The Iraq government indirectly finances ISIS, as they continue to pay the salaries of the thousands of government employees who continue to work in areas controlled by ISIS, which then confiscates as much as half of those Iraqi government employees’ pay.
ISIL is widely reported as receiving funding from private donors in the Gulf states, and the governments of Iraq and Iran have repeatedly accused Saudi Arabia and Qatar of financing and supporting the group. Ahead of the conference of the US-led anti-ISIL coalition held in Paris in September 2014, France’s foreign minister acknowledged that a number of countries at the table had “very probably” financed ISIL’s advances.
Although Iran and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have accused Saudi Arabia and Qatar of funding the group,there is reportedly no evidence that this is the case. However, according to The Atlantic, ISIL may have been a major part of Saudi Arabian Bandar bin Sultan’s covert-ops strategy in Syria.
Unregistered charity organisations are used as fronts to pass funds to ISIL. As they use aliases on Facebook’s WhatsApp and Kik, the individuals and organisations are untraceable. Donations transferred to fund ISIL’s operations are disguised as “humanitarian charity”. Saudi Arabia has imposed a blanket ban on unauthorised donations destined for Syria as the only means of stopping such funding.
Since 2012, ISIL 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.
On 11 November 2014, ISIL announced its intent to mint its own gold, silver, and copper coins, based on the coinage used by the Umayyad Caliphate in the 7th century. Following the announcement, the group began buying up gold, silver, and copper in markets throughout northern and western Iraq, according to precious metal traders in the area. Members of the group also reportedly began stripping the insulation off electrical power cables to obtain the copper wiring. The announcement included designs of the proposed coins, which displayed imagery including a map of the world, a sword and shield, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and a crescent moon. Economics experts, such as Professor Steven H. Hanke of Johns Hopkins University, were sceptical of the plans.See also Modern gold dinar.
In April 2014, after the loss of Tikrit, ISIL apparently lost control of “three large oil fields” reducing significantly its ability to sell oil.