The ISIS was preceded by the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), that was established during October 2006, and comprised of various insurgent groups, most significantly the original Al Qaeda Organization in the Land of the Two Rivers (AQI) organization, al-Qaeda in Mesopotami – led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Mujahedeen Shura Council in Iraq, and Jund al-Sahhaba (Soldiers of the Prophet’s Companions), which was integrated into the ISI. ISIS members’ allegiance was given to the ISI commander and not al-Qaeda central command. The organisation known as the ISIS was formed during April 2013 and has evolved in one of the main jihadist groups fighting government forces in Syria and Iraq. ISIS regards Baquba, Iraq, as its headquarters with its allegiance to Abu Omar al-Baghdadi as the group’s emir. Baghdadi’s real name is Hamed Dawood Mohammed Khalil al-Zawi.
Images: Al Nasir Li Din Allah Abu Sulayman, the ISIS war minister [left]; Abu Bakr al Baghdadi al Husseini al Qurshi, emir of the ISIS [right].
Split with Nusra Front
Initially al-Baghdadi took lead in the establishment of Jabhat al-Nusra (JN) and expected the JN leader’s (Abu Mohammed al-Golani) to view him as senior in position. Al-Golani refusal resulted in the establishment of the ISIS, with indications that approximately 65% of JN members declared their allegiance to ISIS. These defections allowed ISIS to gain control in several areas, such as Raqqa, parts of the Aleppo urban and rural areas. More recently the ISIS seized the headquarters of other groups in Manbaj, al-Bab and Azaz.
Aaron Y Zelin’s article “The War between ISIS and al-Qaeda for Supremacy of the Global Jihadist Movement”, published during June 2014 in the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, explains the schism between the ISIS and al Qaeda/JN as one of differences over authority and methodology (manhaj).
ISIS rejects Zawahiri’s leadership which they viewed as a deviation from the path bin Laden.
The ISIS position in this regard is seen in an Adnani’s statement of April 2014:
“The leaders of al-Qaeda deviated from the right manhaj, we say this as sadness overwhelms us and bitterness fills our hearts…Verily al-Qaeda today has ceased to be the base of jihad, rather its leadership has become an axe supporting the destruction of the project of the Islamic State and the coming khilafa (caliphate)…al-Qaeda now runs after the bandwagon of the majority and calls them as ‘the Umma,’ and softens in their stance at the expense of the religion, and the taghut (tyrants) of the Ikhwan (Muslim Brotherhood).
al-Qaeda in turn claims that Baghdadi did, in fact, pledge baya to Zawahiri, though privately and hence has broken a religious oath.
The ISIS strategy is one of territorial control accompanied by residents’ adherence to the ISIS interpretation of religious law. The ISIS also does not allow any opposing views or role players in areas conquered. JN strategy is more accommodative in that it defines its role as “one among many groups (primarily other Islamist allies) that must work together not only to fight against the Assad regime, but also to govern liberated spaces”. JN also rejects the idea of coercive adherence to its ideas and religious ideology. Zelin defines this strategy of JN as a “gradualist approach”, which aims “to socialise and normalise its ideas over time so that eventually the group can legitimately implement its more narrow interpretations of Sharia”.
Schism between ISIS, al-Qaeda in Iraq, and al Qaeda Central Command
Though the ISIS is mostly referred to as an al-Qaeda affiliate, information seems to confirm the opposite, namely that the ISIS is not representative of al-Qaeda in Iraq. On 03 February 2014, al-Qaeda general command published a media statement on jihadi websites stating that the ISIS is not « a branch of the al-Qaeda group ».
ISIS members pledge of allegiance is to the ISIS leader al-Baghdadi and not to Sheikh Zawahiri (al-Qaeda central command). this is reflected in an ISIS nasheed (a song that carries with it an Islamic belief and/or practice) released during 2013 in which it states (translated version):
“They have closed ranks and pledged bay’ah to Baghdadi, For [he is] our amir in our Iraq and ash-Sham. »
The ISIS non-affiliation with al-Qaeda was also evident in Sheik Zawahiri (al-Qaeda central command) calling during 2013 for the dissolution of ISIS, anticipating that Sheikh Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi would accept authority and control from al-Qaeda central command. This anticipation most probably related to Sheikh Baghdadi’s history as a prominent member of AQI. However, Sheikh Baghdadi’s rejection of the call reflects a clear schism between the ISIS and al-Qaeda central command. More compelling evidence of the schism is seen in a statement by Sheikh Abu Khalid al-Suri (an alleged Ahrar ash-Sham and al-Qaeda central command member) that was deployed by Sheikh Zawahiri to resolve differences between the ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra following continued fighting between the two groups in Syria. Sheikh Abu Khalid condemned ISIS conduct and referred to such conduct as “crimes” being committed “in the name of jihad and the establishment of an Islamic state. »
Clashes with other Islamic and Rebel groups Associations
The ISIS is operating independently and in opposition to other jihadist groups such as the Jabhat al-Nusra (JN) and the Islamic Front as well as the Free Syrian Army (FSA) as seen in clashes with these groups in both Iraq and Syria. During July 2013, a commander of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) was reportedly shot dead by ISIS fighters in the coastal province of Lattakia. Discord with the FSA was also seen in deadly clashes between the two groups in the north-western province of Idlib. There has also been friction with other groups with the ISIS being accused of killing a prominent member of the Syrian Islamist rebel group Ahrar al-Sham.
The ISIS has extensive financial resources (mostly derived from alleged organised crime activities in areas of control as well as diaspora funds and unidentified financial sponsors from within Gulf states) as well as human capital that enable operations in various locations. This is seen in attacks executed in areas regarded as primarily Shi’a areas in Iraq, such as Najaf, Karbala, Kut and Wasit as well as bombings in Baghdad (Iraq). These attacks also reflected sophistication both in terms of execution and diverse tactics. More recent skirmishes with Iraqi government forces are evidence of an extensive ISIS capacity.
The ISIS’s objective is the establishment of a world wide Caliphate, reflected in frequent media reports by means of images of the world united under a ISIS banner. Although it has perpetrated many terrorist acts since its formation in 2006, especially against Shia and Christian civilians, ISI/ISIS/ISIL has been especially active in late 2102 and 2013, claiming responsibility for killing and wounding hundreds of people through suicide bombings. It’s principal targets are U.S. military and Shia and Christian civilians.
ISIS Leadership (2014)
ISIS Organisational Structure in Iraq and Syria
The Islamic Caliphate
On 28 June 2014 the IS gained control over a territory nearly the size of Jordan and declared it an Islamic caliphate, and proclaimed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the first “caliph of Islam”. The Caliphate extends from Anbar in Iraq through Deir ez-Zor in Syria to Raqqa in Iraq.
Abu Mohammed Adnani (spokesperson of the IS) explained the Caliphate as:
“Therefore the Islamic State, represented by its authorities vested with powers, including dignitaries, leaders, princes and the Shura Council, decided to proclaim the Islamic caliphate, appoint a caliph to the Muslims and pledge allegiance to Sheikh Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Ibrahim bin Awad al-Badri al-Qurashi al-Hashemi al-Hassani.” With the announcement the change in name from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS) to the Islamic State (IS) was also declared.
Map: 06.10.14 Mosul falls incontrol of ISIS Insitute For the Study of War Map representing areas of control, attack, and operational presence by ISIS after the takeover of Mosul. http://iswiraq.blogspot.com/2014/06/updated-map-of-isis-sanctuaries-in-iraq.htm
List of areas the Islamic State claims it controls after this week’s offensive in Ninewa, from Aug. 7, 2014 statement on Twitter:
- All of Sinjar municipality and the areas belonging to it.
- All of Talkif municipality and the areas belonging to it.
- All of al-Hamdaniya municipality and the areas belonging to it.
- All of Makhmour municipality and the areas belonging to it.
- Zammar township and all the villages belonging to it.
- Rabee’ah township and all the villages belonging to it.
- Bartala township and all the villages belonging to it.
- Karam Lays township and all the villages belonging to it.
- Al-Kweir township and all the villages belonging to it.
- Wana township and all the villages belonging to it.
- Large areas in Filfeel township.
- Large areas of Ba’ashiqa township.
- Some of the al-Shalalat areas in Mosul.
- The Sada and Ba’wiza area of Mosul.
- The oil-rich ‘Ayn Zalah area.
- The strategic Mosul dam
- The large Tumarat base.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham’s 16 wilayats are:
- Southern Division (based in Babil province, south of Baghdad)
- Diyala Division
- Baghdad Division
- Kirkuk Division
- Salahuddin Division
- Anbar Division (is the largest and most active wilayat in Iraq)
- Ninewa Division
- Al Barakah Division (Hasaka)
- Al Kheir Division (Deir al Zour)
- Al Raqqah Division
- Al Badiya Division
- Halab [Aleppo] Division
- Idlib Division
- Hama Division
- Damascus Division
- Coast [Al Sahel] Division
Areas of Operation in Iraq
The ISIS stronghold is in the Anbar province, as seen in the operation of training camps coupled with attacks on Government security personnel, a case in point being various suicide bomb attacks in a single day targeting local police in Rawa. In addition, the ISIS gained control in areas of Ramadi and Fallujah, following the withdrawal of the Iraqi army due to widespread Sunni rejection of attempts to dismantle the Ramadi camp protest site. Their presence in these areas were also seen in Anbar with mortar attacks at the Sahwa leader Abu Risha’s estate and fighting with security forces in various Anbar urban locations, such as the al-Mal’ab quarter in Ramadi and the al-Khaldiya area near Fallujah.
Mosul, Baiji, Babil, and Baghdad
Beyond Anbar, the group has enacted frequent attacks on the Iraqi army in various districts of Mosul as well as target specific bomb attacks in the Baiji area of Salah ad-Din province, Jurf al-Sakhr in northern Babil province (just south of Baghdad), and the Tarmiya area of northern Baghdad province, where assaults have been launched on “Sahwa” forces, resulting in incidents such as the execution of 18 Sunnis suspected of being “Sahwa militia” during November 2013.
During 2013, ISIS operations expanded to Iraqi Kurdistan, as seen in the Arbil bombings in September 2013, that the ISIS referred to as retaliation due to the Kurdistan Regional Government’s alleged support for the “PKK” in Syria.
Photos of an ISIS camp in Ninawa Province:
The following photos are reportedly that of an ISIS camp in the Nanawa province:
ISIS in Syria
In April 2013, ISIS attempted to morph into the creation of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS/ISIL) but the formation of a new group was rejected by the al-Nusra Front. ISIS’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, known as Abu Dua, nevertheless pressed ahead with expanding its operations into Syria. In August 2013, US intelligence assessed that he was based in Syria and commanded as many 5,000 fighters, many of them foreign jihadists. The group is active mostly in northern and eastern provinces of Syria. It has assumed joint control of municipalities in Aleppo, Idlib and Raqqa provinces. In November 2013 Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri ordered the disbanding of the main jihadist faction in Syria, the ISIL, in an audio message aired on Al-Jazeera. The tape appeared to confirm a letter posted by Al-Jazeera in June 2013, claimed to have been written by Zawahiri and addressed to the leaders of Al-Qaeda factions in both countries. The head of Al-Qaeda also stressed that the Al-Nusra Front was the branch of the global jihadist group in Syria. ISIL’s extremism has resulted in the deaths of more than 1,000 rebels in the last 3-4 weeks alone.
ISIS in Lebanon
The ISIS reach into Lebanon is seen in the following most recent developments:
On 3 January 2014, a leader in the Jordanian Salafi movement said the ISIS has decided officially to infiltrate Lebanon militarily, by stating that “the leader of al-Nusra Front Abu Muhammad al-Goulani and the prince of “ISIL” Abu Baker al-Baghdadi have decided to enter Lebanon militarily”.
The ISIS claimed credit for the suicide bombing Haret Hreik in the southern suburb of Beirut on 22 January 2014, which killed 5 people. In the statement released via Twitter, the ISIS stated that the group has the capacity to violate Hezbollah security measures and that the suicide bombing is « a first small payment from the heavy account that is awaiting those criminals. »
The above announcement was followed by the Lebanon-focused A’isha Media Center announcement of an online campaign to support the ISIS in the conflict with Syrian militant factions.
On 25 January 2013 a video recording declared the creation of a Lebanese division for the ISIS. In the recording, Abu Sayyaf al-Ansari (further details unknown) swears allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Iraqi leader of ISIS. He also called on Sunnis to abandon the Lebanese crusader » army, supportive of continued allegations by Sunni Islamists that the armed forces are « backed by Hezbollah. » The recording surfaced amid escalating tensions in Lebanon linked to the war in neighbouring Syria. While the Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah has deployed troops to Syria to back President Bashar al-Assad, many Sunnis are opposed to Assad and any support to his government. In the five-minute recording (refer to Video section of this profile), al-Ansari indicated that « a spokesman for ISIS in Lebanon » identified as Abu Omar al-Muhajir would soon make a statement of his own.
ISIS in Gaza Strip/West Bank
During February 2014, the ISIS released a video that showed ISIS fighters announcing plans to wage a jihad in Gaza. A spokesperson in the video announced that DAESH (ISIS) now has « lions and armies in the environs of Jerusalem » and called on Muslims to support the group in their jihad
against the enemies of Islam and « Arab tyrants. » The ISIS regards Hamas as to moderate and not committed in the fight against Israel. The ISIS announcement is the first indication of presence within Gaza Strip/West Bank as well as a direct challenge to the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas. The extent of support for the ISIS from Gaza culminated in the formation of an ISIS Syrian brigade comprised and dedicated to fighters from Gaza, referred to as the “Sheikh Abu al-Nur al-Maqdisi Brigade,” named after the founder of the Jund Ansar Allah group in Gaza- Abdel Latif Moussa, who was killed in clashes with Hamas in 2009.
2013: Syrian Comment: Wissam al-Atal, a doctor from Gaza who became a suicide bomber for ISIS in Syria during 2013.
February 2014: Syrian Comment: “From Gaza of glory, our allegiance is to our amir Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi”- a fighter from Gaza shows his support for ISIS.
April 2014: Syrian Comment: Sheikh Abu al-Nur al-Maqdisi brigade fighters training
April 2014: Syrian Comment: Sheikh Abu al-Nur al-Maqdisi brigade fighters training
Syrian Comment: « Photo gives an idea of where the Gazan contingent has been deployed. Photo from outside ISIS’ Islamic police station in Manbij, Aleppo province.”
2013 Map of ISIS Sheikh Abū Bakr al-Baghdādī alleged movement ultimately to Syria.
Abu Sayyaf al-Ansari announced Abu Sayyaf al-Ansari allegiance to the ISIS. Al-Ansari made the following statements:
- “After the expansion of the Islamic mission from Iraq to the Levant, and its adoption of a correct path that could not be weakened or misrepresented by the decedents of Al Saloul, who are supported by the United States and by the crusaders, we decided from Tripoli to pledge allegiance to ISIL and to ally with it”;
- “We also vow allegiance to Abu Bakr (al-Baghdadi, the Iraqi leader of ISIL) and we will be their gate to Lebanon and the Kingdom of Jerusalem,” he added, revealing that they suggested reviving cells that belong to the ISIL in the country to continue “calling for jihadism.”
- “We only became active because the Islamic nation is losing its determination and is being shaken by the disloyalty of the Lebanese crusaders, who are endorsed by Hizbullah.”
- “But the heroes of the ‘Abdullah Azzam Brigades’ tortured the defectors in general and the supporters of Iran in particular, who announced their war against Sunnis and we took our decision after we referred to a Koranic verse that allows the vulnerable that are being attacked to fight back .”
- “We could not handle the whoredum of the devil’s party (Hizbullah) at the expense of the Sunnis in Lebanon and crusaders’ media campaigns portrayed us as extremists, terrorists that only cause destruction and chaos.”
- Addressing Sunnis in Lebanon, he said: “We tell you we are your brothers, sons and servants and we assault the unbelievers with you so do not forget to be prepared.”
- He also warned the Sheikhs in general and the members of the Committee of Muslim Ulemas in particular, urging them to endorse him.
- “We demand you not to stab us in the back after we entrusted you with your lives,” he expressed.
- “We ask for your advice and recommendation when we commit mistakes.”
- He also called on Sunnis “incorrectly enlisted in the crusaders’s army to fear God and to repent.”
- “You are our brothers, and we urge you not to become a knife used by Christians and defectors to stab us with in the back.”