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Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham 

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    The history of ISIS traces back to 2004, when a group called “al Qaeda in Iraq” was formed. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was the founder of this group. Zarqwi was killed during a U.S. airstrike. In 2006, after his death Abu Ayyub al-Masri became the new leader of this organization and renamed the group “ISI” or “Islamic State of Iraq.” In 2010, Masri was killed in an Iraqi operation, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi resumed power of the group. ISIS began to spread quickly throughout Iraq and Syria. This organization wanted to focus on creating an Islamic state and implementing sharia law. In 2014, ISIS gained control of Falluja, Mosul, and Tikrit in Iraq. In August 2014, they killed hundreds of people, sold women into slavery, forced religious conversations and caused tens of thousands of Yazidis to flee from their homes. These attacks resulted in international media coverage and brought a lot of attention to ISIS and their attacks. In 2014, al Qaeda broke their ties with ISIS, they rejected them as a group and disowned their activities. ISIS has been called several names through out the years, ISIL stands for “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant”, IS stands for “Islamic State”, Daesh is what many easterners and Europeans call them. It is an Arabic acronym for “al-Dawla al-islamyia fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham” which translates to the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria”. While some people may call them this, ISIS actually does not approve of this name, they threatened to cut out the tongues of anyone who decided to call them Daesh in the public (Gambhir 2014).

    ISIS began to become recognized all over the world for their extreme acts of violence, which includes public executions, rapes, beheadings and crucifixions. They have also earned their violent reputation for videotaping their brutal murders and putting them on the Internet. One of their first major publicized events was in August, 2014 when a group of members beheaded U.S. journalist, James Foley, and posted the bloody violent act on YouTube. About a month after this horrific event another U.S. journalist, Steven Sotloff, was beheaded and his execution video was released. During the following several months, there were a series of extremely gruesome videos of kidnapping and beheading of U.S. journalist and international aid workers. In February 2015, ISIS released footage of group members burning a Jordanian military pilot alive in a cage. That same month they released a video of them beheading twenty-one Christians on a beach in Libya. Members of the organization threw a man off of a building for being homosexual and photos of this act were dispersed in the media. (Curry 2016). The organization is notorious for capturing the videos and images of their violent acts.

    ISIS has claimed many terrorist acts over the years. November 2015, Paris attacks: a series of attacks in which bombers and shooters terrorized the people of Paris. They killed 130 people during these attacks. December 2015, San Bernardino Attack: A married couple opened fire in California and killed 14 people. March 2016, Brussels Bombings: a bombing that occurred at a Brussels Airports in Belgium, it claimed the lives of 32 people. June 2016, Pulse Nightclub Shooting: a gunman opened fire inside of a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida killing 49 people. July 2016, Nice Attack: A terrorist driving a truck mowed down a group of people in the French Riviera town, killing 86 people. December 2016, Berlin Attack: man took a truck and drove it into a market in Berlin, taking the life of not only himself but 11 others as well. May 2017, Manchester Attack: A suicide bomber killed 22 people during an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester Arena in England (Cassman 2017). These are just some of the mass-casualty attacks that ISIS has taken credit for.

    Some of ISIS’ most notable attacks include the following: September 14, 2013, ISIS took control over an air defense base in Hama, Syria. The number of casualties is unknown. June 10, 2014, ISIS took control of Mosul, which is ac its in Iraq that has a population of over a million citizens. The number of casualties is unknown. June 17, 2014, ISIS attacked Baji oil field. August 2014, over a two period, ISIS executes seven hundred members of the al-Sheitaat tribe in the Deir al-Zor province. August 2014, ISIS publicly beheaded American captive, James Foley. October 29, 2014, ISIS publicly executed a number of members of a Sunni tribe, the Albu Nimr, that had been resisting ISIS’s advance in the Anbar province. January 6, 2015, ISIS began to carry out its’ first assault on U.S. bases in Iraq, conducting mortar attacks against a training base. May 15, 2015, ISIS seized Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, from Iraqi security forces, that were supported by Shiite militias and American air strikes. November 13, 2015, Eleven members of the Islamic State killed 130 civilians and injured 100 more in a series of attacks in Paris, France. Gunman and suicide bombers have attacked a concert hall, a soccer stadium, restaurants and bars in Frances capital (Cassman 2017).

    Analysts that have looked into ISIS have said that they are, “the best funded terrorist organization in recent history” (Saleh 2018). They have a very complex system when it comes to funding their military and paying for all of their expenses. ISIS gets their money by relying heavily on the smuggling of crude oil and refined products. They also heavily tax the populations and the businesses that have seized control of. They take-over banks, and kidnap people for ransom. They also have some private donors that donate to their cause, typically donors consist of royalty, businessmen, and very wealthy families. People are able to donate money to them with out being noticed by setting up charities to move the money. Another way that ISIS makes money is by going to archaeological sites and selling the artifacts that they find. They also get their money from material support that is provided by foreign fighters.

    They use drug trades as a way to make money as well. The State of Qatar has been accused for a long time of being a monetary donator to ISIS’s violent activities. A number of terrorist financiers have been operating out of Qatar for a while. They will sell and transport drugs to make money. When ISIS is handling their money they often only use cash, that way there is no way to track who or where the money is going. ISIS has control over the easily-crossed boarders surrounding Iraq such as Turkey and Syria. Syria has also been accused of funding the terrorist attacks ISIS performs. They use these borders to smuggle in briefcases full of cash. While ISIS may be one of the most powerful terrorist groups in modern society they are actually failing when it comes to basic necessities. They lack the basic services such as water and electricity. They can not afford to keep up with the soaring prices of essential items. ISIS has a scarcity of vital medications which leads to the spreading of diseases. There are still thousands of civil workers that are employed by ISIS being paid the Iraqi and Syrian government (Saleh 2018).

    ISIS is centrally located in Iraq, they have control over the following countries: Syria, Libya, Egypt (Sinai), Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Algeria, Afghanistan-Pakistan, Lebanon, and Nigeria. This organization controls a significant amount of urban, rural, and desert territory. As of October 2017, ISIS is still in control of over 52,700 square kilometers of territory. This is a substantial decrease from late 2014, when they had control of over 110,000 square kilometers. The major decline of territory under their control comes from the unpopularity of the group and the military action that has been taken against them. The majority of ISIS controlled territory is in Eastern Syria, in additions to pockets of the land located elsewhere in the country. The group has control of nine provinces in Syria: Khayr, Raqqa, Homs, Halab, Idlib, Hamah, Damascus, and Latakia. Since they have formed, ISIS has had control over seven Iraqi provinces: Baghdad, Al Anbar, Diyala, Kirkuk, Salah al-Din, Ninawa, and parts of Babil. A significant amount of the terrorist group’s territory, revenue, population, and prestige come from Iraq and Syria. Since their arrival in Libya, they have been a main source of fighters in the Syrian Civil War and the Iraq Insurgency. In Afghanistan, ISIS had control over the territory near the Pakistan border. Since the spring of 2015, ISIS has lost control of over 87% of the country. In Libya the organization has lost control of almost 100% of its land, only occupying a handful of villages and neighborhoods. ISIS divides Libya into three different provinces Barqa in the east, Fezzan in the desert south, and Tarabulus in the west near the capital. In Egypt, they have control over 910 square kilometers of land that is centered around the village of Sheikh Zuwied. While the members in Libya and Egypt are very active and have tried to carry out attempted terrorist attacks they have not been successful. This is due to the fact that they are able to hold a strong presence of members in these countries. Branches of the group in Algeria and Saudi Arabia do not have a strong presence either and do not seem to be very active. The terrorist control over 6,041 square kilometers of territory in Nigeria. Even though they hold power over a large amount of land the Nigerian government does not acknowledge the group as holding that land. Since 2014, the group has lost over 75% of their land in Nigerian and has fallen back into northeast Borno State (Gulmohamad 2016).

    ISIS uses a propaganda network to get their message across. ISIS uses images and video footage to generate fear. They use social media platforms and anonymous sharing portals to induce panic in people around the world. In 2015, the United States government used countermeasures aimed to hinder the spread of ISIS propaganda online. This includes the deletion of ISIS online content, suspension of their social media accounts, also the U.S. commissioned hacker attacks against the websites used by ISIS. To try to adapt to the countermeasures and keep their information flowing, ISIS moved its propaganda to other online networks such as Twitter and Youtube. They used what are known as, encrypted communication channels, such as Telegrams, Signal, and WhatsApp, as well as anonymous charing portals such as,, and Anonymous sharing platforms play an important roles in ISIS online strategy. They make it easy to share content and keep the user anonymous. Since 2015, ISIS has used social media to frighten enemies and further their gains in Iraq and Syria. Twitter, Youtube, and JustPaste are used by ISIS to conduct information spreading, they also use it for producing and disseminating propaganda videos for potential recruits and to spread its radical views among Muslim youth globally. ISIS uses social media platforms to send out “sound bites”, this allows them to have direct communication with a wider global audience and it gives them a platform that they could not reach if they were attempting to recruit people face-to-face. The videos that they are posting are able to entice those who are vulnerable to their extremist ideology (Shehbat & Mitew 2018).

    The structure of ISIS is product of the organizations ideological evolution and a reflection of what the groups intends for its future. This organization is trying to remake global order. The way ISIS operates is very similar to the states of the system that it is trying to replace. ISIS has an influential central command with ministries. They try to mimic those that would be found in any other state, including education, public services, health security, public relations and agriculture, among others. When they take control over a brand new territory they introduce themselves to the locals in a series of outreach events. They hand out religious pamphlets, delivers sermons, and hosts small group study sessions in acclimate the locals into their interpretation of Islam. ISIS quickly establishes an Islamic court system in the territories that it governs. They are also very quick to highlight the moral foundation of their court systems compared to the corrupt system that it is trying to replace. ISIS model of law enforcement and justice is a very harsh system, however it is considered better than the lawlessness that pervaded the war before hand (Jerreris 2016).

    Work Cited

    1. Curry, Andrew. “Here Are the Ancient Sites ISIS Has Damaged and Destroyed.” National Geographic, National Geographic Society, 27 July 2016,
    2. Saleh, Zainab. “Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria.” Oxford Islamic Studies Online, 2018,
    3. Shehabat , Ahmad, and Teodor Mitew. “Perspective on Terrorism.” JSTOR, Terrorism Research Institute , Feb. 2018,
    4. refreqid=excelsior:b7fb86f33bcf36249e0a1d918c3452d3.
    5. Cassman, Daniel. “The Islamic State.” HOPES Huntington’s Disease Information, Oct. 2017,
    6. Gambhir, Harleen K. “The Strategic Messaging of the Islamic State.” Institue for the Study of War, Backgrounder, Aug. 2014,
    7. Gulmohamad, Zana Khasraw. “The Rise and Fall of the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (Levant) ISIS.” Global Security Studies , Department of Politics , 2016, ISIS AG.pdf.
    8. Jerreris, Jennifer. ISIS Administrative and Territorial Organization. Hansen-Lewis, Janie and Jacob N. Shaprio, 2016,
    9. IEMed_MedYearBook2016_ISIS Administrative Organization_Jeniffer_Jefferis.pdf.

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