Overview

Also known as:

Executive Summary:

ISIS is an extremist group formed from al-Qaeda offshoots in Iraq and Syria. Since its formation in 2013, ISIS has worked to sustain a self-declared caliphate in eastern Syria and western Iraq. Ultimately, ISIS seeks to unite the world under a single caliphate, and to that end the group has begun to establish satellite operations in nine countries. Initially, ISIS gained support within Iraq as a Sunni insurgency group fighting what some Sunnis viewed as a partisan Shiite-led Iraqi government. The group has since garnered additional momentum as a result of the Syrian civil war, and has recruited up to 33,000 fighters from around the world. Thousands of foreign ISIS fighters are estimated to have been killed in battle, while some have returned—or are reportedly planning to return—to their home countries.Patricia Zengerle and Jonathan Landay, “CIA director says Islamic State still serious threat,” Reuters, June 16, 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-fighters-idUSKCN0Z21ST;
“Islamic State Changing Terror Tactics to Maintain Threat in Europe,” EUROPOL, December 2, 2016, https://www.europol.europa.eu/newsroom/news/islamic-state-changing-terror-tactics-to-maintain-threat-in-europe;
“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.

ISIS finds its origins in al-Qaeda forerunner al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), formed by sectarian extremist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. During the Iraq War and its aftermath, the group experienced a series of setbacks and restructurings, for a while going by the name the Islamic State in Iraq (ISI). In June 2014, the group—then led by Iraqi extremist Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi—unilaterally declared a caliphate spanning eastern Syria and western Iraq, naming Baghdadi as its “caliph.” In his first speech as “caliph,” Baghdadi made clear that ISIS’s aspirations were not limited to any one region, saying that the group sought to establish governance over all Muslims. Consequently, the organization changed its name from the “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria” (or the “Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham”) to simply the “Islamic State.”

Although ISIS controlled large swaths of territory across Iraq and Syria at the peak of its territorial control in the summer of 2014, the group lost the last of those territorial holdings over the course of 2017.Sarah Almukhtar et al., “ISIS Has Lost Many of the Key Places It Once Controlled,” New York Times, July 3, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/06/18/world/middleeast/isis-control-places-cities.html; Alex Lockie, “ISIS has been militarily defeated in Iraq and Syria,” Business Insider, November 21, 2017, http://www.businessinsider.com/isis-military-defeat-iraq-syria-2017-11. At its height, ISIS controlled almost 40 percent of Iraqi territory. By April 2017, U.S.-backed Iraqi forces had reduced ISIS’s control of the country to less than 7 percent.“ISIL now controls 'less than 7 percent of Iraq,’” Al Jazeera, April 12, 2017, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/04/isil-controls-percent-iraq-170411162419697.html. On July 10, 2017, the Iraqi government announced the liberation of Iraq’s second largest city of Mosul, where Baghdadi had declared ISIS’s caliphate three years earlier.“5 Things to Know About Mosul,” Associated Press, July 10, 2017, https://apnews.com/235d1fc9a02e4201a9532b0a11c924d7/5-Things-to-know-about-Iraq's-Mosul; Isabel Coles and Stephen Kalin, “Iraqi PM declares victory over Islamic State in Mosul,” Reuters, July 10, 2017, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-iraq-mosul-idUSKBN19V105?il=0. Following the November 17 recapture of Rawa, the last ISIS-held town in Iraq, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared military victory over ISIS in the country.“Last Iraqi town held by ISIS recaptured, officials say,” CBS News, November 17, 2017, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/last-iraqi-town-held-by-isis-recaptured-officials-say/; Alex Lockie, “ISIS has been militarily defeated in Iraq and Syria,” Business Insider, November 21, 2017, http://www.businessinsider.com/isis-military-defeat-iraq-syria-2017-11. In June 2017, U.S-backed forces began an offensive to drive ISIS out of its declared capital in Raqqa, Syria.Jim Michaels, “Offensive to drive ISIS from Raqqa ‘capital’ in Syria begins,” USA Today, June 6, 2017, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2017/06/06/offensive-drive-isis-raqqa-capital-syria-begins/102542488/. On October 17, 2017, American-backed forces announced the liberation of Raqqa, and on November 21, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani declared that ISIS had been driven out of Syria by Iranian-backed forces.Anne Barnard and Hwaida Saad, “Raqqa, ISIS ‘Capital,” Is Captured, U.S.-Backed Forces Say,” New York Times, October 17, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/17/world/middleeast/isis-syria-raqqa.html; Alex Lockie, “ISIS has been militarily defeated in Iraq and Syria,” Business Insider, November 21, 2017, http://www.businessinsider.com/isis-military-defeat-iraq-syria-2017-11. Despite ISIS’s territorial losses, security officials expect ISIS to remain a threat and lead an ongoing insurgency in the region.Isabel Coles and Stephen Kalin, “Iraqi PM declares victory over Islamic State in Mosul,” Reuters, July 10, 2017, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-iraq-mosul-idUSKBN19V105?il=0; Asa Fitch and Ali A. Nabhan, “Mosul Recaptured From Islamic State, Iraq’s Prime Minister Says,” Wall Street Journal, July 10, 2017, https://www.wsj.com/articles/mosul-recaptured-from-islamic-state-iraqs-prime-minister-says-1499704119; Margaret Coker et al., “With Loss of Its Caliphate, ISIS May Return to Guerrilla Roots,” New York Times, October 18, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/18/world/middleeast/islamic-state-territory-attacks.html.

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/. Bangladesh,Julfikar Ali Manik, Geeta Anand, and Ellen Barry, “Bangladesh Attack Is New Evidence That ISIS Has Shifted Its Focus Beyond the Mideast,” New York Times, July 2, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/03/world/asia/bangladesh-hostage-standoff.html. 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 such as FranceAlissa J. Rubin and Aurelien Breeden, “ISIS Claims Truck Attacker in France Was Its ‘Soldier,’” New York Times, July 16, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/17/world/europe/isis-nice-france-attack.html. and Belgium.Agence France-Presse, “Brussels airport delays reopening, as attacks toll lowered to 32,” Yahoo News, March 30, 2016, https://www.yahoo.com/news/belgium-resumes-hunt-airport-suspect-criticism-mounts-004723635.html?ref=gs;
Patrick Sawer and David Chazan, “British victim of Brussels attacks confirmed dead as slow identification of bodies continues,” Telegraph (London), March 25, 2016, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/03/25/brussels-attacks-british-it-expert-david-dixon-confirmed-dead/;
Alissa J. Rubin, Aurelien Breeden, and Anita Raghavan, “Strikes Claimed by ISIS Shut Brussels and Shake European Security,” New York Times, March 22, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/23/world/europe/brussels-airport-explosions.html.

ISIS has historically funded 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 to 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.
The group has also lured significant numbers of recruits through online propaganda, including videos and magazines produced in English, French, German, and a variety of other languages.Greg Miller and Souad Mekhennet, “Inside the surreal world of the Islamic State’s propaganda machine,” Washington Post, November 20, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/inside-the-islamic-states-propaganda-machine/2015/11/20/051e997a-8ce6-11e5-acff-673ae92ddd2b_story.html;
“New ISIS Media Company Addresses English, German And French-Speaking Westerners,” MEMRI, June 23, 2014, http://www.memrijttm.org/new-isis-media-company-targets-english-german-and-french-speaking-westerners.html.
ISIS recruiters have also been successful on social media platforms and encrypted messaging services such as Twitter and 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.

Under its self-proclaimed caliphate, ISIS imposed sharia (Islamic law) and was notorious for killing civilians en masse, often by public execution and crucifixion. Since losing its territory in Syria and Iraq, ISIS has shifted its strategy in those countries from holding territory to insurgency against the state. While ISIS’s dreams of a global caliphate are unlikely to ever be realized, the group will continue to cause significant damage wherever it is able to gain a foothold.

Doctrine:

ISIS’s overarching goals center on the reestablishment of a global, Islamic caliphate and fostering violent conflict between Muslims and non-Muslims.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; Ali Gharib, “Isis wants Christians and Muslims to fight a war. Will Republicans take the bait?,” Guardian (London), November 15, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/nov/16/isis-christians-muslims-holy-war-republicans-2016.  In October 2015, ISIS’s then-spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani issued a statement urging Muslims around the world to engage in a “holy war” against Russia and the United States, which he claimed were leading a “crusaders’ war against Muslims.”“Islamic State urges jihad against Russians, Americans: audio,” Reuters, October 13, 2015, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-islamicstate/islamic-state-urges-jihad-against-russians-americans-audio-idUSKCN0S72DH20151013. Since the loss of Mosul in Iraq and its self-declared capital in Raqqa, Syria, in 2017, ISIS has transitioned from a territory-holding group to an insurgency in both those countries.Jason Burke, “Rise and fall of Isis: its dream of a caliphate is over, so what now?” Guardian (London), October 17, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/21/isis-caliphate-islamic-state-raqqa-iraq-islamist. Yet unlike al-Qaeda, which views a global caliphate as a long-term goal, establishing an Islamic caliphate remains ISIS’s core objective.Aaron Zelin, “Interpreting the Fall of Islamic State Governance,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, October 16, 2017, http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/interpreting-the-fall-of-islamic-state-governance. Since its official founding in June 2014, this doctrinal commitment led ISIS to hold territory for more than three years across Iraq and Syria, and continue to hold territory in Afghanistan, Libya, and Nigeria.

In his June 2014 speech announcing the creation of the caliphate, ISIS’s late spokesman and director of external operations Abu Muhammad al-Adnani declared that “Without [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.”“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; “This is the promise of Allah,” Alhayat Media, June 29, 2014, https://ia902505.us.archive.org/28/items/poa_25984/EN.pdf. On the cover of the first issue of ISIS’s online English magazine Dabiq, the title “The Return of Khilafah” is superimposed over an image of the Arabian Peninsula, literally illustrating the group’s top priority.“The Return of the Khilafah,” Dabiq, July 2014, 4, https://azelin.files.wordpress.com/2014/07/islamic-state-22dc481biq-magazine-122.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 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, Baghdadi expanded further on the significance of the caliphate. Most important, he claimed, was that all Muslims 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. While Salafism under the Gulf monarchies tends to non-violent “quietism,” ISIS is explicitly willing to use violence in an attempt to return to the days of the salaf. 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, and Ba’hai—are all apostates and deserving of death.

ISIS also cleaves 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/. Indeed, ISIS frequently refers to the apocalypse in its various recruitment materials, including magazines, videos, and speeches.“ISIS leader surfaces in new audio recording,” CBS News, December 26, 2015, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/isis-leader-abu-bakr-al-baghdadi-surfaces-in-new-audio-recording/;
“Break the Cross,” Dabiq, July 2016, 2, https://azelin.files.wordpress.com/2016/07/the-islamic-state-e2809cdacc84biq-magazine-1522.pdf;
Graeme Wood, “What ISIS Really Wants,” Atlantic, March 2015, http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2015/02/what-isis-really-wants/384980/.
According to ISIS’s aptly-named English-language magazine Dabiq, the apocalypse will be preceded by “One of the greatest battles between the Muslims and the crusaders” in the town of Dabiq, located northeast of Aleppo in the Syrian countryside.“The Return of the Khilafah,” Dabiq, July 2014, 4, https://azelin.files.wordpress.com/2014/07/islamic-state-22dc481biq-magazine-122.pdf;
“Dabiq: Why is Syrian town so important for IS?,” BBC News, October 4, 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-30083303.

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 Baghdadi are two chief deputies, who oversaw 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/. These two deputies, Baghdadi, and his cabinet of advisers 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 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 reportedly responsible for ensuring that 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/. and is also responsible for relaying 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 analyst Jasmine Opperman, the council approves lower council decisions that impact the caliphate. It also has the authority to force 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 was 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 conquered new territory, the group’s Shariah Council was 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, Baghdadi’s two deputies each oversaw 12 governors in their respective territories in Iraq and Syria. The deputies also oversaw ministry-like councils that were 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 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 operates a secret service wing, previously run by the late Abu Muhammad al-Adnani. 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 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.

At its height in 2014, ISIS controlled approximately 40 percent of Iraq. In April 2017, the Iraqi military estimated that ISIS held only 6.8 percent of Iraqi territory.“Islamic State has lost most territory it held in Iraq: Iraqi spokesman,” Reuters, April 11, 2017, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-iraq-mosul-idUSKBN17D1FP. By June 2017, U.S.-backed Iraqi forces were fighting to reclaim the last vestiges of ISIS-held Mosul, the group’s last remaining territory in Iraq. In June 2017, ISIS blew up the historic Great Mosque of al-Nuri, where Baghdadi had declared his caliphate in 2014. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi called ISIS’s destruction of the over-800-year-old mosque “an official announcement of their defeat.”Hamdi Alkhshali, Barbara Starr, and Phil Gast, “US, Iraq say ISIS blew up famous Mosul mosque,” CNN, June 22, 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2017/06/21/world/mosul-iraq-mosque-destroyed/index.html. Also in June 2017, U.S-backed forces began an offensive to drive ISIS out of its declared capital in Raqqa, Syria.Jim Michaels, “Offensive to drive ISIS from Raqqa ‘capital’ in Syria begins,” USA Today, June 6, 2017, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2017/06/06/offensive-drive-isis-raqqa-capital-syria-begins/102542488/.<

On July 10, 2017, Abadi declared that U.S.-backed Iraqi forces had liberated all of Mosul. Iraqi officials tempered their celebrations, acknowledging that they still needed to clear away explosives and ISIS fighters hiding in parts of the city. According to the United Nations, almost 700,000 people in Mosul remained displaced since the beginning of the campaign. Authorities believed hundreds of Iraqi civilians were killed the fighting, while thousands more were wounded. The United Nations estimated that ISIS used 100,000 people as human shields.“5 Things to Know About Mosul,” Associated Press, July 10, 2017, https://apnews.com/235d1fc9a02e4201a9532b0a11c924d7/5-Things-to-know-about-Iraq's-Mosul; Isabel Coles and Stephen Kalin, “Iraqi PM declares victory over Islamic State in Mosul,” Reuters, July 10, 2017, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-iraq-mosul-idUSKBN19V105?il=0.

On October 17, 2017, American-backed forces in Syria announced that they had successfully liberated Raqqa from ISIS control, although similar concerns about explosives and ISIS fighters hiding in parts of the city remained. Approximately 270,000 people were displaced by the fighting in Raqqa, and more than 1,000 civilians killed in American-led airstrikes.Anne Barnard and Hwaida Saad, “Raqqa, ISIS ‘Capital,” Is Captured, U.S.-Backed Forces Say,” New York Times, October 17, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/17/world/middleeast/isis-syria-raqqa.html.

On November 21, 2017, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani announced that ISIS had been completely driven out of Syria while Abadi declared a military victory over ISIS in Iraq following the recapture of Rawa, the last ISIS-held town in the country, the previous week.Alex Lockie, “ISIS has been militarily defeated in Iraq and Syria,” Business Insider, November 21, 2017, http://www.businessinsider.com/isis-military-defeat-iraq-syria-2017-11. Despite these territorial losses, Iraqi security officials expect ISIS to revert to guerrilla warfare and continue carrying out sporadic attacks in the region as part of an insurgency.Isabel Coles and Stephen Kalin, “Iraqi PM declares victory over Islamic State in Mosul,” Reuters, July 10, 2017, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-iraq-mosul-idUSKBN19V105?il=0; Asa Fitch and Ali A. Nabhan, “Mosul Recaptured From Islamic State, Iraq’s Prime Minister Says,” Wall Street Journal, July 10, 2017, https://www.wsj.com/articles/mosul-recaptured-from-islamic-state-iraqs-prime-minister-says-1499704119; Margaret Coker et al., “With Loss of Its Caliphate, ISIS May Return to Guerrilla Roots,” New York Times, October 18, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/18/world/middleeast/islamic-state-territory-attacks.html.

Furthermore, ISIS continues to capture and hold new territory in Syria as it engages rebel and regime forces. On November 21, 2017, ISIS launched a new offensive targeting the rebel group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) in north Hama, Syria.Weekly Conflict Summary November 16-22, 2017, Carter Center, November 22, 2017, https://www.cartercenter.org/resources/pdfs/peace/conflict_resolution/syria-conflict/weekly-conflict-summary-2017.11.22.pdf. HTS accused the Syrian regime of aiding ISIS fighters against the rebel group in northern Hama in October 2017, a claim that the Carter Center finds “likely” to be true since the ISIS fighters that attacked HTS first traveled through regime-held territory in large numbers.Weekly Conflict Summary October 5-11, 2017, Carter Center, October 11, 2017, https://www.cartercenter.org/resources/pdfs/peace/conflict_resolution/syria-conflict/weekly-conflict-summary-2017.10.05-11.pdf. According to the Carter Center, Russian and regime planes have regularly bombed HTS along its frontline with ISIS while not attacking ISIS fighters in the area.Conflict Summary December 21, 2017-January 10, 2018, Carter Center, January 10, 2018, https://www.cartercenter.org/resources/pdfs/peace/conflict_resolution/syria-conflict/weekly-conflict-summary-2017.12.21-2018.01.10.pdf. Nonetheless, ISIS has continued its offensive against the Syrian regime. That November, ISIS expanded into Idlib for the first time since 2014, as rebel groups were forced to fight both ISIS and the regime along the same front.Weekly Conflict Summary November 16-22, 2017, Carter Center, November 22, 2017, https://www.cartercenter.org/resources/pdfs/peace/conflict_resolution/syria-conflict/weekly-conflict-summary-2017.11.22.pdf.On December 12, 2017, ISIS launched an attack in southern Deir Ez Zor, capturing eight villages held by the Syrian regime along the Euphrates River.Weekly Conflict Summary December 7-13, 2017, Carter Center, December 13, 2017, https://www.cartercenter.org/resources/pdfs/peace/conflict_resolution/syria-conflict/weeklyconflictsummary-2017.12.07-13.pdf.

Wilayat

Before its military defeats in Syria and Iraq in November 2017, ISIS controlled wilayat (provinces) in both countries 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 wilaya, 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 September 2015 U.N. report alleged 70 ISIS militants traveled from Iraq and Syria to Afghanistan to form the core of the new wilaya.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. The group has since continued to carry out deadly attacks and maintain a small stronghold in the region.Sune Engel Rasmussen, “Isis in Afghanistan: ‘Their peak is over, but they are not finished,’” Guardian (London), November 18, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/18/isis-in-afghanistan-their-peak-is-over-but-they-are-not-finished. On March 8, 2017, the group launched a suicide bomb and gun attack at a hospital in Kabul, killing 30 people.Mirwais Harooni, “Over 30 killed as gunmen dressed as medics attack Afghan military hospital,” Reuters, March 8, 2017, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-afghanistan-blast-idUSKBN16F0GP.

There were approximately 1,300 ISIS fighters in Afghanistan as of September 2016, according to General John Nicholson, the highest ranking U.S. military commander in the country. Nicholson said on September 23, 2016, that ISIS leaders in Syria provide the Afghanistan fighters with money, guidance, and communications support. According to Nicholson, ISIS’s fighters are largely former members of the Pakistan Taliban and primarily based in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar region.“U.S. General Says Taliban Controls 10 Percent Of Afghanistan,” Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, September 23, 2016, https://www.rferl.org/a/28009576.html.

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 governorate, 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 governorate.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 accrued an estimated “several hundreds, if not over a thousand” fighters in the Sinai region, according to CIA Director John Brennan.Patricia Zengerle and Jonathan Landay, “CIA director says Islamic State still serious threat,” Reuters, June 16, 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-fighters-idUSKCN0Z21ST. The group has claimed responsibility for an attack on an Egyptian vesselDavid 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. 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.
On February 9, 2017, Wilayat Sinai claimed responsibility for a number of rocket attacks targeting an Israeli resort in Eilat, an attack that caused no damage or casualties.“Islamic State-linked group claims rocket attack on Israeli resort,” Reuters, February 9, 2017, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-israel-palestinians-idUSKBN15O0GF.Following the attack, Wilayat Sinai took to Telegram to claim responsibility and warn that “what is coming is graver and more bitter.”“Islamic State-linked group claims rocket attack on Israeli resort,” Reuters, February 9, 2017, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-israel-palestinians-idUSKBN15O0GF.

Beginning in December 2016, Wilayat Sinai launched a campaign against Egypt’s Coptic Christian community. On December 11, 2016, ISIS claimed a suicide bombing at a chapel adjacent to St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo, killing at least 28 people during Sunday Mass.Sudarsan Raghavan and Heba Mahfouz, “With bombing victims still dying, it’s a somber Christmas for Egypt’s Christians,” Washington Post, January 7, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/with-bombing-victims-still-dying-its-a-somber-christmas-for-egypts-christians/2017/01/07/95d27a9c-d162-11e6-9651-54a0154cf5b3_story.html?utm_term=.0bb2f12000df. On April 9, 2017, ISIS claimed a bombing of St. George’s Church in Tanta and a suicide bombing at St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria that altogether killed at least 45 people.Maggie Michael, “Attacks test Egypt’s president who orders state of emergency,” Associated Press, April 10, 2017, https://apnews.com/4b96a168a56441e2b66c41b797ef849e/egypts-christians-bury-dead-after-church-bombings. On May 26, ISIS launched its first attack against a monastery when gunmen attacked two buses and a truck carrying Coptic Christians to the monastery of St. Samuel the Confessor south of Cairo, killing 29 people.Bijan Hosseini, Angela Dewan, and Jason Hanna, “Egypt shooting: ISIS claims massacre of 29,” CNN, May 27, 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2017/05/27/middleeast/egypt-shooting-coptic-christians-isis-claim/. In February 2017, Wilayat Sinai released a propaganda video declaring Christians to be their “favorite prey.”“ISIS Egypt affiliate: Christians are our ‘favorite prey,” Fox News, February 20, 2017, http://www.foxnews.com/world/2017/02/20/isis-egypt-affiliate-christians-are-our-favorite-prey.html.

On November 24, 2017, militants carrying the ISIS flag carried out a bomb and gun attack on the al Rawdah mosque in Bir al-Abed in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, killing at least 305 people and wounding at least 128 others in the deadliest attack in the country’s history.Hamdi Alkhshali et al., “Egypt mosque attack death toll climbs to above 300,” CNN, November 25, 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2017/11/25/africa/egypt-sinai-mosque-massacre/index.html; Charlene Gubash et al., “Egypt mosque attack: Death toll rises, officials say militants brandished ISIS flag,” NBC News, November 25, 2017, https://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/isis-terror/egypt-reels-death-toll-rises-mosque-attack-which-militants-brandished-n823871. Although Egyptian authorities suspect ISIS’s Wilayat Sinai is responsible, the group has not claimed responsibility.Omar Fahmy and Patrick Markey, “Gunmen in Egypt mosque attack carried Islamic State flag, prosecutor says,” Reuters, November 24, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-egypt-security/gunmen-in-egypt-mosque-attack-carried-islamic-state-flag-prosecutor-says-idUSKBN1DO1AN.

Israeli intelligence has accused Wilayat Sinai of cooperating with Hamas in the neighboring Gaza Strip. Hamas has reportedly used its underground tunnel system beneath the Gaza-Egypt border to transport aid to Wilayat Sinai, while also providing military training and medical aid to ISIS militants in the Sinai.Avi Issacharoff, “Under Egypt’s nose, Hamas boosts cooperation with IS in Sinai,” Times of Israel, March 6, 2016, http://www.timesofisrael.com/under-egypts-nose-hamas-boosts-cooperation-with-is-in-sinai/; Avi Issacharoff, “Inside Hamas, a bitter and very personal battle for control,” Times of Israel, March 19, 2016, http://www.timesofisrael.com/inside-hamas-a-bitter-and-very-personal-battle-for-control/; Avi Issacharoff, “Rising new Hamas leader is all too familiar to Israel,” Times of Israel, December 18, 2015, http://www.timesofisrael.com/rising-new-hamas-leader-is-all-too-familiar-to-israel/. Nonetheless, on January 4, 2018, Wilayat Sinai released an execution video of an alleged Hamas member and called on supporters to attack Hamas in Gaza because the group failed to stop U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017.Vasudevan Sridharan, “Islamic State issues threats against Hamas with brutal execution video,” International Business Times, January 5, 2018, http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/islamic-state-issues-threats-against-hamas-brutal-execution-video-1653878.

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

ISIS caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced the creation of Libya’s wilaya 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. Since then, a combination of Libyan forces and U.S. airstrikes are believed to have driven many ISIS fighters from its former stronghold in Sirte. Despite losing ground in Sirte, the group has a presence in other parts of the country.Lamine Chikhi, “U.S. on watch for Islamic State dispersing in Libya: official,” Reuters, December 1, 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-libya-security-usa-idUSKBN13Q4PT;
“Islamic State forced Philippine nurses to give medical training in Libya,” Reuters, February 27, 2017, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-libya-security-prisoners-idUSKBN1662KR.

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 governorate in Russia’s North Caucasus, after months of garnering support in the region. The governorate 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. More than a dozen suspected ISIS fighters have been arrested in Russia since the announcement.“Around 20 Islamic State recruiters arrested in Moscow: RIA,” Reuters, March 30, 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-islamic-state-arrests-idUSKCN0WW1NT.

Saudi Arabia: Wilayat al-Haramayn

ISIS declared a governorate 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 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/.
In May 2015, ISIS claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing at a Shiite mosque in eastern Saudi Arabia, killing more than 20 people and wounding more than 120 others.David D. Kirkpatrick, “ISIS Claims Responsibility for Bombing at Saudi Mosque,” New York Times, May 22, 2015, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/23/world/middleeast/suicide-bombing-saudi-arabia-shiites-sunnis-yemen-mosque.html. In August 2015, the group claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing at a mosque in southern Saudi Arabia, killing 15 people.Ben Hubbard, “At Least 15 Die at Saudi Mosque from Suicide Bomber,” August 6, 2015, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/07/world/middleeast/suicide-bombing-saudi-arabia.html.

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 at least 142 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/;
“Yemen mosque bombings 'could only be done by the enemies of life' – president,” Guardian (London), March 21, 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/mar/21/yemen-mosque-bombings-enemies-of-life-president-abedrabbo-mansour-hadi-houthi-isis-al-qaida.
In late April 2015, the group formally announced itself as an ISIS governorate. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi confirmed the group’s status as a governorate 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.

ISIS has not gained as much traction among Yemenis as al-Qaeda, according to Yemeni officials. Many of the leaders of ISIS in Yemen are Saudi nationals. Compounded with ISIS’s centralized authority based in Syria, many in Yemen’s tribal areas reportedly view the terror group as foreign and disconnected from Yemeni interests. Furthermore, AQAP has forged alliances and worked with local tribal authorities in power-sharing agreements while ISIS leadership has failed to make inroads in Yemeni tribal structure.Asa Fitch and Saleh Al Batati, “ISIS Fails to Gain Much Traction in Yemen,” Wall Street Journal, March 28, 2016, https://www.wsj.com/articles/isis-fails-to-gain-much-traction-in-yemen-1459203675.

Financing:

At the height of its power in Iraq and Syria, ISIS was been called 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 at $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. In 2016, ISIS was estimated to have taken in $870 million, according to findings by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation.“Caliphate in Decline: An Estimate of Islamic State’s Financial Fortunes,” ICSR, February 17, 2017, http://icsr.info/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/ICSR-Report-Caliphate-in-Decline-An-Estimate-of-Islamic-States-Financial-Fortunes.pdf. By June 2017, ISIS had reportedly lost 80 percent of its revenue sources. The group reportedly had a revenue stream of just $16 million during the second financial quarter of 2017, compared with $81 million during the same period in 2015, according to global data-monitoring company IHS Markit.Alastair Jamieson, “ISIS Revenue Falls 80 Percent as Militants Lose Ground in Iraq, Syria,” NBC News, June 30, 2017, http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/isis-terror/isis-revenue-falls-80-percent-militants-lose-ground-iraq-syria-n778071. The lost revenue forced ISIS to cut its fighters’ wages by 50 percent in February 2016.Tom Keatinge, “Islamic State: The struggle to stay rich,” BBC, March 8, 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-35585298.

Militant financing expert Patrick Johnson of the RAND Corporation credited ISIS’s survival and evolution to its strong, diversified fundraising apparatus.Patrick B. Johnston, “Countering ISIL’s Financing,” RAND Corporation, November 13, 2014, http://www.rand.org/pubs/testimonies/CT419.html. As the group expanded through 2013 and 2014, ISIS derived the largest part of its revenue from the spoils of war, particularly as the group commandeered oil fields and weapons caches.Patrick B. Johnston, “Countering ISIL’s Financing,” RAND Corporation, November 13, 2014, http://www.rand.org/pubs/testimonies/CT419.html;
“Financing of the Terrorist Organisation Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL),” Financial Action Task Force, February 2015, 31, http://www.fatf-gafi.org/media/fatf/documents/reports/Financing-of-the-terrorist-organisation-ISIL.pdf.
While ISIS controlled territory in Iraq and Syria between 2014 and 2017, the group reportedly derived its income primarily from taxation, oil, looting, and extortion.Jose Pagliery, “Inside the $2 billion ISIS war machine,” CNN Money, December 11, 2015, http://money.cnn.com/2015/12/06/news/isis-funding/; “Caliphate in Decline: An Estimate of Islamic State’s Financial Fortunes,” ICSR, February 17, 2017, http://icsr.info/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/ICSR-Report-Caliphate-in-Decline-An-Estimate-of-Islamic-States-Financial-Fortunes.pdf.

For years, ISIS controlled oil fields in its strongholds of eastern Syria and northern Iraq, smuggling 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. Customers reportedly included ISIS sympathizers, as well as those who formally opposed 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 targeted 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 was hamstrung by maintenance needs, which it reportedly addressed 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.

ISIS also reportedly fills its coffers through extortion, including 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 allegedly collected at least $25 million in ransom payments, a figure that may in fact 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. By December 2015, ISIS reportedly collected $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/. However in mid-2017 ISIS lost its last major population centers in Iraq and Syria, thus losing all tax revenue.Jason Burke, “Rise and fall of Isis: its dream of a caliphate is over, so what now?,” Guardian (London), October 17, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/21/isis-caliphate-islamic-state-raqqa-iraq-islamist; Aaron Zelin, “Interpreting the Fall of Islamic State Governance,” The Washington Institute, October 16, 2017, http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/interpreting-the-fall-of-islamic-state-governance.

ISIS has also 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 has also attracted 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.

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 group has also released propaganda materials through media centers Al-Furqan and Al-I’tasim Media, news agencies Amaq Agency and Bayan Radio, as well as through more than a dozen regional media outlets that produce content on behalf of the group’s various wilayas. 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. WhatsApp,Sebastian Rotella, “ISIS via WhatsApp: ‘Blow Yourself Up, O Lion,’” PBS Frontline, July 11, 2016, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/isis-via-whatsapp-blow-yourself-up-o-lion/;
Harriet Agerholm, “Isis using Whatsapp and Telegram to sell sex slaves,” Independent (London), July 7, 2016, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/isis-using-whatsapp-telegram-sell-sex-slaves-iraq-facebook-a7125551.html.
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 as well as instructions on how to carry out domestic attacks on behalf of the terrorist group.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, though the group also releases high-production video content through Al-Faruq Media, Al-I’tisam Media, and through regional video producers dispersed throughout the group’s various wilayas.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 online propaganda magazines.“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.

Online Magazines and Newsletters: Dabiq, Rumiyah, and al-Naba

Both Dabiq and Rumiyah serve as another recruitment tool for the terror group. The group also releases text missives through its al-Naba newsletter, and through text releases from the group’s propaganda news agency, Amaq.

ISIS’s released its first online, multi-language magazine on July 5, 2014, just one month after capturing the Iraqi city of Mosul. Dabiq was named after a small town in northern Syria where Islamic scriptures prophesized the final apocalyptic battle between Christians and Muslims would be held. The magazine provided English-language readers with battlefield updates, administrative reporting, and religious commentary.Harleen K. Gambhir, "Dabiq: The Strategic Messaging of the Islamic State," (PDF) Institute for the Study of War, August 15, 2014, http://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/Dabiq%20Backgrounder_Harleen%20Final.pdf. ISIS also used Dabiq’s 15 issues to promote religious propaganda to justify its crimes, such as enslaving and selling Yazidi women as sex slaves.Salma Abdelaziz, “ISIS states its justification for the enslavement of women,” CNN, October 13, 2014, http://www.cnn.com/2014/10/12/world/meast/isis-justification-slavery/. The magazine was available via pro-ISIS Telegram accounts, widely shared on Twitter and Facebook, and briefly available for purchase on Amazon.Alessandria Masi, “ISIS Propaganda Magazine Dabiq For Sale On Amazon, Gets Taken Down,” International Business Times, June 10, 2015, http://www.ibtimes.com/isis-propaganda-magazine-dabiq-sale-amazon-gets-taken-down-1961036.

In September 2016, as it appeared that the town of Dabiq would soon fall to Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army forces, ISIS replaced its magazine with a new one, Rumiyah. The name change sought to shift emphasis away from a mythical final battle between Muslims and Christians that was to take place in Dabiq. The name Rumiyah refers to two hadiths that calls for Islam to conquer Constantinople and then Rome on its path to conquering the West, which ISIS referenced in a eulogy of its recently deceased spokesman Abu Muhammed al-Adnani in Rumiyah’s first issue.Thoms Joscelyn, “Town of Dabiq falls to Turkish-backed forces,” Long War Journal, October 17, 2016, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2016/10/town-of-dabiq-falls-to-turkish-backed-forces.php; Michael Weiss, “An ISIS Plot to Blow Up Notre Dame Cathedral—and Rule the World?” Daily Beast, September 8, 2016, https://www.thedailybeast.com/an-isis-plot-to-blow-up-notre-dame-cathedraland-rule-the-world; Robin Wright, “The Hand of ISIS at Ohio State,” New Yorker, November 29, 2016, https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/the-hand-of-isis-at-ohio-state. ISIS has used the magazine to call for lone-wolf attacks in Western countries, including the United States and Australia.“In New Magazine “Rumiyah,” IS Calls for Lone-Wolf Attacks in Australia, West,” SITE Intelligence Group, September 5, 2016, https://news.siteintelgroup.com/Jihadist-News/in-new-english-magazine-rumiyah-is-calls-for-lone-wolf-attacks-in-australia-west.html. ISIS releases Rumiyah via pro-ISIS Telegram accounts and social media accounts.Alessandria Masi, “ISIS Propaganda Magazine Dabiq For Sale On Amazon, Gets Taken Down,” International Business Times, June 10, 2015, http://www.ibtimes.com/isis-propaganda-magazine-dabiq-sale-amazon-gets-taken-down-1961036.

ISIS also releases a weekly newsletter called al-Naba. Distributed as a PDF via Telegram and other social media sites, Al-Naba often covers battlefield updates and interviews with high-ranking ISIS members.R. Green, “SIS Official Weekly 'Al-Naba' Specifically Mentioned The Al-Rawdah Mosque In Sinai, Site Of The Recent Massacre, As A Center Of The 'Infidel Polytheist' Sufis,” MEMRI, November 26, 2017, https://www.memri.org/reports/isis-official-weekly-al-naba-specifically-mentioned-al-rawdah-mosque-sinai-site-recent.

To reach a wide range of audiences, ISIS magazines are translated into a variety of languages, including 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. ISIS’s online magazines—released en masse through Telegram, Twitter, and other online outlets—are filled with propaganda detailing the group’s strategy. Dabiq and Rumiyah initially encouraged all Muslims to migrate to the Islamic State or carry out domestic attacks, but the messaging has since shifted to encourage more domestic and lone-wolf-style attacks.“ISIS Supporters Distribute Series of Articles Encouraging Lone-Wolf Attacks,” Anti-Defamation League, September 1, 2017, https://www.adl.org/blog/isis-supporters-distribute-series-of-articles-encouraging-lone-wolf-attacks; Daniel Byman, “Beyond Iraq and Syria: ISIS’ ability to conduct attacks abroad,” Brookings, June 8, 2017, https://www.brookings.edu/testimonies/beyond-iraq-and-syria-isis-ability-to-conduct-attacks-abroad/.

Recruiters’ Psychological Tactics

Some psychologists believe that potential jihadists joined ISIS in their quest for “personal significance” or due to the existential desire to matter and be respected, according to psychology professor Arie W. Kruglanski.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 concurred, 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 immigrated 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/. However, as ISIS lost its territory in Syria and Iraq, its propaganda shifted to encourage more domestic and lone-wolf-style attacks.“ISIS Supporters Distribute Series of Articles Encouraging Lone-Wolf Attacks,” Anti-Defamation League, September 1, 2017, https://www.adl.org/blog/isis-supporters-distribute-series-of-articles-encouraging-lone-wolf-attacks; Daniel Byman, “Beyond Iraq and Syria: ISIS’ ability to conduct attacks abroad,” Brookings, June 8, 2017, https://www.brookings.edu/testimonies/beyond-iraq-and-syria-isis-ability-to-conduct-attacks-abroad/.

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 immigrate 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. Similarly, a group of 10 Minnesotan acquaintances were found to have co-conspired to join ISIS abroad in a radicalization process that appeared in to have taken place largely in person.For more information, see CEP’s reports on Abdirizak Warsame, Hamza Naj Ahmed, Abdullahi Yusuf, Zacharia Yusuf Abdurahman, Adnan Farah, Hanad Mustafe Musse, Mohamed Abdihamid Farah, Abdiwali Nur, Abdurahman Yasin Daud, and Guled Ali Omar.

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.

At its peak in 2014 and 2015, 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

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 wilaya (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 Bakr al-Baghdadi, August 21, 2018

    “Oh Caliphate soldiers.... trust in God’s promise and His victory... for with hardship comes relief and a way out.”“Islamic State chief, in rare speech, urges followers to fight on,” Reuters, August 22, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-baghdadi/islamic-state-chief-in-rare-speech-urges-followers-to-fight-on-idUSKCN1L722F.

    Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, August 21, 2018

    “For the Mujahideen the scale of victory or defeat is not dependent on a city or town being stolen or subject to that who has aerial superiority, intercontinental missiles or smart bombs.”“Islamic State chief, in rare speech, urges followers to fight on,” Reuters, August 22, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-baghdadi/islamic-state-chief-in-rare-speech-urges-followers-to-fight-on-idUSKCN1L722F.

    Youssef Zaghba, March 15, 2016

    During questioning by Italian authorities:

    “I’m going to be a terrorist.”Giulia Paravicini, “Third London attacker told Italian police: ‘I’m going to be a terrorist,’” Politico, June 7, 2017, https://www.politico.eu/article/third-london-attacker-was-known-to-uk-security-services/.

    Khuram Butt, 2015

    “I’m ready to do whatever I need to do in the name of Allah. I am ready in the name of Allah to do what needs to be done including killing my own mother.”Robert Booth, “London Bridge attacker named as Khuram Butt,” Guardian (London), June 5, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jun/05/london-bridge-attacker-named-as-khuram-butt.

    Zulfi Hoxha, May 2017

    In an ISIS propaganda video:
    “America today is the one carrying the banner of the cross and waging war against the Muslims…It openly declares that its goal is only to wipe out the Islamic State. May they fail and lose.”Craig R. McCoy et al., “From Atlantic City High to ISIS: the path of a homegrown terrorist,” Philadelphia Inquirer, January 19, 2018, http://www.philly.com/philly/news/nation_world/american-isis-commander-atlantic-city-margate-zulfi-hoxha-2-20180119.html.

    Zulfi Hoxha, May 2017

    In an ISIS propaganda video:
    “Are you incapable of stabbing a kaffir [non-Muslim] with a knife, throwing him off of a building, or running him over with a car? Liberate yourself from hellfire by killing a kaffir.” Craig R. McCoy et al., “From Atlantic City High to ISIS: the path of a homegrown terrorist,” Philadelphia Inquirer, January 19, 2018, http://www.philly.com/philly/news/nation_world/american-isis-commander-atlantic-city-margate-zulfi-hoxha-2-20180119.html.

    John Georgelas April 2016

    In the article “Kill the Imam of Kufr in the West,” Dabiq Issue 14:

    “It should then be no surprise that [Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi] declared that any of the apostates from the sahwāt or otherwise who repent to Allah and surrender themselves to the Islamic State will be guaranteed amnesty, even if they had killed a million mujāhidīn. But those who are caught before they repent, then there is no amnesty for them and theirs shall be a painful – and fatal – punishment.”“Kill the Imams of Kufr in the West,” Dabiq, April 2016, 9, https://azelin.files.wordpress.com/2016/04/the-islamic-state-22dacc84biq-magazine-1422.pdf; Graeme Wood, “The American Climbing the Ranks of ISIS,” Atlantic, updated January 25, 2017, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/03/the-american-leader-in-the-islamic-state/510872/.

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

    Announcing a new ISIS wilayat (province, governorate) 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.

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