Overview

Also known as:

Executive Summary:

ISIS is an extremist group formed from al-Qaeda offshoots in Iraq and Syria. ISIS’s immediate goal is to sustain an Islamic state in Iraq and the Levant, a region consisting of Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Cyprus, and southern Turkey. In the long term goal, ISIS seeks to unite the world under a single caliphate, and the group has already begun to establish roots worldwide. While ISIS’s dreams of a stable global caliphate are unlikely to ever be realized, the group will continue to cause significant damage wherever it is able to gain a foothold. Initially, ISIS gained support within Iraq as a Sunni insurgency group fighting what some Sunni’s viewed as a partisan Shiite-led Iraqi government. Today, the group has flourished as a result of the Syrian civil war, and has recruited up to 31,000 fighters from around the world.“Foreign Fighters: An Updated Assessment of the Flow of Foreign Fighters into Syria and Iraq,” Soufan Group, December 2015, 3, http://soufangroup.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/TSG_ForeignFightersUpdate3.pdf.

Al-Qaeda cut ties with the group in February 2014, reportedly as a result of the group’s wanton slaughter of civilians. As noted in a statement released by al-Qaeda’s General Command, ISIS “is not a branch of the al-Qaeda group… [al-Qaeda] does not have an organizational relationship with [ISIS] and is not the group responsible for their actions.”Liz Sly, “Al-Qaeda Disavows Any Ties with Radical Islamist ISIS Group in Syria, Iraq,” Washington Post, February 3, 2014, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/al-qaeda-disavows-any-ties-with-radical-islamist-isis-group-in-syria-iraq/2014/02/03/2c9afc3a-8cef-11e3-98ab-fe5228217bd1_story.html;
The announcement came months after a power struggle between ISIS and al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch at the time, the Nusra Front. In April 2013, al-Qaeda’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri criticized al-Baghdadi after he unilaterally announced a merger with the Nusra Front and refused to capitulate to al-Zawahiri’s orders.

ISIS has declared wilayat (provinces, governorates) in Iraq, Syria, Egypt,Reuters, “Egypt’s Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis swears allegiance to ISIS: statement,” Al Arabiya November 4, 2014, http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2014/11/04/Egypt-s-Ansar-Bayt-al-Maqdis-swears-allegiance-to-ISIS.html. Libya,Paul Cruickshank, Nic Robertson, Tim Lister and Jomana Karadsheh, “ISIS comes to Libya,” CNN, November 18, 2014, http://www.cnn.com/2014/11/18/world/isis-libya/. Algeria,“Algeria’s al-Qaeda defectors join IS group,” Al Jazeera, September 14, 2014, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/09/algeria-al-qaeda-defectors-join-group-201491412191159416.html. Yemen,Aaron Y. Zelin “The Islamic State’s Model,” Washington Post, January 28, 2015, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2015/01/28/the-islamic-states-model/. Saudi Arabia,Kristin Roberts, “The Coming ISIS Assault on Saudi Arabia Means Awful Things for Washington,” National Journal, May 29, 2015, http://www.nationaljournal.com/defense/saudi-arabia-isis-threat-dammam-suicide-bombing-20150529; Aaron Y. Zelin “The Islamic State’s Model,” Washington Post, January 28, 2015, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2015/01/28/the-islamic-states-model/. Nigeria,Agence France-Presse, “IS welcomes Boko Haram allegiance: tape,” Yahoo News, March 12, 2015, http://news.yahoo.com/accepts-allegiance-nigeria-jihadists-boko-haram-201513146.html. Afghanistan,Bill Roggio, “Pakistani Taliban emir for Bajaur joins Islamic State,” Long War Journal, February 2, 2015, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2015/02/pakistani_taliban_em.php. Pakistan,Bill Roggio, “Pakistani Taliban emir for Bajaur joins Islamic State,” Long War Journal, February 2, 2015, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2015/02/pakistani_taliban_em.php. and the North Caucasus.Harleen Gambhir, “ISIS Declares Governorate in Russia’s North Caucasus Region,” Institute for the Study of War, June 23, 2015, http://understandingwar.org/backgrounder/isis-declares-governorate-russia%E2%80%99s-north-caucasus-region. Beyond this, the terror group attracts considerable sympathy or has waged attacks in Turkey,Zia Weise, “Ankara bombing: Investigation into Turkey's deadliest terrorist attack to be 'completely focused' on Isis,” Independent (London), October 11, 2015, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/ankara-bombing-investigation-into-turkeys-deadliest-terrorist-attack-to-be-completely-focused-on-a6690111.html. Morocco,Associated Press, “Morocco dismantles ISIS recruitment cell,” Al Arabiya, August 14, 2014, http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2014/08/14/Morocco-dismantles-recruitment-cell-for-Iraq.html. Tunisia,Jamel Arfaoui, “Ansar al-Sharia Tunisia spokesman backs ISIS,” All Africa, July 8, 2014, http://magharebia.com/en_GB/articles/awi/features/2014/07/08/feature-01. the Philippines,Maria A. Ressa, “Senior Abu Sayyaf leader swears oath to ISIS,” Rappler, August 4, 2014, http://www.rappler.com/nation/65199-abu-sayyaf-leader-oath-isis. Lebanon,Associated Press, “Hezbollah repels ISIS attack on Lebanon-Syria border,” Fox News, June 9, 2015, http://www.foxnews.com/world/2015/06/09/lebanon-hezbollah-repels-attack-by-is-on-its-positions-on-lebanon-syria-border/. Indonesia,“Bekasi Group Swear Allegiance to ISIS,” Jakarta Post, August 5, 2014, http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2014/08/06/bekasi-group-swear-allegiance-isil.html. and the Palestinian territories.Diaa Hadid and Majd al Waheidi, “ISIS Allies Target Hamas and Energize Gaza Extremists,” New York Times, June 30, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/01/world/isis-allies-target-hamas-and-energize-gaza-extremists.html. ISIS sympathizers have also carried out lone-wolf attacks in a variety of Western countries.

Under its self-proclaimed caliphate, ISIS has already imposed sharia (Islamic law) in some conquered cities, including the group’s de facto capital of Raqqa, Syria. ISIS is well-known for killing civilians en masse, often by public execution and crucifixion.

Al-Qaeda cut ties with the group in February 2014 as a result of the group’s wanton slaughter of civilians and “notorious intractability.” Al-Qaeda’s Emir Ayman al-Zawahiri also disavowed the group as a result of al-Baghdadi’s refusal to operate under al-Qaeda’s umbrella and take orders from al-Zawahiri.Liz Sly, “Al-Qaeda disavows any ties with radical Islamist ISIS group in Syria, Iraq,” Washington Post, February 3, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/al-qaeda-disavows-any-ties-with-radical-islamist-isis-group-in-syria-iraq/2014/02/03/2c9afc3a-8cef-11e3-98ab-fe5228217bd1_story.html.

ISIS funds itself through extortion, robbery, human trafficking, and the highly lucrative oil industry. However, ISIS lost approximately $500 million in income between 2014 and 2015 due loss of territory and military setbacks amid sustained coalition airstrikes.Jose Pagliery, “ISIS is struggling to fund its war machine,” CNN Money, April 21, 2016, http://money.cnn.com/2016/04/21/news/isis-financing-oil-tax-war/; “ISIS Financing,” Center for the Analysis of Terrorism, May 2016, 1, 20, http://cat-int.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/ISIS-Financing-2015-Report.pdf.

To curb the group’s advances, Iran has deployed its Revolutionary Guards, helping Iraqi troops reclaim the city of Tikrit from ISIS. Separately, a U.S.-led coalition is supporting the Iraqi air force by conducting airstrikes against ISIS in the region. On February 11, 2015, the Obama administration sent Congress a request for an authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) against ISIS. Per a report from NBC News, “The broad outline sent to Capitol Hill prohibits ‘enduring offensive ground forces’ and limits engagement to three years.”Carrie Dann, Andrea Mitchell, and Frank Thorp, “Obama’s ISIS War Powers Request Heads to Congress,” NBC News, February 11, 2015, http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/isis-terror/obamas-isis-war-powers-request-heads-congress-n304316. Calls for U.S. combat troops to engage ISIS directly have so far been unanswered, although a small contingent of forces has been deployed in an advisory capacity.

Doctrine:

ISIS’s overarching belief centers on the reestablishment of an Islamic caliphate.Andrew F. March and Mara Revkin, “Caliphate of Law: ISIS’ Ground Rules,” Foreign Affairs, April 15, 2015, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/syria/2015-04-15/caliphate-law. Unlike al-Qaeda, which views a global caliphate as a long-term goal, ISIS sees the establishment and growth of the caliphate as its proximate objective. Since its official founding in June 2014, this doctrinal commitment has translated into a (successful) quest for territory across Iraq and Syria.

In his June 2014 speech announcing the creation of the caliphate, ISIS spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani declared that “Without the [the caliphate], authority becomes nothing more than kingship, dominance and rule, accompanied with destruction, corruption, oppression, subjugation, fear, and the decadence of the human being and his descent to the level of animals.”“This is the promise of Allah,” Alhayat Media, June 29, 2014, https://ia902505.us.archive.org/28/items/poa_25984/EN.pdf;
“ISIS Spokesman Declares Caliphate, Rebrands Group as ‘Islamic State,’” SITE Intelligence, June 24, 2014, https://news.siteintelgroup.com/Jihadist-News/isis-spokesman-declares-caliphate-rebrands-group-as-islamic-state.html.

On the front cover of Issue One of ISIS’s in-house publication, the title “The Return of Khilafah” is superimposed over an image of the Arabian Peninsula, literally illustrating the group’s number one priority.Dabiq, September 2014, http://media.clarionproject.org/files/09-2014/isis-isil-islamic-state-magazine-Issue-1-the-return-of-khilafah.pdf. Its slogan, baqiya wa tatamaddad (remaining and expanding), similarly underscores the point.Aaron Y. Zelin, “Colonial Caliphate: The Ambitions of the ‘Islamic State,’ Washington Institute of Near East Policy, July 8, 2014, http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/colonial-caliphate-the-ambitions-of-the-islamic-state.

ISIS’s self-proclaimed caliphate cannot function without a caliph, the key figurehead. That role is reserved for Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, whose so-called legitimacy is likewise established in ISIS’s doctrine.Andrew F. March and Mara Revkin, “Caliphate of Law: ISIS’ Ground Rules,” Foreign Affairs, April 15, 2015, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/syria/2015-04-15/caliphate-law. ISIS asserts that al-Baghdadi is a member of the Islamic prophet Muhammad’s Quraysh tribe, “one of the key qualifications in Islamic history for becoming the caliph.”Aaron Y. Zelin, “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi: Islamic State’s driving force,” BBC, July 31, 2014, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-28560449. In his “inaugural speech” launching the Islamic State on June 29, 2014, al-Baghdadi expanded further on the significance of the caliphate. Most important, he claimed, was that all Muslims must submit and pledge allegiance (bay’a) to the caliphate.“ISIS Spokesman Declares Caliphate, Rebrands Group as ‘Islamic State,’” SITE, June 29, 2014, https://news.siteintelgroup.com/Jihadist-News/isis-spokesman-declares-caliphate-rebrands-group-as-islamic-state.html.

Underpinning the allegiance to the caliphate, ISIS adheres to a literalist interpretation of Sunni Islam, specifically embracing beliefs according to an extremist Salafi vision.Hassan Hassan, “Isis: a portrait of the menace that is sweeping my homeland,” Guardian (London), August 16, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/16/isis-salafi-menace-jihadist-homeland-syria. Salafis believe that Islam has been tainted by centuries of human revision and interpretation. They call for a reversion to the practices and beliefs of the salaf, the first few generations of Muslims immediately following the Prophet. Salafism under the Gulf monarchies tends to non-violent “quietism” that mainly translate into an acceptance of the established order. ISIS also seeks a return to the days of the salaf but is explicitly willing to use violence to achieve it. This willingness is based on the conviction that violence is divinely ordained.Ed Husain, “Saudis Must Stop Exporting Extremism,” New York Times, August 22, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/23/opinion/isis-atrocities-started-with-saudi-support-for-salafi-hate.html.

ISIS supplements its Salafist world-view with a belief in the revival of takfirist practices. As a Salafi-Takfiri group, the “enemies of Islam” may be Muslim too. Thus, according to ISIS doctrine, almost 200 million Shiite Muslims, as well as Sufis, Yazidis, Ba’hai, are all apostates and deserving of death.

Not content with a full restoration of a caliphate embracing the purest form of seventh-century Islamic jurisprudence, ISIS also appears to cleave to a form of millenarianism with the ultimate hope of “bringing about the apocalypse,” according to journalist Graeme Wood.Graeme Wood, “What ISIS Really Wants,” Atlantic, March 2015, http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2015/02/what-isis-really-wants/384980/. According to Wood, ISIS “follows a distinctive variety of Islam whose beliefs about the path to the Day of Judgment matter to its strategy.”Graeme Wood, “What ISIS Really Wants,” Atlantic, March 2015, http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2015/02/what-isis-really-wants/384980/.

ISIS frequently refers to the apocalypse in its various recruitment materials. It is significant that the title of ISIS’s official English-language magazine, “Dabiq,” is an area of northern Syria surrounding the Aleppo countryside. According to the first article of the first issue, Dabiq “was mentioned in a hadith describing some of the events of the Malahim (what is sometimes referred to as Armageddon in English).” The article asserts that “[o]ne of the greatest battles between the Muslims and the crusaders will take place near Dabiq.” Bin-laden, former head of al-Qaeda, by contrast, “rarely mentioned the apocalypse, and when he did, he seemed to presume that he would be long dead when the glorious moment of divine comeuppance finally arrived.”Graeme Wood, “What ISIS Really Wants,” Atlantic, March 2015, http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2015/02/what-isis-really-wants/384980/.

ISIS: Expansionism relations with other extremist groups

ISIS’s immediate goal is to establish a caliphate throughout Iraq and Bilad al-Sham (“the Levant” or “Greater Syria”). Its long-term objective is to expand the caliphate across the world, with primary focus on regions formerly under Islamic control, including the Iberian peninsula (“al-Andalus”) and large parts of central and southern Asia (“Khurasan”).Jack Morre, “Isis Master Plan Revealed: Islamic ‘Caliphate’ Will Rule Spain, China and the Balkans,” International Business Times, September 3, 2014, http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/isis-master-plan-revealed-islamic-caliphate-will-rule-spain-china-balkans-1463782.

ISIS is an outgrowth of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) which expanded its operations into Syria. Until February 2014, ISIS was a formal affiliate of al-Qaeda’s central command. However, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri cut ties with ISIS due to the group’s repeated attempts to subsume al-Qaeda’s former Syrian affiliate, the Nusra Front, under its command.Thomas Joscelyn, “Al Qaeda’s General Command Disowns the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham,” Long War Journal, February 3, 2014, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2014/02/al_qaedas_general_co.php.

Despite losing its formal alliance with al-Qaeda, ISIS has the same ideology and goals and uses the same brutal tactics as its former mother organization. In an attempt to defeat rival opposition groups, ISIS has conducted suicide-bombing attacks against rebel bases and has beheaded members of other fighting battalions.Wladimir Van Wilgenburg, “ISIS Suicide Attacks Target Syrian Kurdish Capital,” Al Monitor, March 13, 2014, http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/03/isis-attacks-kurdish-capital.html.

Organizational Structure:

ISIS is led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, its emir (commander, chieftain, or prince), whom the group proclaimed caliph of ISIS’s self-declared Islamic State in June 2014.“ISIS Spokesman Declares Caliphate, Rebrands Group as ‘Islamic State,’” SITE Institute, June 29, 2014, https://news.siteintelgroup.com/Jihadist-News/isis-spokesman-declares-caliphate-rebrands-group-as-islamic-state.html. Beneath al-Baghdadi are two chief deputies, overseeing ISIS territory in Syria and Iraq, respectively.Nick Thompson and Atika Shubert, “The anatomy of ISIS: How the Islamic State is run, from oil to beheadings,” CNN, January 14, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2014/09/18/world/meast/isis-syria-iraq-hierarchy/. The two territories are separated to make administration easier.Nick Thompson and Atika Shubert, “The anatomy of ISIS: How the ‘Islamic State’ is run, from oil to beheadings,” CNN, January 14, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2014/09/18/world/meast/isis-syria-iraq-hierarchy/. These two deputies, al-Baghdadi, and his cabinet if advisors are reported to comprise ISIS’s executive branch, called “Al Imara” or “The Emirate.”Jared Day, “The inner workings of ISIS revealed,” Examiner, September 9, 2014, http://www.examiner.com/article/the-inner-workings-of-isis-revealed.

Also directly underneath al-Baghdadi, but not part of the executive branch, are ISIS’s legislative councils, the Shura Council and Shariah Council. The nine-member Shura Council is responsible for making sure lower councils adhere to ISIS’s religious doctrine.Nick Thompson and Atika Shubert, “The anatomy of ISIS: How the ‘Islamic State’ is run, from oil to beheadings,” CNN, January 14, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2014/09/18/world/meast/isis-syria-iraq-hierarchy/. It is also responsible for relaying al-Baghdadi’s orders through the rest of the organization.Richard Barrett, “The Islamic State,” Soufan Group, November 2014, 6, http://soufangroup.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/TSG-The-Islamic-State-Nov14.pdf. According to Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium analyst Jasmine Opperman,the council approves lower council decisions that impact the caliphate. It also has the authority to force al-Baghdadi to step down if he deviates from ISIS doctrine.Nick Thompson and Atika Shubert, “The anatomy of ISIS: How the ‘Islamic State’ is run, from oil to beheadings,” CNN, January 14, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2014/09/18/world/meast/isis-syria-iraq-hierarchy/.

ISIS’s six-member Shariah Council is the group’s “most powerful” body, according to Richard Bennett of the Soufan Group. It is responsible for enforcing its interpretation of sharia (Islamic law) within ISIS’s territory, as well as selecting the caliph.Richard Bennet, “The Islamic State,” Soufan Group, November 2014, 30, http://soufangroup.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/TSG-The-Islamic-State-Nov14.pdf;
Adam Taylor, “Charting the murky leadership structure of the Islamic State,” Washington Post, October 30, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2014/10/30/charting-the-murky-leadership-structure-of-the-islamic-state/.
When ISIS conquers new territory, the group’s Shariah Council is responsible for creating a sharia police force and courts to enforce its interpretation of Islamic law.Richard Barrett, “The Islamic State,” Soufan Group, November 2014, 30, http://soufangroup.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/TSG-The-Islamic-State-Nov14.pdf.

According to a January 2015 report by CNN, al-Baghdadi’s two deputies each oversee 12 governors in their respective territories in Iraq and Syria. The deputies also oversee ministry-like councils that are responsible for day-to-day functions:Nick Thompson and Atika Shubert, “The anatomy of ISIS: How the ‘Islamic State’ is run, from oil to beheadings,” CNN, January 14, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2014/09/18/world/meast/isis-syria-iraq-hierarchy/; Jason Bellini and Reem Makhoul, “The Islamic State: How Its leadership Is Organized,” Wall Street Journal, September 9, 2014, http://blogs.wsj.com/briefly/2014/09/09/the-islamic-state-how-its-leadership-is-organized-the-short-answer/.

  • Financial Council: ISIS’s treasury, which oversees oil and weapons sales and other revenue.
  • Leadership Council: responsible for the organization’s laws and policies. The council’s decisions are approved by al-Baghdadi. The council also has the authority to depose al-Baghdadi if he strays from ISIS’s ideology.
  • Military Council: responsible for the organization’s military operations.
  • Legal Council: responsible for decisions on executions and recruitment. It also handles family disputes and religious transgressions.
  • Fighters Assistance Council: responsible for providing aid and housing to foreign fighters who come to ISIS’s territory, including moving them into and out of the territory.
  • Security Council: responsible for police and security oversight of ISIS’s territory. It also carries out executions.
  • Intelligence Council: ISIS’s intelligence-gathering wing.
  • Media Council: manages ISIS’s media strategy, including social media.

In addition to governing bodies, ISIS’s spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani is reported to oversee a secret service wing. This wing, referred to as the Emni, reportedly serves as both an internal police and external operations unit, whose members seek to export terror abroad. According to an August 2016 report by the New York Times, multiple lieutenants who report to al-Adnani are responsible for planning attacks in three distinct target regions: Europe, Asia, and the Arab world.Rukmini Callimachi, “How a Secretive Branch of ISIS Built a Global Network of Killers,” New York Times, August 3, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/04/world/middleeast/isis-german-recruit-interview.html?_r=0. The unit is reportedly responsible for deploying operatives back into Europe, for the purpose of connecting with local ISIS sympathizers and plotting domestic attacks.Rukmini Callimachi, “How a Secretive Branch of ISIS Built a Global Network of Killers,” New York Times, August 3, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/04/world/middleeast/isis-german-recruit-interview.html?_r=0.

Wilayat:

ISIS controls wilayats (provinces) in Syria and Iraq including in Raqqa, Idlib, and Hama in Syria, and Ninawa, Kirkuk, and Anbar in Iraq.Bill Roggio, “ISIS’ ‘Southern Division’ Praises Foreign Suicide Bombers,” Foundation for Defense of Democracies, April 9, 2014, http://www.defenddemocracy.org/media-hit/bill-roggio-isis-southern-division-praises-foreign-suicide-bombers/. The terror group also controls provinces across the Middle East and Africa. These provinces begin as local jihadist groups which then pledge allegiance to ISIS’s caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Before accepting a pledge of allegiance and forming a new wilayat, ISIS must receive a proposal detailing the group’s military and governance strategy, as well as identifying a collectively chosen leader. Issue 7 of ISIS’s Dabiq magazine describes the process in detail:

“This [approval] process includes documenting their bay’āt [pledge of allegiance], unifying the jamā’āt [assembly] who have given bay’ah, holding consultations to nominate a wālī [governor] and members for the regional shūrā assembly, planning a strategy to achieve consolidation in their region for the Khilāfah [caliphate] so as to implement the Sharī’ah [Islamic law], and presenting all this to the Islamic State leadership for approval.”“From Hypocrisy to Apostacy: The Extinction of the Grayzone,” DABIQ, accessed November 12, 2015, 35, http://media.clarionproject.org/files/islamic-state/islamic-state-dabiq-magazine-issue-7-from-hypocrisy-to-apostasy.pdf.

Below is a list of official wilayat outside of Syria and Iraq:

Afghanistan and Pakistan: Wilayat Khorasan

Jihadists in Afghanistan and Pakistan pledged allegiance to ISIS in November 2014. ISIS accepted the pledge in January 2015, officially forming Wilayat Khorasan, and appointed former Pakistani Taliban commander Hafiz Said Khan as leader.“Islamic State moves in on al-Qaeda turf,” BBC News, June 25, 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-31064300. A U.N. report alleges 70 ISIS militants traveled from Iraq and Syria to Afghanistan to form the core of the new Wilayat.Agence France-Presse, “Islamic State gaining ground in Afghanistan: UN,” Yahoo News, September 25, 2015, https://news.yahoo.com/islamic-state-gaining-ground-afghanistan-un-235952988.html. Other members include former Taliban insurgents and dozens of foreign fighters.Surkh Dewal, “Exclusive: In turf war with Afghan Taliban, Islamic State loyalists gain ground,” Reuters, June 29, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/06/29/us-afghanistan-islamic-state-idUSKCN0P91EN20150629#O2dDId6xEYbsFZM0.97. In August 2015, the Afghanistan-based jihadist group Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) pledged allegiance to ISIS and was subsumed into Wilayat Khorasan.Merhat Sharipzhan, “IMU Declares It Is Now Part Of The Islamic State,” Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, August 6, 2015, http://www.rferl.org/content/imu-islamic-state/27174567.html.

Wilayat Khorasan claimed its first attack on Afghan forces in September 2015 when it killed three policemen at a checkpoint in eastern Afghanistan.Rahim Faiez and Lynne O’Donnel, “IS loyalists kill 3 police in first attack on Afghan forces,” Associated Press, September 27, 2015, http://bigstory.ap.org/article/4407127095a4444ab25ac5d71dc86b9d/afghan-official-islamic-state-fighters-kill-3-police.

Algeria: Wilayat al-Jazair

In 2014, ISIS accepted the pledge of allegiance from Algeria-based terrorist group Jund al-Khilafah, and announced that the establishment of an Algerian governate, Wilayat al-Jazair.Nathaniel Barr, “f at First You Don’t Succeed, Try Deception: The Islamic State’s Expansion Efforts in Algeria,” Terrorism Monitor 13, no. 22, http://www.jamestown.org/single/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=44595&tx_ttnews%5BbackPid%5D=7&cHash=0c1f99764a132dde0b33631ba9b49095#.VmhXN7grLIU; Aaron Y. Zelin, “The Islamic State’s model,” Washington Post, January 28, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2015/01/28/the-islamic-states-model/. By December 2014, however, Wilayat al-Jazair leader Abd al-Malik Guri (a.k.a. Khalid Abu Sulayman) was killed by the Algerian military.

Wilayat al-Jazair is credited with the September 24, 2014, beheading of French tourist Hervé Gourdel but has been minimally active there in the months since. On October 21, 2015, Wilayat al-Jazair released an audio statement attempting to reassure its supporters that ISIS’s presence in Algeria was secure. During the same statement, however, an ISIS militant urged fighters not to risk their lives unnecessarily, appearing to indicate the underlying vulnerability of ISIS’s Algerian governate.Nathaniel Barr, “f at First You Don’t Succeed, Try Deception: The Islamic State’s Expansion Efforts in Algeria,” Terrorism Monitor 13, no. 22, http://www.jamestown.org/single/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=44595&tx_ttnews%5BbackPid%5D=7&cHash=0c1f99764a132dde0b33631ba9b49095#.VmhXN7grLIU.

Egypt: Wilayat Sinai

In November 2014, Egypt’s Ansar Beit al-Maqdis—a jihadist group based in the Sinai Peninsula—pledged allegiance to ISIS and became Wilayat Sinai, ISIS’s Sinai province. The group grew amid the chaos of Egypt’s 2011 revolution, and is known for killing hundreds of Egyptian soldiers and police officers.David D. Kirkpatrick, “Militant Group in Egypt Vows Loyalty to ISIS,” New York Times, November 10, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/11/world/middleeast/egyptian-militant-group-pledges-loyalty-to-isis.html?_r=2. Since its pledge of allegiance, Wilayat Sinai has claimed responsibility for an attack on an Egyptian vesselDoug Bolton, “Isis claims responsibility for rocket attack against Egyptian navy ship in Mediterranean Sea,” Independent (London), July 17, 2015, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/isis-claims-responsibility-for-a-rocket-attack-against-an-egyptian-navy-ship-in-the-mediterranean-sea-10394112.html. and the downing of a Russian airliner over the Sinai that killed all 224 people on board.Barbara Starr and Catherine E. Schoichet, “Russian plane crash: U.S. intel suggests ISIS bomb brought down jet,” CNN, November 4, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/11/04/africa/russian-plane-crash-egypt-sinai/; “Russian plane crash: investigation into cause begins – as it happened,” Guardian (London), last modified November 2, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2015/oct/31/russian-passenger-plane-crashes-in-egypts-sinai-live.

Libya: Wilayat al-Tarabulus, al-Barqa, and al-Fezza

ISIS caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced the creation of Libya’s Wilayat in November 2014.Dougal Ernst, “Islamic State takes Libyan city; 100K under terror group’s control as chaos spreads,” Washington Times, November 18, 2014, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/nov/18/islamic-state-takes-libyan-city-100k-under-terror-/. Since then, ISIS in Libya has divided its control into three provinces: Wilayat al-Tarabulus (a.k.a. Wilayat Tripolitania) in the west, Wilayat Barqa in the east, and Wilayat Fezza in the south.Tim Lister, “ISIS atrocity in Libya demonstrates its growing reach in North Africa,” CNN, February 17, 2015, http://edition.cnn.com/2015/02/16/africa/isis-libya-north-africa/. In January 2015, Wilayat al-Tarabulus attacked the five-star Corinthia hotel in Tripoli, killing nine people including five foreign nationals.Jack Moore, “ISIS Attack on Tripoli Hotel Opens New Front Against West,” Newsweek, January 27, 2015, http://www.newsweek.com/isis-attack-tripoli-hotel-opens-new-front-against-west-302567. The U.S. Department of State designated ISIS’s Libya branch as a Foreign Terrorist Organization and a Specially Designated Global Terrorist in May 2016. “Terrorist Designations of ISIL-Yemen, ISIL-Saudi Arabia, and ISIL-Libya,” U.S. Department of State, May 19, 2016, http://m.state.gov/md257388.htm.

ISIS’s roots in Libya can be traced back to the spring of 2014, when a group of Libyans fighting for ISIS in Syria and Iraq—the “Battle Brigade—returned to Libya and established the Islamic Youth Shura Council, which then pledged allegiance to ISIS.Frederic Wehrey and Ala’ Alrababa’h, “Rising Out of Chaos: The Islamic State in Libya,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, March 5, 2015, http://carnegieendowment.org/syriaincrisis/?fa=59268.

Nigeria: Wilayat Gharb Ifriqiyya

ISIS accepted Nigerian-based terror group Boko Haram’s pledge of allegiance in March 2015.Agence France-Presse, “IS welcomes Boko Haram allegiance: tape,” Yahoo News, March 12, 2015, http://news.yahoo.com/accepts-allegiance-nigeria-jihadists-boko-haram-201513146.html. Boko Haram, now called Wilayat Gharb Ifriqiyaa (West Africa Province) has waged an insurgency to impose sharia in northern Nigeria since 2009, resulting in the death of approximately 4,000 civilians in 2015 alone.“Boko Haram death toll escalates,” eNCA, October 1, 2015, https://www.enca.com/africa/boko-haram-death-toll-escalates. Its leader is Abubakar Shekau.Helen Nianias, “Abubakar Shekau and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi: What unites the Islamic extremist Boko Haram and Isis leaders?,” Independent (London), March 9, 2015, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/abubakar-shekau-and-abu-bakr-al-baghdadi-what-unites-the-islamic-extremist-boko-haram-and-isis-10095802.html.

North Caucasus: Wilayat Qawqaz

In June 2015, ISIS announced the creation of a governate in Russia’s North Caucasus, after months of garnering support in the region. The governate is reportedly comprised of former al-Qaeda militants in the region who pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in the months leading up to the announcement.Alessandria Masi, “How Russian Militants Declared A New ISIS ‘State’ In Russia’s North Caucasus,” International Business Times, June 26, 2015, http://www.ibtimes.com/how-russian-militants-declared-new-isis-state-russias-north-caucasus-1984613.

Saudi Arabia: Wilayat al-Haramayn

ISIS declared a governate in Saudi Arabia in November 2014.Landon Shroder, “Saudi Arabia Has a Big Islamic State Problem,” VICE News, July 31, 2015, https://news.vice.com/article/saudi-arabia-has-a-big-islamic-state-problem. Since then, ISIS has been involved in a number of attacks in Saudi Arabia, including the November 2014 targeting of a Shiite shrine in al-Dalwa village, the November 22, 2015, shooting of a Danish resident in Riyadh, and a thwarted multiple car bombing attack east of Riyadh in April 2015.Orlando Crowcroft, “Isis: Who is behind the Islamic State's latest franchise in war torn Yemen?” International Business Times, April 27, 2015, http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/isis-who-behind-islamic-states-latest-franchise-war-torn-yemen-1498532;
Lazaro Gamio, Bonnie Berkowitz, and Denise Lu, “What a year of Islamic State terror looks like,” Washington Post, last modified November 15, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/world/islamic-state-attacks/.
The U.S. Department of State designated ISIS’s Saudi branch as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist in May 2016. “Terrorist Designations of ISIL-Yemen, ISIL-Saudi Arabia, and ISIL-Libya,” U.S. Department of State, May 19, 2016, http://m.state.gov/md257388.htm.

Yemen: Wilayat Sana’a

A self-proclaimed ISIS affiliate, calling itself “Wilayat Sana’a” claimed responsibility for a deadly mosque bombing in Yemen in March 2015, in which 137 people were killed.Orlando Crowcroft, “Isis: Who is behind the Islamic State's latest franchise in war torn Yemen?” International Business Times, April 27, 2015, http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/isis-who-behind-islamic-states-latest-franchise-war-torn-yemen-1498532; Lazaro Gamio, Bonnie Berkowitz, and Denise Lu, “What a year of Islamic State terror looks like,” Washington Post, last modified November 15, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/world/islamic-state-attacks/. In late April 2015, the group formally announced itself as an ISIS governate. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi confirmed the group’s status as a governate in November 2015.Orlando Crowcroft, “Isis: Who is behind the Islamic State's latest franchise in war torn Yemen?” International Business Times, April 27, 2015, http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/isis-who-behind-islamic-states-latest-franchise-war-torn-yemen-1498532; Lazaro Gamio, Bonnie Berkowitz, and Denise Lu, “What a year of Islamic State terror looks like,” Washington Post, last modified November 15, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/world/islamic-state-attacks/. The U.S. Department of State designated ISIS’s Yemeni branch as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist in May 2016. “Terrorist Designations of ISIL-Yemen, ISIL-Saudi Arabia, and ISIL-Libya,” U.S. Department of State, May 19, 2016, http://m.state.gov/md257388.htm.

Financing:

ISIS is believed to be the richest terrorist organization in the world.Terrence McCoy, “ISIS just stole $425 million, Iraqi governor says, and became the ‘world’s richest terrorist group’,” Washington Post, June 12, 2014, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/06/12/isis-just-stole-425-million-and-became-the-worlds-richest-terrorist-group/;
Robert Windrem, “ISIS Is the World's Richest Terror Group, But Spending Money Fast,” NBC News, March 20, 2015, http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/isis-uncovered/isis-richest-terror-group-world-n326781.
Months after the caliphate’s formation in June 2014, analysts estimated the group’s assets to be between $1.3–2 billion, with a daily income of $3 million.Mathew Levitt, “Terrorist Financing and the Islamic State,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, November 13, 2014, 2, http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/uploads/Documents/testimony/LevittTestimony20141113.pdf;
Martin Chulov, “How an arrest in Iraq revealed Isis's $2bn jihadist network,” Guardian (London), June 15, 2014, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/15/iraq-isis-arrest-jihadists-wealth-power.
Since then, coalition airstrikes, military setbacks, and loss of territory have dampened the group’s profits.Mathew Levitt, “Terrorist Financing and the Islamic State,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, November 13, 2014, 2, http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/uploads/Documents/testimony/LevittTestimony20141113.pdf;
Avaneesh Pandey, “ISIS Income Plummets As Oil Revenue, Tax Base Dwindle,” International Business Times, April 18, 2016, http://www.ibtimes.com/isis-income-plummets-oil-revenue-tax-base-dwindle-2355291;
“ISIS Financing,” Center for the Analysis of Terrorism, May 2016, 1, 20, http://cat-int.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/ISIS-Financing-2015-Report.pdf.
ISIS’s annual revenue reportedly fell from $2.9 billion in 2014 to $2.4 billion in 2015, according to the European think tank Center for the Analysis of Terrorism.“ISIS Financing,” Center for the Analysis of Terrorism, May 2016, 1, 20, http://cat-int.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/ISIS-Financing-2015-Report.pdf.

ISIS also reportedly fills its coffers through extortion, including from bank looting, taxation, and kidnapping for ransom.Jose Pagliery, “Inside the $2 billion ISIS war machine,” CNN Money, December 11, 2015, http://money.cnn.com/2015/12/06/news/isis-funding/.

The group has also collected profit from the sale of women and children as sex slaves.Mat Wolf and Shira Rubin, “How to Buy a Slave Girl From ISIS,” Daily Beast, September 3, 2015, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/09/03/the-isis-slave-girl-buyback-schemes.html. In 2014, ISIS made a minimum of $25 million in ransom payments, although that figure is believed to be much higher.Mike Bird, “3 Big Sources Of Revenue Help ISIS Make Millions Each Day,” Business Insider, December 4, 2014, http://www.businessinsider.com/isis-islam-terrorist-makes-millions-2014-12#ixzz3RYWZ1VRb. As of December 2015, ISIS was estimated to make up to $45 million annually through kidnapping ransoms, and more than $360 million annually from tax collection.Jose Pagliery, “Inside the $2 billion ISIS war machine,” CNN Money, December 11, 2015, http://money.cnn.com/2015/12/06/news/isis-funding/.

In addition, ISIS has illegally exported valuable antiquities from Iraq and Syria to Turkey.Associated Press, “Islamic State group earning more than $3 million per day,” PBS NewsHour, September 14, 2014, http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/islamic-state-group-earning-3-million-per-day/. In May 2015, the United Nations estimated that ISIS earned as much as $100 million annually from the illegal sale of antiquities looted from captured territories.Rick Gladstone, “U.N. Resolves to Combat Plundering of Antiquities by ISIS,” New York Times, May 28, 2015, http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Middle-East/2015/Jun-07/300970-al-qaeda-claims-2-algerian-attacks.ashx. Professor Michael Danti of Boston University noted that Islamic law specifies “exactly what to do with antiquities when you find them. You sell them and 20% of the profits goes as a tax.”Orlando Crowcroft, “Isis: Islamic State’s war on history and the multimillion dollar global antiquities trade,” International Business Times, April 13, 2015, http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/isis-islamic-states-war-history-multimillion-dollar-global-antiquities-trade-1496177. The United Nations has condemned ISIS’s antiquities looting as “a form of violent extremism that seeks to destroy the present, past and future of human civilization.”Rick Gladstone, “U.N. Resolves to Combat Plundering of Antiquities by ISIS,” New York Times, May 28, 2015, http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Middle-East/2015/Jun-07/300970-al-qaeda-claims-2-algerian-attacks.ashx.

The group also attracts donations from terrorist sympathizers worldwide. Wealthy individuals in the Gulf reportedly provided funding that helped to launch ISIS and other jihadist groups amid the turmoil of the Syrian civil war.Robert Windrem, “Who's Funding ISIS? Wealthy Gulf 'Angel Investors,' Officials Say,” NBC News, September 21, 2014, http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/isis-terror/whos-funding-isis-wealthy-gulf-angel-investors-officials-say-n208006. For example, U.S.-designated Qatari national ‘Abd al-Rahman bin ‘Umayr al-Nu’aymi provided significant financial support to al-Qaeda in Iraq, ISIS’s forerunner, according to the U.S. Treasury.“Treasury Designates Al-Qa’ida Supporters in Qatar and Yemen,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, December 19, 2013, http://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/jl2249.aspx. Beyond that, ISIS uses its extensive presence on social media platforms to solicit both small- and large-scale donations.Justin Sink, “ISIS rakes in donations on Twitter,” Hill, October 23, 2014, http://thehill.com/policy/defense/221666-isis-rakes-in-donations-on-twitter.

Analysists have projected that ISIS’s finances will continue to fall throughout 2016 due to further loss of land and military setbacks.Jose Pagliery, “ISIS is struggling to fund its war machine,” CNN Money, April 21, 2016, http://money.cnn.com/2016/04/21/news/isis-financing-oil-tax-war/; “ISIS Financing,” Center for the Analysis of Terrorism, May 2016, 1, http://cat-int.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/ISIS-Financing-2015-Report.pdf.

For years, ISIS has controlled oil fields in its strongholds of eastern Syria and northern Iraq. Here, ISIS has smuggled crude oil by truck in exchange for cash and refined petroleum.Luay al-Khatteeb, “How Iraq’s black market in oil funds ISIS,” CNN, August 22, 2014, http://edition.cnn.com/2014/08/18/business/al-khatteeb-isis-oil-iraq/index.html. In the past, customers have reportedly included not only ISIS sympathizers, but those who formally oppose ISIS, including the Turkish and Syrian governments.John Defterios, “ISIS’ struggle to control its oil riches,” CNN, September 4, 2014, http://edition.cnn.com/2014/09/03/business/defterios-oil-isis/index.html?hpt=ibu_c2. For financial purposes, the group also continues to target for seizure key infrastructure, including factories and power plants.Glen Carey, Mahmoud Habboush and Gregory Viscusi, “Financing Jihad: Why ISIL Is a Lot Richer Than Al-Qaeda,” Bloomberg, June 26, 2014, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/print/2014-06-26/looted-banks-fund-iraq-fighters-eyeing-wealth-al-qaeda-never-had.html. ISIS’s exploitation of the energy assets under its control is hamstrung by maintenance needs, which it reportedly addresses by intimidating on-site engineers.John Defterios, “ISIS’ struggle to control its oil riches,” CNN, September 4, 2014, http://edition.cnn.com/2014/09/03/business/defterios-oil-isis/index.html?hpt=ibu_c2.

While ISIS’s destruction of antiquities has grabbed worldwide attention, the group does not wantonly destroy everything it finds. Authorities are uncertain to whom ISIS is selling antiquities but they believe ISIS earns as much as $100 million a month from the illegal sale of antiquities looted from captured territories, predominantly in northern Iraq.Rick Gladstone, “U.N. Resolves to Combat Plundering of Antiquities by ISIS,” New York Times, May 28, 2015, http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Middle-East/2015/Jun-07/300970-al-qaeda-claims-2-algerian-attacks.ashx. The United Nations has condemned ISIS’s antiquities looting as “a form of violent extremism that seeks to destroy the present, past and future of human civilization.”Rick Gladstone, “U.N. Resolves to Combat Plundering of Antiquities by ISIS,” New York Times, May 28, 2015, http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Middle-East/2015/Jun-07/300970-al-qaeda-claims-2-algerian-attacks.ashx. ISIS’s destruction of ancient artifacts is calculated, and not random, according to Michael Danti of Boston University.Orlando Crowcroft, “Isis: Islamic State’s war on history and the multimillion dollar global antiquities trade,” International Business Times, April 13, 2015, http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/isis-islamic-states-war-history-multimillion-dollar-global-antiquities-trade-1496177. Danti believes ISIS receives instruction from sharia court judges to destroy larger idols that are too big to carry and sell the rest on the black market.Orlando Crowcroft, “Isis: Islamic State’s war on history and the multimillion dollar global antiquities trade,” International Business Times, April 13, 2015, http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/isis-islamic-states-war-history-multimillion-dollar-global-antiquities-trade-1496177. He notes that Islamic law specifies “exactly what to do with antiquities when you find them. You sell them and 20% of the profits goes as a tax.”Orlando Crowcroft, “Isis: Islamic State’s war on history and the multimillion dollar global antiquities trade,” International Business Times, April 13, 2015, http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/isis-islamic-states-war-history-multimillion-dollar-global-antiquities-trade-1496177.

Recruitment and Training:

Online/Digital Recruitment

Since its inception, ISIS has maintained a powerful online media campaign aimed at recruiting members internationally.“ISIS recruits fighters through powerful online campaign,” CBS News, August 29, 2014, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/isis-uses-social-media-to-recruit-western-allies/. According to national security pundit John Little, ISIS “launched [its] offensive with a… media campaign well planned in advance. [The campaign] wasn’t an afterthought.”Alexander Trowbridge, “Jihadist on the move in Iraq with weapons, hashtags,” CBS News, June 16, 2014, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/isis-jihadists-on-move-in-iraq-using-weapons-and-twitter-hashtags/. Recruitment methods include slickly produced videos,“Al-Hayat Media Center,” Jihadology, accessed December 17, 2014, http://jihadology.net/category/al-%E1%B8%A5ayat-media-center/. an online magazine,“The Islamic State’s (ISIS, ISIL) Magazine,” Clarion Project, September 10, 2014, http://www.clarionproject.org/news/islamic-state-isis-isil-propaganda-magazine-dabiq. and the use of social media outlets.Alessandria Masi, “ISIS Twitter, Facebook account: James Foley video highlights disturbing, but effective recruitment campaign,” International Business Times, August 20, 2014, http://www.ibtimes.com/isis-twitter-facebook-account-james-foley-video-highlights-disturbing-effective-1660544.

ISIS’s Al-Hayat Media Center is responsible for much of the group’s marketing and recruitment. The center’s explicit goal is to “convey the message of the Islamic State in different languages with the aim of unifying Muslims under one flag.”Alessandria Masi, “ISIS Twitter, Facebook account: James Foley video highlights disturbing, but effective recruitment campaign,” International Business Times, August 20, 2014, http://www.ibtimes.com/isis-twitter-facebook-account-james-foley-video-highlights-disturbing-effective-1660544. In addition to pursuing fighters, recruiters seek to attract doctors, accountants, engineers, and wives, in the interest of building a “new society.”Associated Press, “ISIS is recruiting all sorts of people, not just male fighters,” New York Post, December 16, 2014, http://nypost.com/2014/12/16/isis-is-recruiting-all-sorts-of-people-not-just-male-fighters/.

Social Media

ISIS recruiters have utilized social media outlets to “field questions about joining” the group, a process which resembles an “online version of [a] religious seminar.”Alessandria Masi, “ISIS Recruiting Westerners: How the ‘Islamic State’ goes after non-Muslims and recent converts in the West,” International Business Times, September 8, 2014, http://www.ibtimes.com/isis-recruiting-westerners-how-islamic-state-goes-after-non-muslims-recent-converts-west-1680076. CEP has documented as ISIS recruiters exploit online platforms such as Twitter,J.M. Berger, “How ISIS Games Twitter,” Atlantic, June 16, 2014, http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/06/isis-iraq-twitter-social-media-strategy/372856/. Facebook,Rachel Nuwer, “The Social Media Fight Between the U.S. and ISIS is Weirder Than You’d Imagine,” Smithsonian, September 10, 2014, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/social-media-fight-between-us-and-isis-weirder-youd-imagine-180952663/?no-ist. YouTube,J.M. Berger, “How ISIS Games Twitter,” Atlantic, June 16, 2014, http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/06/isis-iraq-twitter-social-media-strategy/372856/. Tumblr,Rachel Nuwer, “The Social Media Fight Between the U.S. and ISIS is Weirder Than You’d Imagine,” Smithsonian, September 10, 2014, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/social-media-fight-between-us-and-isis-weirder-youd-imagine-180952663/?no-ist. Ask.fm,Dina Temple-Raston, “ISIS Used Predatory Tools and Tactics to Convince U.S. Teens to Join,” NPR Morning Edition, December 11, 2014, http://www.npr.org/2014/12/11/370022514/isis-used-predatory-tools-and-tactics-to-convince-u-s-teens-to-join. and Askbook,“Neil Prakash a.k.a. Abu Khaled al-Cambodi,” Counter Extremism Project, accessed August 11, 2016, https://www.counterextremism.com/extremists/neil-prakash-aka-abu-khaled-al-cambodi. to advertise and recruit for ISIS. Recruiters also use instant-messaging services such as Telegram,James Billington, “Paris Terrorists Used WhatsApp and Telegram to Plot Attacks According to Investigators,” International Business Times, December 17, 2015, http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/paris-terrorists-used-whatsapp-telegram-plot-attacks-according-investigators-1533880. Wickr,Umberto Bacchi, “ISIS agents in London dispatching gullible teenage jihadi brides to Syria,” International Business Times, December 19, 2014, http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/isis-agents-london-dispatching-gullible-teenage-jihadi-brides-syria-1480246. KiK,Laurie Segall, “ISIS Recruiting Tactics: Applie pie and video games,” CNN Money, September 30, 2014, http://money.cnn.com/2014/09/30/technology/isis-recruiting/. and YikYakDina Temple-Raston, “ISIS Used Predatory Tools and Tactics to Convince U.S. Teens to Join,” NPR Morning Edition, December 11, 2014, http://www.npr.org/2014/12/11/370022514/isis-used-predatory-tools-and-tactics-to-convince-u-s-teens-to-join. to provide advice about logistical issues–such as transportation and finances–regarding the trek to Syria.Umberto Bacchi, “ISIS agents in London dispatching gullible teenage jihadi brides to Syria,” International Business Times, December 19, 2014, http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/isis-agents-london-dispatching-gullible-teenage-jihadi-brides-syria-1480246.

Canadian national Mubin Shaikh, a Taliban recruiter turned security operative, claims that recruiters interview potential jihadists to ensure commitment to the cause, as well as to weed out spies.Alessandria Masi, “ISIS Recruiting Westerners: How the ‘Islamic State’ goes after non-Muslims and recent converts in the West,” International Business Times, September 8, 2014, http://www.ibtimes.com/isis-recruiting-westerners-how-islamic-state-goes-after-non-muslims-recent-converts-west-1680076. According to Shaikh, recruiters use whatever means possible. “If they can Skype you, they’ll Skype you. They want to see what you look like. You can’t be that secretive with them.”Alessandria Masi, “ISIS Recruiting Westerners: How the ‘Islamic State’ goes after non-Muslims and recent converts in the West,” International Business Times, September 8, 2014, http://www.ibtimes.com/isis-recruiting-westerners-how-islamic-state-goes-after-non-muslims-recent-converts-west-1680076. Common interview tactics include testing the recruit’s knowledge of Islamic scholars.Alessandria Masi, “ISIS Recruiting Westerners: How the ‘Islamic State’ goes after non-Muslims and recent converts in the West,” International Business Times, September 8, 2014, http://www.ibtimes.com/isis-recruiting-westerners-how-islamic-state-goes-after-non-muslims-recent-converts-west-1680076. Shaikh also describes a large net of jihadists, claiming that recruiters often contact established ISIS sympathizers within a potential recruit’s city in order to vet recruits, “whether [the recruit is] American, Canadian or British.”Alessandria Masi, “ISIS Recruiting Westerners: How the ‘Islamic State’ goes after non-Muslims and recent converts in the West,” International Business Times, September 8, 2014, http://www.ibtimes.com/isis-recruiting-westerners-how-islamic-state-goes-after-non-muslims-recent-converts-west-1680076. To avoid detection, recruiters use encryption software and proxy servers during the interview process.Alessandria Masi, “ISIS Recruiting Westerners: How the ‘Islamic State’ goes after non-Muslims and recent converts in the West,” International Business Times, September 8, 2014, http://www.ibtimes.com/isis-recruiting-westerners-how-islamic-state-goes-after-non-muslims-recent-converts-west-1680076.

High-Production Videos

ISIS’s Al-Hayat Media Center produces much of the recruitment material disseminated by the terror group.Olivia Becker, “ISIS had a really slick and sophisticated media department,” Vice News, July 12, 2014, https://news.vice.com/article/isis-has-a-really-slick-and-sophisticated-media-department. In May 2014, the media center launched a video series called the Mujatweets, shot in HD quality, to show “snippets of day-to-day life in the Islamic State.”“Al-Hayat media center presents a new video message from the Islamic State: ‘Mujatweets Episode #8’,” Jihadology, accessed December 17, 2014, http://jihadology.net/2014/07/25/al-%E1%B8%A5ayat-media-center-presents-a-new-video-message-from-the-islamic-state-mujatweets-episode-8/; Alessandria Masi, “ISIS Twitter, Facebook account: James Foley video highlights disturbing, but effective recruitment campaign,” International Business Times, August 20, 2014, http://www.ibtimes.com/isis-twitter-facebook-account-james-foley-video-highlights-disturbing-effective-1660544; “New ISIS Media Company Addresses, English, German and French-Speaking Westerns,” Middle East Media Research Institute, June 23, 2014, http://www.memrijttm.org/new-isis-media-company-targets-english-german-and-french-speaking-westerners.html. The Mujatweets serve as explicit propaganda, aimed at depicting life in the Islamic State as bountiful and heroic.

In the first episode of Mujatweets, an ISIS fighter appeals to Western jihadists by singing in German.“Al-Hayat media center presents a new video message from the Islamic State: ‘Mujatweets Episode #1’,” Jihadology, accessed December 17, 2014, http://jihadology.net/2014/05/31/al-%E1%B8%A5ayat-media-center-presents-a-new-video-message-from-islamic-state-of-iraq-and-al-sham-mujatweets-episode-1/. In the sixth episode, a member of ISIS speaks in French, claiming that it is an obligation for Muslims to immigrate to the Islamic State.“Al-Hayat media center presents a new video message from the Islamic State: ‘Mujatweets Episode #6’,” Jihadology, accessed December 17, 2014, p. 7, http://jihadology.net/2014/07/19/al-%E1%B8%A5ayat-media-center-presents-a-new-video-message-from-the-islamic-state-mujatweets-episode-6/. In the third and seventh episodes, shots of a sandwich shop and a bustling marketplace aim to attract newcomers with scenes of abundance.“Al-Hayat media center presents a new video message from the Islamic State: ‘Mujatweets Episode #3’,” Jihadology, accessed December 17, 2014, http://jihadology.net/2014/06/11/al-%E1%B8%A5ayat-media-center-presents-a-new-video-message-from-islamic-state-of-iraq-and-al-sham-mujatweets-episode-3/; “Al-Hayat media center presents a new video message from the Islamic State: ‘Mujatweets Episode #7’,” Jihadology, accessed December 17, 2014, http://jihadology.net/2014/07/21/al-%E1%B8%A5ayat-media-center-presents-a-new-video-message-from-the-islamic-state-mujatweets-episode-7/. According to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), “the purpose [of the Mujatweets] is to show that life under ISIS rule is peaceful and normal, and to shatter the image of the jihad fighters as fierce religious fanatics by presenting them as ordinary, friendly people eager to help the local population.”“New ISIS Media Company Addresses, English, German and French-Speaking Westerns,” Middle East Media Research Institute, June 23, 2014, http://www.memrijttm.org/new-isis-media-company-targets-english-german-and-french-speaking-westerners.html.

In addition to the Mujatweets series, the al-Hayat media center produces longer recruitment videos, the infamous beheading videos, and an online magazine called “Dabiq.”“Category: Al-Hayat Media Center,” Jihadology, accessed December 20, 2014, http://jihadology.net/category/al-%E1%B8%A5ayat-media-center/. Al-Hayat media center is notable for high video production quality and consistent circulation. Long War Journal editor Bill Roggio commented on the fast turnout of the al-Hayat’s videos. “Al-Qaeda will issue a propaganda statement, what, once every month? With the Islamic State, I saw the aftermath of the battle of Tabqa that gave them full control of a province in Syria — I saw that video two days after the battle.”Bruce Wallace, “ISIS has mastered high-end video production in its new propaganda wing,” PRI, September 11, 2014, http://www.pri.org/stories/2014-09-11/isis-has-mastered-high-end-video-production-its-new-propaganda-wing.

Dabiq

ISIS’s glossy magazine, Dabiq, is another recruitment tool used by the terror group. To reach a wide range of audiences, the magazine is circulated in print and online, and is available in Arabic, English, French, German, and Russian.Harleen K. Gambhir, “Dabiq: The Strategic Messaging of the Islamic State,” Institute for the Study of War, August 15, 2014, 1, https://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/Dabiq%20Backgrounder_Harleen%20Final.pdf. Its pages are filled with ISIS propaganda detailing the group’s strategy and encouraging all Muslims to emigrate to the Islamic State.Harleen K. Gambhir, “Dabiq: The Strategic Messaging of the Islamic State,” Institute for the Study of War, August 15, 2014, 1, https://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/Dabiq%20Backgrounder_Harleen%20Final.pdf.

The magazine’s first issue, released in July 2014,“ISIS Issues Print, Electronic Newspaper,” Al Arabiya English, July 10, 2014,http://english.alarabiya.net/en/media/2014/07/10/ISIS-issues-print-electronic-newspaper-.html; “The Return of Khilafah,” DABIQ, accessed December 16, 2014, https://azelin.files.wordpress.com/2014/07/islamic-state-22dc481biq-magazine-122.pdf. proclaims the arrival of the “caliphate” and explicitly urges all Muslims to make hijrah (migration) to the self-proclaimed Islamic State:

“A call to all Muslim doctors, engineers, scholars, and specialists. [Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi] said: We make a special call to the scholars, fuqaha’ (experts in Islamic jurisprudence), and callers, especially the judges, as well as people with military, administrative, and service expertise, and medical doctors and engineers of all different specializations and fields. We call them and remind them to fear Allah, for their emigration is wajib ‘ayni (an individual obligation), so that they can answer the dire need of the Muslims for them. People are ignorant of their religion and they thirst for those who can teach them and help them understand it. So fear Allah, O slaves of Allah.”“The Return of Khilafah,” DABIQ, accessed December 16, 2014, https://azelin.files.wordpress.com/2014/07/islamic-state-22dc481biq-magazine-122.pdf.

Dabiq exemplifies ISIS’s attempt at public outreach and strategic messaging.Harleen K. Gambhir, “Dabiq: The Strategic Messaging of the Islamic State,” Institute for the Study of War, August 15, 2014, 1, https://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/Dabiq%20Backgrounder_Harleen%20Final.pdf. Harleen Gambhir of the Institute for the Study of War suggests that “ISIS’s consolidation of the Islamic State depends on the formation of a strong base of supporters. Dabiq demonstrates that ISIS is looking not only to nearby areas for support, but is undertaking a global outreach strategy to recruit immigrants to build its state.”Harleen K. Gambhir, “Dabiq: The Strategic Messaging of the Islamic State,” Institute for the Study of War, August 15, 2014, 1, https://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/Dabiq%20Backgrounder_Harleen%20Final.pdf. Throughout the magazine’s pages, ISIS frames its military ‘successes’ as “inevitable results of God’s approval.” By doing so, “ISIS seeks to attract supporters to the Islamic State, accelerating the group’s consolidation of control in Iraq and Syria.”Harleen K. Gambhir, “Dabiq: The Strategic Messaging of the Islamic State,” Institute for the Study of War, August 15, 2014, 1, https://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/Dabiq%20Backgrounder_Harleen%20Final.pdf.

Recruiters’ Psychological Tactics

It has been suggested that potential jihadists join ISIS in their quest for “personal significance” or due to the existential desire to matter and be respected.Arie W. Kruglanski, “Joining Islamic State is about ‘sex and aggression,’ not religion,” Reuters, October 16, 2014, http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2014/10/16/joining-islamic-state-is-about-sex-and-aggression-not-religion/. According to this theory, ISIS recruitment measures directly appeal to disaffected and disillusioned individuals seeking to “make their mark.”Arie W. Kruglanski, “Joining Islamic State is about ‘sex and aggression,’ not religion,” Reuters, October 16, 2014, http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2014/10/16/joining-islamic-state-is-about-sex-and-aggression-not-religion/. MEMRI deputy director Eliot Zweig concurs, stating, “You see messages of camaraderie” rather than difficulty, gore and suffering. “It is ‘come and join us, join me and we'll fight the good fight together.’”“ISIS recruits fighters through powerful online campaign,” CBS News, August 29, 2014, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/isis-uses-social-media-to-recruit-western-allies/. Others claim that recruits are simply “thrill seekers,” or young people craving a “fresh identity.”Bill Briggs, “ISIS Enticement: Why are some American prone to radicalization?” NBC News, October 28, 2014, http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/isis-terror/isis-enticement-why-are-some-americans-prone-radicalization-n233601. According to terrorism expert Max Abrahms, recruitment over social media lures “ignorant people with respect to religion… [who] would probably fail the most basic test on Islam.”Eric Banco, “Who do people join ISIS? The psychology of a terrorist,” International Business Times, September 5, 2014, http://www.ibtimes.com/why-do-people-join-isis-psychology-terrorist-1680444; Arie W. Kruglanski, “Joining Islamic State is about ‘sex and aggression,’ not religion,” Reuters, October 16, 2014, http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2014/10/16/joining-islamic-state-is-about-sex-and-aggression-not-religion/.

The depiction of the Islamic State as a free and open society is another recruiting approach. According to John Horgan, a psychologist who studies terrorists, the exploitation of this image “makes radicalization and recruitment much easier.” Recruits believe that ISIS “is an equal opportunity organization.” Indeed, its recruitment tactics appeal to “everything from the sadistic psychopath to the humanitarian to the idealistic driven,” says Horgan.Eric Banco, “Who do people join ISIS? The psychology of a terrorist,” International Business Times, September 5, 2014, http://www.ibtimes.com/why-do-people-join-isis-psychology-terrorist-1680444. Andrew Poulin, a Canadian who converted to Islam and emigrated to the Islamic State, was featured in one of the group’s propaganda videos, saying: “Before I come here to Syria, I had money, I had a family, I had good friends. It wasn’t like I was some anarchist or somebody who just wants to destroy the world and kill everybody. I was a regular person. We need the engineers, we need doctors, we need professionals. Every person can contribute something to the Islamic State.”Eric Banco, “Who do people join ISIS? The psychology of a terrorist,” International Business Times, September 5, 2014, http://www.ibtimes.com/why-do-people-join-isis-psychology-terrorist-1680444.

Recruiters also radicalize by exploiting grievances, declaring that the Muslim world has endured humiliation and victimization at the hands of the West.Arie W. Kruglanski, “Joining Islamic State is about ‘sex and aggression,’ not religion,” Reuters, October 16, 2014, http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2014/10/16/joining-islamic-state-is-about-sex-and-aggression-not-religion/. The recruiters paint the choice of every Muslim individual in black and white: either join ISIS and live in dignity, or continue living as a victimized Muslim in a secular land. ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in his speech introducing the creation of the “caliphate,” declared, “by Allah’s grace—you have a state and Khilafah [caliphate], which will return your dignity, might, rights, and leadership.”“The Return of Khilafah,” Dabiq, accessed December 16, 2014, p. 7, https://azelin.files.wordpress.com/2014/07/islamic-state-22dc481biq-magazine-122.pdf. This Manichean approach feeds into the message of obligation. According to terrorism expert Paul Cruickshank, ISIS recruiters flood social media with the message of “you have to join. It’s your religious duty.”Holly Yan, “Why is ISIS so successful at luring Westerners?” CNN, October 7, 2014, http://edition.cnn.com/2014/10/07/world/isis-western-draw/.

On-the-ground Recruitment

ISIS’s on-the-ground recruitment strategies have been growing due to a mounting crackdown on the group’s online recruitment methods.Shiv Malik and Sandra Laville, “Isis recruitment moves from online networks to British mosques,” Guardian (London), September 5, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/05/isis-recruitment-moves-to-radical-network-and-mosques. Operating mostly in European, American, and Canadian cities, on-the-ground recruiters are believed to include preachers, jihadist sympathizers, and fighters returning from Syria.Shiv Malik and Sandra Laville, “Isis recruitment moves from online networks to British mosques,” Guardian (London), September 5, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/05/isis-recruitment-moves-to-radical-network-and-mosques. According to a leaked police report, recruiters operate out of mosques, cafes, restaurants, gyms and private homes and apartments.Shiv Malik and Sandra Laville, “Isis recruitment moves from online networks to British mosques,” Guardian (London), September 5, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/05/isis-recruitment-moves-to-radical-network-and-mosques; Andy Eckardt, “900 Austrian Police Raid Mosques and Homes in Terrorist Search,” NBC News, November 28, 2014, http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/isis-terror/900-austrian-police-raid-mosques-homes-terrorist-search-n257776. Similar to online recruitment, on-the-ground recruiters act as radicalizing agents who provide logistical support to those who wish to emigrate to the Islamic State.Shiv Malik and Sandra Laville, “Isis recruitment moves from online networks to British mosques,” Guardian (London), September 5, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/05/isis-recruitment-moves-to-radical-network-and-mosques.

Some reports suggest that young Muslims are radicalized at “pop-up” meetings, which are never held in the same place twice.Steven Morris, “Father of Cardiff jihadists say his sons were radicalized in ‘pop-up’ schools,” Guardian (London), June 23, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/jun/23/father-jihadists-sons-radicalised-cardiff-popup-schools. Others include extremists leafleting in European Muslim communities.Steven Morris, “Father of Cardiff jihadists say his sons were radicalized in ‘pop-up’ schools,” Guardian (London), June 23, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/jun/23/father-jihadists-sons-radicalised-cardiff-popup-schools.

On-the-ground recruitment is believed to take place in Canada also. Imam Syed Soharwardy, founder of the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada, claims that potential recruits are paired up with “jihadi mentors.”Alessandria Masi, “ISIS Recruiting Westerners: How the ‘Islamic State’ goes after non-Muslims and recent converts in the West,” International Business Times, September 8, 2014, http://www.ibtimes.com/isis-recruiting-westerners-how-islamic-state-goes-after-non-muslims-recent-converts-west-1680076. According to Sohwarwardy, the mentor-recruit relationship can form at “religious seminars, community activities or classes that might look normal to the average Westerner.”Alessandria Masi, “ISIS Recruiting Westerners: How the ‘Islamic State’ goes after non-Muslims and recent converts in the West,” International Business Times, September 8, 2014, http://www.ibtimes.com/isis-recruiting-westerners-how-islamic-state-goes-after-non-muslims-recent-converts-west-1680076. Other possible venues for radicalization include “student groups” at colleges and high schools.Alessandria Masi, “ISIS Recruiting Westerners: How the ‘Islamic State’ goes after non-Muslims and recent converts in the West,” International Business Times, September 8, 2014, http://www.ibtimes.com/isis-recruiting-westerners-how-islamic-state-goes-after-non-muslims-recent-converts-west-1680076.

On-the-ground radicalization can be instigated by one’s emotional or physical proximity to an extremist. For example, U.S. citizen Douglas McCain—who died in Syria as an ISIS fighter—had lived in the same building as a classmate who joined Somali militant group al-Shabab.Alessandria Masi, “ISIS Recruiting Westerners: How the ‘Islamic State’ goes after non-Muslims and recent converts in the West,” International Business Times, September 8, 2014, http://www.ibtimes.com/isis-recruiting-westerners-how-islamic-state-goes-after-non-muslims-recent-converts-west-1680076.

Training

The training to become an ISIS soldier is believed to include both ideological and physical components.Alessandria Masi, “ISIS Recruiting Westerners: How the ‘Islamic State’ goes after non-Muslims and recent converts in the West,” International Business Times, September 8, 2014, http://www.ibtimes.com/isis-recruiting-westerners-how-islamic-state-goes-after-non-muslims-recent-converts-west-1680076. During religious training, referred to as sharii, ISIS members receive what ISIS-affiliated Syrian cleric Abu Moussa referred to as “the basics about religion… [during which ISIS trainers] cleanse you from religious innovations and Ba’athist ideas.”Hassan Hassan, “The secret world of Isis training camps – ruled by sacred texts and the sword,” Guardian (London), January 24, 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jan/25/inside-isis-training-camps. New recruits are also believed to undergo physical training. A video released by ISIS’s al-Hayat Media Center in October 2014 depicted recruits participating in training exercises in Iraq’s Nineveh province. The jihadists-in-training were filmed while completing weapons training, hand-to-hand combat exercises, and live-fire training.Caleb Weiss, “Islamic State releases video of training camp in Ninewa,” Long War Journal, October 12, 2014, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2014/10/islamic_state_releas.php.

Foreign fighters arriving in ISIS-controlled territory reportedly complete anywhere between a few days of basic weapons training to a year-long intensive training course. The training program for an elite fighting unit, for example, is reported to require 10 levels of training. The first level is believed to include hours of strenuous physical activity such as running, jumping, pushups, and crawling, while higher levels may comprise aquatic training and celestial navigation.Rukmini Callimachi, “How a Secretive Branch of ISIS Built a Global Network of Killers,” New York Times, August 3, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/04/world/middleeast/isis-german-recruit-interview.html?_r=0; Hassan Hassan, “The secret world of Isis training camps – ruled by sacred texts and the sword,” Guardian (London), January 24, 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jan/25/inside-isis-training-camps.

In addition to training voluntary recruits, ISIS has also reportedly forced captured Syrian pilots to train ISIS fighters using stolen aircraft.“ISIS says forcing detained pilots to train militants: report,” Al Arabiya English, August 30, 2014, http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2014/08/30/ISIS-says-it-forces-abduct-pilots-to-train-fighters.html. In October 2014, eyewitness reports claimed that ISIS had three military aircraft in its possession, and that its fighters had been flying the airplanes over captured military bases in northern Aleppo, Syria.“ISIS in Syria train Iraqi pilots in captured jets- Monitor,” Reuters, last modified October 19, 2014, http://rt.com/news/196784-isis-syria-pilots-training/.

ISIS is also believed to force children to train as fighters, a war crime under international human rights law.Cassandra Vinograd, Ghazi Balkiz and Ammar Cheikh Omar, “ISIS Trains Child Soldiers at Camps for ‘Cubs of the Islamic State,’” NBC News, November 7, 2014, http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/isis-terror/isis-trains-child-soldiers-camps-cubs-islamic-state-n241821. This training is reported to take place in camps with names such as “Zarqawi Cubs Camps,” in tribute to al-Qaeda in Iraq founder Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.Cassandra Vinograd, Ghazi Balkiz and Ammar Cheikh Omar, “ISIS Trains Child Soldiers at Camps for ‘Cubs of the Islamic State,’” NBC News, November 7, 2014, http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/isis-terror/isis-trains-child-soldiers-camps-cubs-islamic-state-n241821. According to global security firm Flashpoint Intelligence, there have been multiple youth training camps in and around Mosul, as well as in Damascus, Aleppo, and al-Bukamal in eastern Syria.Cassandra Vinograd, Ghazi Balkiz and Ammar Cheikh Omar, “ISIS Trains Child Soldiers at Camps for ‘Cubs of the Islamic State,’” NBC News, November 7, 2014, http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/isis-terror/isis-trains-child-soldiers-camps-cubs-islamic-state-n241821.

ISIS fighters also train children how to use AK-47s, and have reportedly used dolls to demonstrate beheadings. “Sometimes they force them to carry [real human] heads in order to cast the fear away from their hearts,” one Iraqi security official told NBC News.Cassandra Vinograd, Ghazi Balkiz and Ammar Cheikh Omar, “ISIS Trains Child Soldiers at Camps for ‘Cubs of the Islamic State’,” NBC News, November 7, 2014, http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/isis-terror/isis-trains-child-soldiers-camps-cubs-islamic-state-n241821. A September 2014 United Nations report found that ISIS deploys children in “active combat during military operations, including suicide bombing missions.”“Report of the independent international commission of inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic,” United Nations General Assembly, August 13, 2014, 15, http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/CoISyria/A.HRC.27.60_Eng.pdf. In February 2016, the Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point warned that ISIS was mobilizing children at an “increasing and unprecedented rate.”Mia Bloom, John Horgan, and Charlie Winter, “DEPICTIONS OF CHILDREN AND YOUTH IN THE ISLAMIC STATE’S MARTYRDOM PROPAGANDA, 2015-2016,” Combatting Terrorism Center, February 18, 2016, https://www.ctc.usma.edu/posts/depictions-of-children-and-youth-in-the-islamic-states-martyrdom-propaganda-2015-2016.

Key Leaders

  • Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

    Caliph
    Former leader of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI)
  • Abu Mohammed al-Adnani

    Official spokesman of ISIS; Emir of ISIS in Syria
  • Abu Muslim al-Turkmani

    Abu Muslim al-Turkmani

    Former deputy leader for Iraq - deceased
  • Abu Ahmad al-Alwani | ISIS

    Abu Ahmad al-Alwani

    Former member of military council - deceased
  • Abu Ayman al-Iraqi

    Former military commander; Emir of Latakia province, Syria; Governor of ISIS’s Anbar Province in Iraq - deceased
  • Abu Suleiman

    Abu Suleiman

    Minister of war
  • Omar al-Shishani

    Reported deputy leader of ISIS, overall commander of ISIS armies, minister of war, member of ISIS’s Shura Council (reported deceased)
  • Shaker Wahib al-Fahdawi

    Shaker Wahib al-Fahdawi a.k.a. Abu Wahib

    Military Emir of Anbar, propagandist
    Former member
  • Abdul Qadir al-Najdi

    Abdul Qadr al-Najdi

    Emir in Libya
  • Rustam Asildarov

    Wali (governor) of the Caucusus
  • Hafiz Saeed Khan | ISIS

    Hafiz Saeed Khan

    Wali (governor) of Khorasan
  • Abu Sufyan Bin Qumu

    Abu Sufyan Bin Qumu

    Leader of the Ansar al-Sharia branch in Derna - Defected to ISIS

History

 

Violent Activities

Designations

Designations by the U.S. Government:

October 15, 2004 : The State Department designates Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant Specially Designated Global Terrorists and Blocks all property in U.S. or under possession of control of U.S. persons; bans any property-related transactions by U.S. persons or within U.S., including giving or receiving contributions to the entity.“Individuals and Entities Designated by the State Department Under E.O. 13224,” U.S. Department of State, http://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/other/des/143210.htm. December 17, 2004: The State Department designates Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant a Foreign Terrorist Organization and freezes of assets in U.S. financial institutions, bans admission of members to U.S., and bans providing “material support or resources” to entity.“Foreign Terrorist Organizations,” U.S. Department of State, http://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/other/des/123085.htm.
October 4, 2011: The State Department designates Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri, AKA Abu Du’a [AKA Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi] a Specially Designated Global Terrorist and blocks all property in U.S. or under possession of control of U.S. persons and bans any property-related transactions by U.S. persons or within U.S., including giving or receiving contributions to the entity.“Terrorist Designation of Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri,” U.S. Department of State, October 4, 2011, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2011/10/174971.htm. December 11, 2012: The State Department designates the Nusra Front Specially Designated Global Terrorists and Blocks all property in U.S. or under possession of control of U.S. persons; bans any property-related transactions by U.S. persons or within U.S., including giving or receiving contributions to the entity.“Terrorist Designations of the al-Nusrah Front as an Alias for al-Qa'ida in Iraq,” U.S. Department of State, December 11, 2012, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2012/12/201759.htm.
May 14, 2014: The State Department designates The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), ad-Dawla al-Islamiyya fi al-‘Iraq wa-sh-Sham, Daesh, Dawla al Islamiya, and Al-Furqan Establishment for Media Production (as aliases for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) Specially Designated Global Terrorists.“Terrorist Designations of Groups Operating in Syria,” U.S. Department of State, May 14, 2014, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2014/05/226067.htm. May 14, 2014: The Department of the Treasury designates Abd Al-Rahman Muhammad Zafir Al-Dubaysi Al-Juhni (Al-Juhni) and 'Abd Al-Rahman Mustafa Al-Qaduli (Al-Qaduli) Specially Designated Global Terrorists.“Treasury Designates Al-Qa’ida Leaders In Syria,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, May 14, 2014, http://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/jl2396.aspx.
August 6, 2014: The Department of the Treasury designates ‘Abd al-Rahman Khalaf ‘Ubayd Juday’ al-‘Anizi a Specially Designated Global Terrorist.“Treasury Designates Three Key Supporters of Terrorists in Syria and Iraq,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, August 6, 2014, http://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/jl2605.aspx. August 18, 2014: The State Department designates Abu Mohammed al-Adnani a Specially Designated Global Terrorist.“Terrorist Designation of Abu Mohammed al-Adnani,” U.S. Department of State, August 18, 2014, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2014/230676.htm.
January 14, 2016: The State Department designates ISIL-Khorasan (ISIL-K)—ISIS’s affiliate in the Afghanistan/Pakistan region—as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) under Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act.“Foreign Terrorist Organization Designation of ISIL – Khorasan (ISIL-K),” U.S. Department of State, January 14, 2016, http://m.state.gov/md251237.htm. May 19, 2016: The State Department designates ISIS’s Libya branch as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). The State Department simultaneously designates ISIS’s Libya branch—alongside ISIS’s Yemen and Saudi Arabia branches—as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs) pursuant to Executive Order 13224.“Terrorist Designations of ISIL-Yemen, ISIL-Saudi Arabia, and ISIL-Libya,” U.S. Department of State, May 19, 2016, http://m.state.gov/md257388.htm.

Designations by Foreign Governments and Organizations:

Australia—listed ISIS as a terrorist organization on March 2, 2005“Islamic State,” Australian National Security, http://www.nationalsecurity.gov.au/Listedterroristorganisations/Pages/IslamicState.aspx.Canada—listed ISIS as a terrorist organization on August 20, 2012“Currently listed entities,” Public Safety Canada, http://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/ntnl-scrt/cntr-trrrsm/lstd-ntts/crrnt-lstd-ntts-eng.aspx.
Indonesia—listed ISIS as a terrorist organization on August 2, 2014“BNPT Declares ISIS a Terrorist Organization,” TEMPO.co, August 2, 2014, http://en.tempo.co/read/news/2014/08/02/055596766/BNPT-Declares-ISIS-a-Terrorist-Organization.Saudi Arabia—listed ISIS as a terrorist organization on March 7, 2014“Saudi Arabia designates Muslim Brotherhood terrorist group,” Reuters, March 7, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/07/us-saudi-security-idUSBREA260SM20140307.
Israel—Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarrai, Djamel Moustafa, Ismail Abdallah, and Mubarak Mushakhas Sanad Mubarak al-Bathali declared Individual under Article 2 of the Prohibition of Financing Terrorism on January 18, 2004“רורט יליעפכ וזרכוהש םידיחיהו םינוגראה תומישר - םיחפסנ,” Prime Minister’s Office, http://www.pmo.gov.il/Secretary/GovDecisions/2013/Documents/des124B.doc.Israel—Hamid Abdallah Ahmad al-Ali and Aschraf al-Dagma declared Individual under Article 2 of the Prohibition of Financing Terrorism on October 18, 2004“רורט יליעפכ וזרכוהש םידיחיהו םינוגראה תומישר - םיחפסנ,” Prime Minister’s Office, http://www.pmo.gov.il/Secretary/GovDecisions/2013/Documents/des124B.doc.
Israel—listed ISIS as an unauthorized organization on September 3, 2014Gili Cohen, “Israel prepares for possibility of local Islamic State cells,” Haaretz, September 3, 2014, http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/.premium-1.613958.
United Kingdom—listed Al-Qaida in Iraq as an Asset Freeze Target on October 18, 2004“CONSOLIDATED LIST OF FINANCIAL SANCTIONS TARGETS IN THE UK,” GOV.UK, last modified September 3, 2014, http://hmt-sanctions.s3.amazonaws.com/sanctionsconlist.htm.United Kingdom—listed Muthanna Harith al-Dari as an Asset Freeze Target on April 7, 2010“CONSOLIDATED LIST OF FINANCIAL SANCTIONS TARGETS IN THE UK,” GOV.UK, last modified September 3, 2014, http://hmt-sanctions.s3.amazonaws.com/sanctionsconlist.htm.
United Kingdom—listed Ali al-Badri al-Samarrai as an Asset Freeze Target on October 17, 2011“CONSOLIDATED LIST OF FINANCIAL SANCTIONS TARGETS IN THE UK,” GOV.UK, last modified September 3, 2014, http://hmt-sanctions.s3.amazonaws.com/sanctionsconlist.htm.United Kingdom—listed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant as an Proscribed Terrorist Organization on June, 2014“Proscribed terror groups or organisations – Publications,” GOV.UK, last modified June 27, 2014, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/proscribed-terror-groups-or-organisations--2.
United Kingdom—listed Abou Mohamed al Adnani and Hamid al-‘Ali as Asset Freeze Targets on August 15, 2014“CONSOLIDATED LIST OF FINANCIAL SANCTIONS TARGETS IN THE UK,” GOV.UK, last modified September 3, 2014, http://hmt-sanctions.s3.amazonaws.com/sanctionsconlist.htm.
United Nations—Al-Qaida in Iraq Listed under category “Entities and other groups and undertakings associated with Al Qaida” on October 18, 2004“Al-Qaida Sanctions List,” United Nations, last modified August 26, 2014, http://www.un.org/sc/committees/1267/aq_sanctions_list.shtml.United Nations—Muthanna Harith al-Dari listed as individual associated with Al Qaida on March 25, 2010“Al-Qaida Sanctions List,” United Nations, last modified August 26, 2014, http://www.un.org/sc/committees/1267/aq_sanctions_list.shtml.
United Nations—Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarrai listed as individual associated with Al Qaida on October 5, 2011“Al-Qaida Sanctions List,” United Nations, last modified August 26, 2014, http://www.un.org/sc/committees/1267/aq_sanctions_list.shtml.United Nations—Abou Mohamed al Adnani and Abou Mohamed al Adnani listed as individuals associated with Al Qaida on August 15, 2014“Al-Qaida Sanctions List,” United Nations, last modified August 26, 2014, http://www.un.org/sc/committees/1267/aq_sanctions_list.shtml.

    Associations

    Ties to Extremist Entities:

    Al-Qaeda

    ISIS was originally an al-Qaeda affiliate in Iraq formerly known as al-Qaeda in Iraq. Under al-Qaeda’s auspices from October 2004Ty McCormick, “Al Qaeda Core: A Short History,” Foreign Policy, March 17, 2014, http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/03/17/al_qaeda_core_a_short_history; “Terrorist Organization Profile: al-Qaeda Organization in the Land of the Two Rivers,” START: National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, accessed March 16, 2015, http://www.start.umd.edu/tops/terrorist_organization_profile.asp?id=4416; “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant / al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI): ISIL – Early History,” GlobalSecurity.org, accessed March 16, 2015, http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/para/aqi-2.htm. until February 2014, ISIS was responsible for a score of terrorist bombings that resulted in the death of thousands. In February 2014, the two groups split over a leadership dispute when ISIS’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, refused to obey al-Qaeda’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri.Thomas Joscelyn, “Al Qaeda’s General Command Disowns the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham,” Long War Journal, February 3, 2014, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2014/02/al_qaedas_general_co.php. Al-Zawahri cut ties with ISIS due to the group’s repeated attempts to subsume al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, the Nusra Front, under its command.Thomas Joscelyn, “Al Qaeda’s General Command Disowns the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham,” Long War Journal, February 3, 2014, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2014/02/al_qaedas_general_co.php. Despite losing its formal alliance with al-Qaeda, ISIS has the same ideology and goals and uses the same brutal tactics as its former parent organization.

    Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)

    AQIM has a controversial relationship with ISIS in light of the rift between ISIS and al-Qaeda. AQIM leaders have expressed support for the group despite the break and AQIM’s official allegiance to al-Zawahiri. On July 1, 2014, AQIM posted an official message of congratulations to ISIS in light of the group’s military gains.Thomas Joscelyn, “Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb calls for reconciliation between jihadist groups,” Long War Journal, July 2, 2014, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2014/07/al_qaeda_in_the_isla.php. In the statement, however, AQIM tempered its congratulations with calls for reconciliation between ISIS and al-Qaeda as well as its affiliate in Syria, the Nusra Front. The statement also explicitly defers to al-Zawahiri, calling him “Our Sheikh and Emir.”Thomas Joscelyn, “Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb calls for reconciliation between jihadist groups,” Long War Journal, July 2, 2014, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2014/07/al_qaeda_in_the_isla.php. Two weeks later, AQIM posted a statement officially rejecting ISIS’s declaration of a caliphate. In the statement, AQIM refused to swear allegiance to ISIS leader and self-proclaimed caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.Thomas Joscelyn, “AQIM Rejects Islamic State’s Caliphate, Reaffirms Allegiance to Zawahiri,” Long War Journal, July 14, 2014, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2014/07/aqim_rejects_islamic.php. Some analysts have pointed to these two contradictory statements as evidence of internal rifts emerging within AQIM’s leadership over ISIS’s controversial declaration of caliphate.“Al-Qaeda Group Divided on Islamic State,” Al Monitor, July 21, 2014, http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/security/2014/07/separate-statements-highlight-possible-rift-in-aqim.html; “ISIS Divides Maghreb al-Qaeda (AQIM),” African Armed Forces, August 19, 2014, http://www.aafonline.co.za/news/isis-divides-maghreb-al-qaeda-aqim. In September 2014, AQIM and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) released a joint statement calling on ISIS to reconcile with al-Qaeda.Thomas Joscelyn, “Al Qaeda Branches Urge Jihadist Unity Against US,” Long War Journal, September 16, 2014, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2014/09/al_qaeda_branches_ur.php. Also in September, AQIM members are reported to have splintered from the group to pledge allegiance to ISIS under a new name, “the Caliphate Soldiers in Algeria.”Lamine Chikhi, “Splinter group breaks from al Qaeda in North Africa,” Reuters, September 15, 2014, http://in.reuters.com/article/2014/09/14/algeria-security-idINL6N0RF0F020140914. However, in May 2015, Algerian forces ambushed Caliphate soldiers, killing 25 men, including the group’s leader.“Al-Qaeda claims 2 Algerian attacks,” Daily Star (London), June 7, 2015, http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Middle-East/2015/Jun-07/300970-al-qaeda-claims-2-algerian-attacks.ashx.

    In Nigeria, AQIM has a strong collaborative relationship with Boko Haram, ISIS’s purported wilayat (governorate) in West Africa as of March 2015.Hamdi Alkhshali and Steve Almasy, “ISIS leader purportedly accepts Boko Haram’s pledge of allegiance,” CNN, March 12, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/03/12/middleeast/isis-boko-haram/. AQIM has reportedly assisted Boko Haram by providing training, resource-sharing and allegedly direct payments to execute crimes on AQIM’s behalf such as kidnap-ransom incidents in Nigeria. Some analysts believe that through Boko Haram, ISIS will build further ties with AQIM.Oliver Guitta, “How ISIS Ate Al Qaeda,” Daily Beast, March 12, 2015, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/03/12/how-isis-ate-al-qaeda.html.

    Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)

    In August 2014, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula announced its support for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria via Twitter,“Yemen’s AQAP calls on Islamists to Target America After Iraq Air Strikes,” Reuters, August 14, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/08/14/us-iraq-security-yemen-idUSKBN0GE2DC20140814. and made operative recommendations to ISIS in a statement published on its website.“Yemen’s AQAP calls on Islamists to Target America After Iraq Air Strikes,” Reuters, August 14, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/08/14/us-iraq-security-yemen-idUSKBN0GE2DC20140814. In November 2014, AQAP chief cleric Harith al-Nadhari accused ISIS of “planting… disunity” among Islamic factions fighting in Syria.Mike Brunker, “War of Words Between al-Qaeda and ISIS Continues with Scholar’s Smackdown, “ NBC News, November 21, 2014, http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/isis-terror/war-words-between-al-qaeda-isis-continues-scholars-smackdown-n253676. In an official AQAP statement, al-Nadhari criticized ISIS of “extending the caliphate to a number of countries in which [it has] no power.” Al-Nadhari’s criticism came one week after a November 13th declaration by ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in which Baghdadi claimed the ‘caliphate’ to have spread to Libya, Yemen, Algeria, Egypt and Qatar.Zachary Roth and Jane C. Timm, “Admin: Strikes on Khorasan Group Aimed to Avert Imminent Threat,” MSNBC, September 23, 2014, http://www.msnbc.com/morning-joe/us-arab-partners-airstrikes-syria-isis.

    Ansar al-Sharia in Libya (ASL)

    After al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) rejected ISIS in favor of a continued allegiance to al-Qaeda, ISIS looked to ASL as a possible partner in North Africa. Throughout 2014, the two groups seemed to have had some cooperation. For example, the June 2015 Tunisia gunman, Seifeddine Rezgui, was reported to have trained in both ASL and ISIS camps in Libya, indicating some crossover between the two groups.Kim Sengupta, “Tunisia Gunman Seifeddine Rezgui Laid Bare: The Terrorist behind the Facebook Posts about Music and Real Madrid,” Sunday Independent (Dublin), July 1, 2015, http://www.independent.ie/world-news/europe/tunisia-gunman-seifeddine-rezgui-laid-bare-the-terrorist-behind-the-facebook-posts-about-music-and-real-madrid-31343711.html. Additionally, it was reported that ISIS and ASL worked together in February 2015 to round up 35 Egyptian Coptic Christians living in Libya.Gianluca Mezzofiore, “Libya: More Egyptians ‘kidnapped by IS or Ansar Al-Sharia’ after Egypt Airstrikes,” International Business Times, February 16, 2015, http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/libya-more-egyptians-kidnapped-by-ansar-al-sharia-after-egypt-airstrikes-1488216. These links led some analysts to speculate in spring 2015 that a pledge of allegiance from ASL to ISIS was imminent.Thomas Joscelyn, “Spiritual Leader of Libya’s Biggest Jihadi Group Pledges Allegiance to ISIS,” Newsweek, April 8, 2015, http://www.newsweek.com/top-judge-libyas-biggest-jihadi-group-pledges-allegiance-isis-320408.

    In July 2014, jihadist militants associated with ISIS began posting statements on social media sites and jihadist forums hoping to push ASL to pledge allegiance to ISIS.Mawassi Lahcen, “Libya: ISIS Woos Ansar Al-Sharia in Libya,” AllAfrica, July 31, 2014, http://allafrica.com/stories/201408010598.html. That summer, the leader of ASL’s Derna’s branch, Abu Sufyan Bin Qumu, became the first of ASL’s leadership to break from ASL and pledge allegiance to ISIS.Aya Elbrqawi, “Derna Cries for Help,” AllAfrica, December 1, 2014, http://allafrica.com/stories/201412020345.html. Similarly, in March 2015, ASL’s senior sharia official Abu Abdullah al-Libi pledged allegiance to ISIS and subsequently split from ASL, taking a group of fighters with him.Thomas Joscelyn, “Ansar Al Sharia Libya Relaunches Social Media Sites,” Long War Journal, April 9, 2015, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2015/04/ansar-al-sharia-libya-relaunches-social-media-sites.php.

    ISIS’s growing popularity in Libya began to pose a major threat to ASL, and the mounting defections, along with ISIS seizure of the previously ASL-held cities of Sirte and Derna, gradually increased tensions between the two groups.Laura Dean, “How Strong Is the Islamic State in Libya?,” USA Today, February 20, 2015, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2015/02/20/islamic-state-libya/23728623/; Thomas Joscelyn, “Ansar Al Sharia Libya Relaunches Social Media Sites,” Long War Journal, April 9, 2015, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2015/04/ansar-al-sharia-libya-relaunches-social-media-sites.php. Derna, previously one of ASL’s strongholds, was seized by ISIS affiliated militants in October 2014, pushing the Derna Mujhadeen Shura Council (MSC), a coalition of Islamists groups of which ASL is a part, to the outskirts of the city.Associated Press, “Al-Qaida-linked Militants Attack IS Affiliate in Libya,” Yahoo News, June 10, 2015, https://news.yahoo.com/al-qaida-militants-clash-libya-leader-killed-090144601.html.

    In June 2015, ISIS, looking to cement their control of Derna and eliminate competing Islamist groups in the area, assassinated a senior member of MSC leadership. ASL and the MSC fought back, killing dozens of ISIS militantsAgence France-Presse, “Dozens Killed in Attack on ISIS in Libya’s Derna,” Al-Arabiya, June 21, 2015, http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2015/06/21/Dozens-killed-in-attack-on-ISIS-in-Libya-.html. and pushing the group “30 or 50 kilometers to the east” of Derna.Paton, Callum, “Isis in Libya: Islamic State Driven out of Derna Stronghold by Al-Qaeda-linked Militia,” International Business Times, June 15, 2015, http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/isis-libya-islamic-state-driven-out-derna-stronghold-by-al-qaeda-linked-militia-1506241. Fighting between the two groups has not spread to elsewhere in Libya.

    Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia (AST)

    AST has an ambiguous relationship with ISIS. While much of AST’s leadership has declared support for the group, AST has not formally pledged allegiance to ISIS. AST is nonetheless heavily involved in exporting militants from Tunisia to fight in Syria, many with ISIS. In February 2014, it was estimated that more than 5,000 Tunisians had traveled to Syria to fight against Bashar al-Assad’s government,Bill Roggio, “Ansar Al Sharia Tunisia Deputy Leader Reportedly in Syria,” Long War Journal, February 27, 2014, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2014/02/ansar_al_sharia_tuni_7.php. an estimated 80% or more of whom join ISIS.Kevin Sullivan. “Tunisia, after Igniting Arab Spring, Sends the Most Fighters to Islamic State in Syria,” Washington Post, October 28, 2014, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/tunisia-after-igniting-arab-spring-sends-the-most-fighters-to-islamic-state-in-syria/2014/10/28/b5db4faa-5971-11e4-8264-deed989ae9a2_story.html. A year later, the International Business Times reported that Seifallah Ben Hassine, the leader of AST, was running a “joint AST-ISIS operation in Tunisia” and had become “one of the main jihadi recruiters in the country.”Alessandria Masi, “Islamic State 'Caliphate' In Libya Depends On Tunisian Foreign Fighters And Desert Training Camps,” International Business Times, February 21, 2015, http://www.ibtimes.com/islamic-state-caliphate-libya-depends-tunisian-foreign-fighters-desert-training-camps-1822318. While it’s unknown how many militants AST has trafficked to ISIS, Tunisians have featured heavily in ISIS propaganda, and both AST and ISIS have regularly eulogized Tunisian fighters and suicide bombers killed in Syria.Bill Roggio, “Ansar Al Sharia Tunisia Deputy Leader Reportedly in Syria,” Long War Journal, February 27, 2014, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2014/02/ansar_al_sharia_tuni_7.php.

    In 2014, a group of AST’s senior leadership pledged allegiance to ISIS. First, in February 2014, AST deputy leader Kamel Zarrouk traveled to Syria and joined ISIS. AllAfrica reported that, “Zarrouk is known in his [Tunisian] neighborhood as someone who encouraged young people to go for jihad in Syria, which he considers to be the springboard for establishing an Islamic state from the Gulf to the ocean.”Yasm Najjar, “North Africa: Maghreb to Tighten Noose On Syria-Bound Jihadists,” AllAfrica, February 26, 2014, http://allafrica.com/stories/201402270971.html. In July 2014, while speaking at a mosque in Kairouan, Tunisia, AST spokesman Seifeddine Rais swore loyalty to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.Jemal Arfaoui, “Tunisia: Ansar Al-Sharia Spokesman Backs Isis,” AllAfrica, May 14, 2013, http://allafrica.com/stories/201407090299.html. The same month, Al-Monitor reported that a number of AST leaders had gone to Syria and pledged allegiance to al-Baghdadi.Abdallah Suleiman Ali, “Global Jihadists Recognize Islamic State,” Al-Monitor, July 3, 2014, http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/security/2014/07/syria-iraq-isis-islamic-caliphate-global-recognition.html#. However, none of these pledges represented an official pledge of allegiance from AST to ISIS.

    In the past, AST has more overtly endorsed its relationship with ISIS both through AST’s social media postings and official communications. On April 9, 2013, AST posted a photo of ISIS militants on its website with a banner that read, “O lions of god in all the earth Call out Allah Akbar, for victory and conquest is ours. Rejoice, for the glorious caliphate is near. Our [sharia] will reign over every corner [or inch of land].”Thomas Joscelyn, “Social Media Jihad: Cheerleading Al Qaeda’s New ‘Islamic State,’” Long War Journal, April 9, 2013, http://www.longwarjournal.org/threat-matrix/archives/2013/04/social_media_jihad_cheerleadin.php.

    Boko Haram

    In March 2015, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau pledged allegiance to ISIS in an audio message.Nima Elbagir, Paul Cruickshank and Mohammed Tawfeeq, “Boko Haram purportedly pledges allegiance to ISIS,” CNN, March 9, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/03/07/africa/nigeria-boko-haram-isis/index.html. In an audio message released the week after, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi purportedly accepted his pledge.Hamdi Alkhshali and Steve Almasy, “ISIS leader purportedly accepts Boko Haram's pledge of allegiance,” CNN, March 12, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/03/12/middleeast/isis-boko-haram/.

    The Nusra Front

    The Nusra Front was allegedly formed as an extension of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI, now ISIS), and received a monthly salary from AQI leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The relationship between the groups deteriorated in April 2013, when al-Baghdadi unilaterally announced a merger between the two groups. The two have since engaged in violent clashes, vying for control over rebel-held territory. Nonetheless, they have continued to cooperate on certain military campaigns against the Assad regime.“UK bans Syria's Al-Qaida-Linked Nusra Front,” Associated Press, July 19, 2013, http://bigstory.ap.org/article/uk-bans-syrias-al-qaida-linked-nusra-front; “Proscribed Terrorist Organisations,” Britain’s Home Office, last modified January 23, 2015, https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/380939/ProscribedOrganisations.pdf.

    Taliban

    In mid-2016, the Taliban and ISIS militants in eastern Afghanistan reached a deal in which both groups agreed to prioritize fighting the government rather than each other.Jessica Donati and Habib Khan Totakhil, “Taliban, Islamic State Forge Informal Alliance in Eastern Afghanistan,” Wall Street Journal, August 7, 2016, http://www.wsj.com/articles/taliban-islamic-state-forge-informal-alliance-in-eastern-afghanistan-1470611849. The agreement came after years of strain between the two organizations due to differing strategies and affiliations.“Taliban leader: allegiance to ISIS ‘haram’,” Rudaw, April 13, 2015, http://rudaw.net/english/middleeast/130420151; Ankit Panda, “Why the Taliban Wants ISIS Out of Afghanistan,” Diplomat, June 18, 2015, http://thediplomat.com/2015/06/why-the-taliban-wants-isis-out-of-afghanistan/.

    Following al-Qaeda’s example, the Taliban have advised ISIS to “avoid extremism” that risks splintering the violent Islamist movement across the broader Middle East.Greg Pollowitz, “The Taliban Warns ISIS of Being Too Extreme,” National Review, July 13, 2014, http://www.nationalreview.com/feed/382615/taliban-warns-isis-being-too-extreme-greg-pollowitz. Though Taliban Emir Mullah Omar is believed to have died in April 2013,Associated Press, “Afghanistan says Taliban leader Mullah Omar died 2 years ago,” MSN, July 29, 2015, http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/afghan-intelligence-agency-taliban-leader-mullah-omar-died-2-years-ago/ar-AAdEHfW. Taliban leadership issued a fatwa under his name in April 2015, in which they reaffirmed the Taliban’s priority of establishing a unified Islamist movement to expel the “far enemy” (Western powers). The fatwa referred to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as a “fake caliph,” asserting, “Baghdadi just wanted to dominate what has so far been achieved by the real jihadists of Islam after three decades of jihad. A pledge of allegiance to him is ‘haram.’”“Taliban leader: allegiance to ISIS ‘haram,’” Rudaw, April 13, 2015, http://rudaw.net/english/middleeast/130420151.

    ISIS has also expanded its operations in Afghanistan. In early 2015, the group announced the creation of an ISIS satellite there known as Wilayat Khorasan, and hinted at its ambitions to challenge the Taliban in the region (comprising Pakistan and Afghanistan).“Islamic State moves in on al-Qaeda turf,” BBC News, June 25, 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-31064300. As of January 2015, hundreds of Taliban members had joined Wilayat Khorasan. In April 2015, ISIS claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in Jalalabad that marked its first serious attack in Afghanistan.Ankit Panda, “Why the Taliban Wants ISIS Out of Afghanistan,” Diplomat, June 18, 2015, http://thediplomat.com/2015/06/why-the-taliban-wants-isis-out-of-afghanistan/.

    As a result of ISIS’s encroachment on its traditional territory, the Taliban have become more direct in their opposition to the terrorist group. In June 2015, the Taliban’s late deputy leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour sent a missive to al-Baghdadi, warning ISIS’s caliph that “jihad against the Americans and their allies [in Afghanistan] must be conducted under one flag and one leadership.”Ankit Panda, “Why the Taliban Wants ISIS Out of Afghanistan,” Diplomat, June 18, 2015, http://thediplomat.com/2015/06/why-the-taliban-wants-isis-out-of-afghanistan/. One year later, in mid-2016, the Taliban and local ISIS militants in eastern Afghanistan reached an ad hoc ceasefire, agreeing to focus on fighting U.S.-backed Afghan soldiers.Jessica Donati and Habib Khan Totakhil, “Taliban, Islamic State Forge Informal Alliance in Eastern Afghanistan,” Wall Street Journal, August 7, 2016, http://www.wsj.com/articles/taliban-islamic-state-forge-informal-alliance-in-eastern-afghanistan-1470611849.

    Media Coverage

    • Arab Media Coverage

      The Connection between Iraq and Al-Qaeda In October 2002, the Saudi paper Al-Riyadh reported al-Qaeda’s statements in response to the Bush...
    • Western Media

      The Connection between Iraq and Al-Qaeda In the lead up to the Iraq War, President George W. Bush used his State of the Union address to document a...
    • Taking over Mosul

      Taking over Mosul When ISIS fighters took control over Mosul on June 10, 2014, the New York Times reported that the Iraqi Army “apparently crumbled...

    Rhetoric

    View All

    Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, ISIS Spokesman, June 23, 2015

    Announcing a new ISIS wilayat (province, governate) in the Caucus: “[The Emir of ISIS, al-Baghdadi has] “accepted your bayat and has appointed the noble sheikh Abu Muhammad al Qadarī as Wali [or governor] over [the Caucasus].”Thomas Joscelyn, “Islamic State spokesman calls on other factions to ‘repent,’ urges sectarian war,” Long War Journal, June 23, 2015, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2015/06/islamic-state-spokesman-calls-on-other-factions-to-repent.php.

    Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, ISIS Spokesman, June 23, 2015

    “[The Shiites] are advancing towards you… your war with them is undoubtedly approaching… either march forth,…drive [the Shiites] back, or remain asleep and wake up to what the people of Iraq, Sham [Syria], and Yemen awoke to of killing, imprisonment, exile, the destruction of their homes, the looting of their wealth, and the violation of their women.”Thomas Joscelyn, “Islamic State spokesman calls on other factions to ‘repent,’ urges sectarian war,” Long War Journal, June 23, 2015, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2015/06/islamic-state-spokesman-calls-on-other-factions-to-repent.php.

    ISIS propaganda video, mid-April 2015

    “America thinks it’s safe because of the geographical location. Thus you see it invades the Muslim lands, and it thinks that the army of the Jihad won’t reach in their lands. But the dream of the American to have safety became a mirage. Today there is no safety for any American on the globe. The mujahideen before although they had less resources, attacked New York and bombed the Twin Towers in September Eleven attacks. That blessed incursion was a fatal blow … by Allah’s willing the fear will spread among them again soon … Today, it’s time for payback … the mujahideen are much more stronger and they have more resources. Thus they are able to burn United States again.”Chris Perez, “ISIS threatens another 9/11-style attack on social media,” New York Post, April 13, 2015, http://nypost.com/2015/04/13/isis-threatens-another-911-style-attack-on-social-media/.

    ISIS leaflet banning Nike products, April 2015

    “O youth, beware of foreign words and symbols of infidels on our clothes.”“Just don’t do it: ISIS bans Nike sports brand,” Al Arabiya News, April 25, 2015, http://english.alarabiya.net/en/variety/2015/04/25/Just-don-t-do-it-ISIS-bans-Nike-sports-brand.html.

    Masked ISIS fighter, February 15, 2015, “A Message Signed with Blood to the Nation of the Cross,” video showing the beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya

    “O people, recently, you've seen us on the hills of al-Sham and Dabiq's plain, chopping off the heads that have been carrying the cross for a long time, filled with spite against Islam and Muslims. And today, we are on the south of Rome, on the land of Islam, Libya, sending another message… Therefore, we will fight you all together, until the war lays down its burdens and Jesus, peace be upon him, will descend, breaking the cross, killing the swine, and abolishing jizya [non-Muslim tax]. And the sea you've hidden Sheikh Osama bin Laden's body in, we swear to Allah we will mix it with your blood.”“IS Releases Video Showing the Beheading of Kidnapped Egyptian Christians in Libya,” INSITE Blog on Terrorism & Extremism, February 15, 2015, http://news.siteintelgroup.com/blog/index.php/entry/359-is-releases-video-showing-the-beheading-of-kidnapped-egyptian-christians-in-libya.

    Masked ISIS Fighter, January 26, 2015, in “Bombardment of Peaceful Muslims in the City of Mosul,” video showing the beheading of a Kurdish soldier

    “This is the fate of anyone who opposes Islam. Know, oh Obama, that we will reach America. Know also that we will cut off your head in the White House and transform America into a Muslim province. And this is my message to France and its sister, Belgium. We advise you that we will come to you with car bombs and explosive charges and we will cut off your heads…

    “But as for you, oh Masoud [Kurdistan President Barzani], you dog, we are going to behead you and throw you into the trash bin of history. Know that we are men who fear no one. We will institute the laws of Allah, may he be exalted and praised. This is one of your soldiers' fate, and every time you launch a missile, we will send you back the head of one of your soldiers. You are killing children and bombarding civilians, while claiming that this is forbidden in your constitution."“ISIS Beheads Kurdish Fighter, Threatens to Behead Obama, Kurdistan President Barzani, Detonate Car Bombs In France, Belgium,” MEMRI Jihad & Terrorist Threat Monitor, January 26, 2015, http://www.memrijttm.org/isis-beheads-kurdish-fighter-threatens-to-behead-obama-kurdistan-president-barzani-detonate-car-bombs-in-france-belgium.html.

    “Our State is Victorious” ISIS music video released December 10, 2014

    “You [enemies of ISIS] are crying out of help and distress, where as we wish to die, with the press of a button, everything blows up, our state is victorious!”

    “We set out to battlefield, against kuffar [nonbelievers] and murtaddin [apostates], the enemies of this noble religion, our state is victorious!”

    “We do everyone a favor, when we drop bombs on you, your system will collapse, our state is victorious!”

    “You believe that you have power (shows clip of Barack Obama,) weapons, and a lot of might, but we will eventually kill you, our state is victorious.”

    “Because you worship Shaytan, without sense and concept, you have no chance against our religion, our state is victorious!”“al-Ḥayāt Media Center presents a new nashīd from The Islamic State: ‘Our State Is Victorious’,” Jihadology, December 10, 2014, http://jihadology.net/2014/12/10/al-%E1%B8%A5ayat-media-center-presents-a-new-nashid-from-the-islamic-state-our-state-is-victorious/.

    Disguised ISIS fighter, October 3, 2014, in “Another Message to America and its Allies” video showing beheading of British citizen Alan Henning

    "The blood of David Haines was on your hands David Cameron. Alan Henning will also be slaughtered but his blood is on the hands of the British parliament."

    "Obama you have started your aerial bombardment in Sham (Syria), which keeps on striking our people, so it is only right we keep on striking the necks of your people"Gavin Allen, “Full transcript of ISIS video claiming to show beheading of Alan Henning,” Mirror UK, October 3, 2014, http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/full-transcript-isis-video-claiming-4375219.

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