Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
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Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
الدولة الإسلامية في العراق والشام (language?)
ad-Dawlah al-Islāmiyah fīl-ʿIrāq wash-Shām
Participant in: the Syrian Civil War, Iraq War (2003–2011), Iraqi insurgency, Second Libyan Civil War, Boko Haram insurgency, War in North-West Pakistan, War in Afghanistan, Yemeni Civil War, and other conflicts
|Motto: باقية وتتمدد
"Remaining and Expanding"
|Anthem: أمتي قد لاح فجر
Ummatī, qad lāha fajrun
"My Nation, A Dawn Has Appeared"
Military situation as of 28 May 2015, in the Iraqi and Syrian conflicts. Controlled by Iraqi government forces Controlled by Syrian Government forces Controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant Controlled by Iraqi Kurdistan forces Controlled by Syrian Kurdistan forces Controlled by Syrian Opposition forces Controlled by al-Nusra Note: Iraq and Syria contain large desert areas with limited population. These areas are mapped as under the control of forces holding roads and towns within them. Detailed map of the Syrian Civil WarDetailed map of the Iraqi insurgencyDetailed map of the Lebanese insurgencyDetailed map of the Libyan Civil WarDetailed map of the Yemeni Civil War
Military situation as of 28 May 2015, in the Iraqi and Syrian conflicts.
Detailed map of the Syrian Civil War
Controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
Detailed map of the Iraqi insurgency
Detailed map of the Lebanese insurgency
Detailed map of the Libyan Civil War
Detailed map of the Yemeni Civil War
|Administrative center||Ar-Raqqah, Syria</tr>
(de facto capital)
|Largest city</th>||Mosul, Iraq</tr>|
|Type||Rebel group controlling territory
Current control in
Template:Country data Iraq
|Military strength & operation areas||Inside Syria and Iraq
200,000 (Kurdish claim)
20,000–31,000 (CIA estimate)
Outside Syria and Iraq
32,600–57,900 (See Military of ISIL for more-detailed estimates.)
|-||Leader||Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi</tr>|
|-||Deputy leader||Abu Ala al-Afri †</tr>|
|-||Deputy leader in Syria||Abu Ali al-Anbari</tr>|
|-||Deputy leader in Iraq||Abu Muslim al-Turkmani †</tr>|
|-||Military Chief||Abu Suleiman al-Naser</tr>|
|-||Governor of South & Central Euphrates||Abu Fatima al-Jaheishi</tr>|
|-||Chief Spokesperson||Abu Mohammad al-Adnani</tr>|
|-||Chief of Syrian military operations||Abu Omar al-Shishani</tr>|
|-||Formation (as Jamāʻat al-Tawḥīd wa-al-Jihād)||1999</tr>|
|-||Joined al-Qaeda||October 2004</tr>|
|-||Declaration of an Islamic state in Iraq||13 October 2006</tr>|
|-||Claim of territory in the Levant||8 April 2013</tr>|
|-||Separated from al-Qaeda||3 February 2014</tr>|
|-||Declaration of Caliphate||29 June 2014</tr>|
|-||Claim of territory in Libya, Egypt, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Pakistan||13 November 2014|
|23x15px United Nations||18 October 2004 (as al-Qaeda in Iraq)
30 May 2013 (after separation from al‑Qaeda)
|United Nations Security Council|||
|23x15px European Union||2004||EU Council (via adoption of UN al-Qaida Sanctions List)|||
|23x15px United Kingdom||March 2001 (as part of al-Qaeda)
20 June 2014 (after separation from al‑Qaeda)
|Home Secretary of the Home Office|||
|23x15px United States||17 December 2004 (as al-Qaeda in Iraq)||United States Department of State|||
|23x15px Australia||2 March 2005 (as al-Qaeda in Iraq)
14 December 2013 (after separation from al‑Qaeda)
|Attorney-General for Australia|||
|23x15px Canada||20 August 2012||Parliament of Canada|||
|23x15px Turkey||30 October 2013||Grand National Assembly of Turkey|||
|23x15px Saudi Arabia||7 March 2014||Royal decree of the King of Saudi Arabia|||
|Template:Country data Indonesia||1 August 2014||National Counter-terrorism Agency BNPT|||
|23x15px United Arab Emirates||20 August 2014||United Arab Emirates Cabinet|||
|23x15px Malaysia||24 September 2014||Ministry of Foreign Affairs|||
|23x15px Egypt||30 November 2014||The Cairo Court for Urgent Matters|||
|Template:Country data India||16 December 2014||Ministry of Home Affairs|||
|23x15px Russia||29 December 2014||Supreme Court of Russia|||
|Template:Country data Kyrgyzstan||25 March 2015||Kyrgyz State Committee of National Security|||
The United Nations Security Council in its Resolution 1267 (1999) described Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda associates as operators of a network of terrorist training camps. The UN's Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee first listed ISIL in its Sanctions List under the name "Al-Qaida in Iraq" on 18 October 2004, as an entity/group associated with al-Qaeda. On 2 June 2014, the group was added to its listing under the name "Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant". The European Union adopted the UN Sanctions List in 2002.
Many world leaders and government spokespeople have called ISIL a terrorist group or banned it, without their countries having formally designated it as such. Some examples:
The Government of Germany banned ISIL in September 2014. Activities banned include donations to the group, recruiting fighters, holding ISIL meetings and distributing its propaganda, flying ISIL flags, wearing ISIL symbols and all ISIL activities. “The terror organisation Islamic State is a threat to public safety in Germany as well,” de Mazière said. “Today’s ban is directed solely against terrorists who abuse religion for their criminal goals.” The ban does not mean ISIL has been outlawed as a foreign terrorist organisation, as that requires a court judgement.
In mid-December 2014, India banned ISIL, after arresting the operator of a pro-ISIL Twitter account.
Human rights abuse and war crime findings
In July 2014, the BBC reported the United Nations' chief investigator as stating: "Fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) may be added to a list of war crimes suspects in Syria." By June 2014, according to United Nations reports, ISIL had killed hundreds of prisoners of war and over 1,000 civilians. In August 2014, the UN accused ISIL of committing "mass atrocities" and war crimes, including the mass killing of up to 250 Syrian Army soldiers near Tabqa Air base. Other known killings of military prisoners took place in Camp Speicher, where 1,095–1,700 Iraqi soldiers were shot and "thousands" more went "missing", and the Shaer gas field, where 200 Syrian soldiers were shot. Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that they were performing "widespread ethnic and religious cleansing in the areas under their control."
In early September 2014, the United Nations Human Rights Council agreed to send a team to Iraq and Syria to investigate the abuses and killings being carried out by the ISIL on "an unimaginable scale". Prince Zeid bin Ra'ad, the newly appointed UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, urged world leaders to step in to protect women and children suffering at the hands of ISIL militants, who he said were trying to create a "house of blood". He appealed to the international community to concentrate its efforts on ending the conflict in Iraq and Syria.
In November 2014, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria said that ISIL was committing crimes against humanity. A report by Human Rights Watch in November 2014 accused ISIL groups in control of Derna, Libya of war crimes and human rights abuses and of terrorising residents. Human Rights Watch documented three apparent summary executions and at least ten public floggings by the Islamic Youth Shura Council, which joined ISIL in November. It also documented the beheading of three Derna residents and dozens of seemingly politically motivated assassinations of judges, public officials, members of the security forces and others. Sarah Leah Watson, Director of HRW Middle East and North Africa, said: "Commanders should understand that they may face domestic or international prosecution for the grave rights abuses their forces are committing."
Speaking of ISIL's methods, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights has stated that the group "seeks to subjugate civilians under its control and dominate every aspect of their lives through terror, indoctrination, and the provision of services to those who obey".
Religious and minority group persecution
ISIL compels people in the areas that it controls to declare Islamic creed and live according to its interpretation of Sunni Islam and sharia law. There have been many reports of the group's use of death threats, torture and mutilation to compel conversion to Islam, and of clerics being killed for refusal to pledge allegiance to the so-called "Islamic State". ISIL directs violence against Shia Muslims, indigenous Assyrian, Chaldean, Syriac and Armenian Christians, Yazidis, Druze, Shabaks and Mandeans in particular.
Amnesty International has held ISIL responsible for the ethnic cleansing of ethnic and religious minority groups in northern Iraq on a "historic scale". In a special report released on 2 September 2014, it describes how ISIL has "systematically targeted non-Arab and non-Sunni Muslim communities, killing or abducting hundreds, possibly thousands, and forcing more than 830,000 others to flee the areas it has captured since 10 June 2014". Among these people are Assyrian Christians, Turkmen Shia, Shabak Shia, Yazidis, Kaka'i and Sabean Mandeans, who have lived together for centuries in Nineveh province, large parts of which are now under ISIL's control.
Among the known killings of religious and minority group civilians carried out by ISIL are those in the villages and towns of Quiniyeh (70–90 Yazidis killed), Hardan (60 Yazidis killed), Sinjar (500–2,000 Yazidis killed), Ramadi Jabal (60–70 Yazidis killed), Dhola (50 Yazidis killed), Khana Sor (100 Yazidis killed), Hardan (250–300 Yazidis killed), al-Shimal (dozens of Yazidis killed), Khocho (400 Yazidis killed and 1,000 abducted), Jadala (14 Yadizis killed) and Beshir (700 Shia Turkmen killed), and others committed near Mosul (670 Shia inmates of the Badush prison killed), and in Tal Afar prison, Iraq (200 Yazidis killed for refusing conversion). The UN estimated that 5,000 Yazidis were killed by ISIL during the takeover of parts of northern Iraq in August 2014. In late May 2014, 150 Kurdish boys from Kobani aged 14–16 were abducted and subjected to torture and abuse, according to Human Rights Watch. In the Syrian towns of Ghraneij, Abu Haman and Kashkiyeh 700 members of the Sunni Al-Shaitat tribe were killed for attempting an uprising against ISIL control. The UN reported that in June 2014 ISIL had killed a number of Sunni Islamic clerics who refused to pledge allegiance to it.
Christians living in areas under ISIL control who want to remain in the "caliphate" face three options: converting to Islam, paying a religious levy—jizya—or death. "We offer them three choices: Islam; the dhimma contract – involving payment of jizya; if they refuse this they will have nothing but the sword", ISIL said. ISIL had already set similar rules for Christians in Ar-Raqqah, once one of Syria's more liberal cities.
On 23 February 2015, in response to a major Kurdish offensive in the Al-Hasakah Governorate, ISIL abducted 150 Assyrian Christians from villages near near Tal Tamr (Tell Tamer) in northeastern Syria, after launching a large offensive in the region.
Treatment of civilians
During the Iraqi conflict in 2014, ISIL released dozens of videos showing its ill treatment of civilians, many of whom had apparently been targeted on the basis of their religion or ethnicity. Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, warned of war crimes being committed in the Iraqi war zone, and disclosed a UN report of ISIL militants murdering Iraqi Army soldiers and 17 civilians in a single street in Mosul. The UN reported that in the 17 days from 5 to 22 June, ISIL killed more than 1,000 Iraqi civilians and injured more than 1,000. After ISIL released photographs of its fighters shooting scores of young men, the UN declared that cold-blooded "executions" by militants in northern Iraq almost certainly amounted to war crimes.
ISIL's advance in Iraq in mid-2014 was accompanied by continuing violence in Syria. On 29 May, ISIL raided a village in Syria and at least 15 civilians were killed, including, according to Human Rights Watch, at least six children. A hospital in the area confirmed that it had received 15 bodies on the same day. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that on 1 June, a 102-year-old man was killed along with his whole family in a village in Hama province. According to Reuters, 1,878 people were killed in Syria by ISIL during the last six months of 2014, most of them civilians.
In Mosul, ISIL has implemented a sharia school curriculum which bans the teaching of art, music, national history, literature and Christianity. Although Charles Darwin's theory of evolution has never been taught in Iraqi schools, the subject has been banned from the school curriculum. Patriotic songs have been declared blasphemous, and orders have been given to remove certain pictures from school textbooks. Iraqi parents have largely boycotted schools in which the new curriculum has been introduced.
After capturing cities in Iraq, ISIL issued guidelines on how to wear clothes and veils. ISIL warned women in the city of Mosul to wear full-face veils or face severe punishment. A cleric told Reuters in Mosul that ISIL gunmen had ordered him to read out the warning in his mosque when worshippers gathered. ISIL ordered the faces of both male and female mannequins to be covered, in an order which also banned the use of naked mannequins. In Ar-Raqqah the group uses its two battalions of female fighters in the city to enforce compliance by women with its strict laws on individual conduct.
ISIL released 16 notes labelled "Contract of the City", a set of rules aimed at civilians in Nineveh. One rule stipulated that women should stay at home and not go outside unless necessary. Another rule said that stealing would be punished by amputation. In addition to the Muslim custom of banning the sale and use of alcohol, ISIL has banned the sale and use of cigarettes and hookah pipes. It has also banned "music and songs in cars, at parties, in shops and in public, as well as photographs of people in shop windows".
According to The Economist, dissidents in the ISIL capital of Ar-Raqqah report that "all 12 of the judges who now run its court system ... are Saudis". Saudi practices also followed by the group include the establishment of religious police to root out "vice" and enforce attendance at salat prayers, the widespread use of capital punishment, and the destruction of Christian churches and non-Sunni mosques or their conversion to other uses.
ISIL carried out executions on both men and women who were accused of various acts and found guilty of crimes against Islam such as homosexuality, adultery, watching pornography, usage and possession of contraband, rape, blasphemy, renouncing Islam and murder. Before the accused are executed their charges are read toward them and the spectators. Executions take various forms, including stoning to death, crucifixions, beheadings, burning people alive, and throwing people from tall buildings.
ISIL has recruited Iraqi children as young as nine to its ranks, who can be seen with masks on their faces and guns in their hands patrolling the streets of Mosul. According to a report by the magazine Foreign Policy, children as young as six are recruited or kidnapped and sent to military and religious training camps, where they practise beheading with dolls and are indoctrinated with the religious views of ISIL. Children are used as human shields on front lines and to provide blood transfusions for Islamic State soldiers, according to Shelly Whitman of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative. The second instalment of a Vice News documentary about ISIL focused on how the group is specifically grooming children for the future. A spokesman told VICE News that those under the age of 15 go to sharia camp to learn about religion, while those older than 16 can go to military training camp. Children are also used for propaganda. According to a UN report, "In mid-August, ISIL entered a cancer hospital in Mosul, forced at least two sick children to hold the ISIL flag and posted the pictures on the internet." Misty Buswell, a Save the Children representative working with refugees in Jordan, said, "It's not an exaggeration to say we could lose a whole generation of children to trauma."
Sexual violence and slavery
There are many reports of sexual abuse and enslavement in ISIL controlled areas of women and girls, predominantly from the minority Christian and Yazidi communities. According to one report, ISIL's capture of Iraqi cities in June 2014 was accompanied by an upsurge in crimes against women, including kidnap and rape. The Guardian reported that ISIL's extremist agenda extended to using women as sex slaves and that women living under their control were being captured and raped. Fighters are told that they are free to have sex with or rape non-Muslim captive women. A Baghdad-based women's rights activist, Basma al-Khateeb, said that a culture of violence existed in Iraq against women generally and felt sure that sexual violence against women was happening in Mosul involving not only ISIL but all armed groups. During a meeting with Nouri al-Maliki, British Foreign Minister William Hague said with regard to ISIL: "Anyone glorifying, supporting or joining it should understand that they would be assisting a group responsible for kidnapping, torture, executions, rape and many other hideous crimes". According to Martin Williams in The Citizen, some hard-line Salafists apparently regard extramarital sex with multiple partners as a legitimate form of holy war and it is "difficult to reconcile this with a religion where some adherents insist that women must be covered from head to toe, with only a narrow slit for the eyes".
Haleh Esfandiari from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars has highlighted the abuse of local women by ISIL militants after they have captured an area. "They usually take the older women to a makeshift slave market and try to sell them. The younger girls ... are raped or married off to fighters", she said, adding, "It's based on temporary marriages, and once these fighters have had sex with these young girls, they just pass them on to other fighters." Speaking of Yazidi women captured by ISIL, Nazand Begikhani said, "These women have been treated like cattle... They have been subjected to physical and sexual violence, including systematic rape and sex slavery. They've been exposed in markets in Mosul and in Raqqa, Syria, carrying price tags." This evidence contradicts a report from Vice News documenting the lives of citizens within Raqqa. Abu Ibrahim Raqqawi, a 22-year-old resident, and member of the group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, dismissed the notion of Yazidi girls brought as sex slaves to Raqqa as propaganda. However, in February 2015, the group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently reported on the subjugation of women, including the presence sex slaves within the city of Ar-Raqqah.
A United Nations report issued on 2 October 2014, based on 500 interviews with witnesses, said that ISIL took 450–500 women and girls to Iraq's Nineveh region in August, where "150 unmarried girls and women, predominantly from the Yazidi and Christian communities, were reportedly transported to Syria, either to be given to ISIL fighters as a reward or to be sold as sex slaves". In mid-October, the UN confirmed that 5,000–7,000 Yazidi women and children had been abducted by ISIL and sold into slavery. In November 2014 The New York Times reported on the accounts given by five who escaped ISIL of their captivity and abuse. In December 2014, the Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights announced that ISIL had killed over 150 women and girls in Fallujah who refused to participate in sexual jihad. Non-Muslim women have reportedly been married off to fighters against their will. ISIL claims the women provide the new converts and children necessary to spread ISIL's control. Shortly after the death of US hostage Kayla Mueller was confirmed on 10 February 2015, several media outlets reported that the US intelligence community believed she may have been given as a wife to an ISIL fighter. Yazidi girls in Iraq allegedly raped by ISIL fighters have committed suicide by jumping to their death from Mount Sinjar, as described in a witness statement.
In its digital magazine Dabiq, ISIL explicitly claimed religious justification for enslaving Yazidi women. According to The Wall Street Journal, ISIL appeals to apocalyptic beliefs and claims "justification by a Hadith that they interpret as portraying the revival of slavery as a precursor to the end of the world". ISIL appeals to the Hadith and Qur'an when claiming the right to enslave and rape captive non-Muslim women. According to Dabiq, "enslaving the families of the kuffar and taking their women as concubines is a firmly established aspect of the Sharia's that if one were to deny or mock, he would be denying or mocking the verses of the Qur'an and the narration of the Prophet ... and thereby apostatizing from Islam." Captured Yazidi women and children are divided among the fighters who captured them, with one fifth taken as a tax. ISIL has received widespread criticism from Muslim scholars and others in the Muslim world for using part of the Qur'an to derive a ruling in isolation, rather than considering the entire Qur'an and Hadith. According to Mona Siddiqui, ISIL's "narrative may well be wrapped up in the familiar language of jihad and 'fighting in the cause of Allah', but it amounts to little more than destruction of anything and anyone who doesn't agree with them"; she describes ISIL as reflecting a "lethal mix of violence and sexual power" and a "deeply flawed view of manhood". Dabiq describes "this large-scale enslavement" of non-Muslims as "probably the first since the abandonment of Shariah law".
In late 2014, ISIL released a pamphlet that focused on the treatment of female slaves. It claims that the Quran allows fighters to have sex with captives, including adolescent girls, and to beat slaves as discipline. The pamphlet's guidelines also allow fighters to trade slaves, including for sex, as long as they have not been impregnated by their owner. Charlie Winter, a researcher at the counter-extremist think tank Quilliam, described the pamphlet as "abhorent". In response to this document Abbas Barzegar, a religion professor at Georgia State University, said Muslims around the world find ISIL's "alien interpretation of Islam grotesque and abhorrent". Muslim leaders and scholars from around the world have rejected the validity of these claims, claiming that the reintroduction of slavery is un-Islamic, that they are required to protect 'People of the Scripture' including Christians, Jews, Muslims and Yazidis, and that ISIL's fatwas are invalid due to their lack of religious authority and the fatwas' inconsistency with Islam.
The Independent reported in 2015 that the usage of Yazidi sex slaves was creating friction among fighters within ISIL. Sajad Jiyad, a Research Fellow and Associate Member at the Iraqi Institute for Economic Reform, told The Independent that many ISIL supporters and fighters had been in denial about the trafficking of kidnapped Yazidi women until a Dabiq article justifying the practice was published. According to The Independent, the practice is still continuing to polarize members among the ranks of the extremist group.
Attacks on members of the press
The Committee to Protect Journalists states: "Without a free press, few other human rights are attainable." ISIL has tortured and murdered local journalists, creating what Reporters Without Borders calls "news blackholes" in areas controlled by ISIL. ISIL fighters have reportedly been given written directions to kill or capture journalists.
In December 2013, two suicide bombers stormed the headquarters of TV station Salaheddin and killed five journalists, after accusing the station of "distorting the image of Iraq's Sunni community". Reporters Without Borders reported that on 7 September 2014, ISIL seized and on 11 October publicly beheaded Raad al-Azzawi, a TV Salaheddin cameraman from the village of Samra, east of Tikrit. As of October 2014, according to the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory, ISIL is holding nine journalists and has nine others under close observation in Mosul and Salahuddin province.
During 2013 and part of 2014, an ISIL unit nicknamed the Beatles acquired and held 12 Western journalists hostage, along with aid workers and other foreign hostages, totalling 23 or 24 known hostages. A Polish journalist Marcin Suder was captured in July 2013 but escaped four months later. The unit executed American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and released beheading videos. Eight of the other journalists were released for ransom: Danish journalist Daniel Rye Ottosen, French journalists Didier François, Edouard Elias, Nicolas Hénin, and Pierre Torres, and Spanish journalists Marc Marginedas, Javier Espinosa, and Ricardo García Vilanova. The unit continues to hold hostage British journalist John Cantlie and a female aid worker.
Cyber-security group the Citizen Lab released a report finding a possible link between ISIL and a digital attack on the Syrian citizen media group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently (RSS). Supporters of the media group received an emailed link to an image of supposed airstrikes, but clicking on the link introduced malware to the user's computer that sends details of the user's IP address and system each time it restarts. That information has been enough to allow ISIL to locate RSS supporters. "The group has been targeted for kidnappings, house raids, and at least one alleged targeted killing. At the time of that writing, ISIL was allegedly holding several citizen journalists in Raqqa," according to the Citizen Lab report.
On 8 January 2015, ISIL members in Libya claimed to have executed Tunisian journalists Sofiene Chourabi and Nadhir Ktari who disappeared in September 2014. Also in January 2015, Japanese journalist Kenji Goto Jogo was captured after travelling to Raqqah and displayed on video with another Japanese citizen with a demand for $200 million ransom.
Beheadings and mass executions
An unknown number of Syrians and Iraqis, several Lebanese soldiers, at least ten Kurds, two American journalists, one American and two British aid workers, and three Libyans have been beheaded by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. ISIL uses beheadings to intimidate local populations and has released a series of propaganda videos aimed at Western countries. They also engage in public and mass executions, sometimes forcing prisoners to dig their own graves before shooting lines of prisoners and pushing them in. ISIL was reported to have beheaded about 100 foreign fighters as deserters who tried to leave Raqqa.[not in citation given]
Destruction of cultural and religious heritage
UNESCO's Director-General Irina Bokova has warned that ISIL is destroying Iraq's cultural heritage, in what she has called "cultural cleansing". "We don't have time to lose because extremists are trying to erase the identity, because they know that if there is no identity, there is no memory, there is no history", she said. Referring to the ancient cultures of Christians, Yazidis and other minorities, she said, "This is a way to destroy identity. You deprive them of their culture, you deprive them of their history, their heritage, and that is why it goes hand in hand with genocide. Along with the physical persecution they want to eliminate – to delete – the memory of these different cultures. ... we think this is appalling, and this is not acceptable." Saad Eskander, head of Iraq's National Archives said, "For the first time you have cultural cleansing... For the Yazidis, religion is oral, nothing is written. By destroying their places of worship ... you are killing cultural memory. It is the same with the Christians – it really is a threat beyond belief."
To finance its activities, ISIL is stealing artefacts from Syria and Iraq and sending them to Europe to be sold. It is estimated that ISIL raises US$200 million a year from cultural looting. UNESCO has asked for United Nations Security Council controls on the sale of antiquities, similar to those imposed after the 2003 Iraq War. UNESCO is working with Interpol, national customs authorities, museums, and major auction houses in attempts to prevent looted items from being sold. ISIL occupied Mosul Museum, the second most important museum in Iraq, as it was about to reopen after years of rebuilding following the Iraq War, saying that the statues were against Islam and threatening to destroy the museum's contents.
ISIL considers worshipping at graves tantamount to idolatry, and seeks to purify the community of unbelievers. It has used bulldozers to crush buildings and archaeological sites. Bernard Haykel has described al-Baghdadi's creed as "a kind of untamed Wahhabism", saying, "For Al Qaeda, violence is a means to an ends; for ISIS, it is an end in itself". The destruction by ISIL in July 2014 of the tomb and shrine of the prophet Yunus—Jonah in Christianity—the 13th-century mosque of Imam Yahya Abu al-Qassimin, the 14th-century shrine of prophet Jerjis—St George to Christians—and the attempted destruction of the Hadba minaret at the 12th-century Great Mosque of Al-Nuri have been described as "an unchecked outburst of extreme Wahhabism". "There were explosions that destroyed buildings dating back to the Assyrian era", said National Museum of Iraq director Qais Rashid, referring to the destruction of the shrine of Yunus. He cited another case where "Daesh (ISIL) gathered over 1,500 manuscripts from convents and other holy places and burnt all of them in the middle of the city square". In March 2015, ISIL reportedly bulldozed the 13th-century BC Assyrian city of Nimrud, believing its sculptures to be idolatrous. UNESCO head Irina Bokova deemed this to be a war crime.
There is also the fear that warfare waged on any side will harm cultural heritage. "The worst thing about wars is that they do not distinguish between the past and the future", Mosul calligrapher and conservationist Abdallah Ismail told a local correspondent for the German-funded publication Niqash.org. He suggested that ISIL was "taking the pulse" of the local population to see how it would react to their appetite for destruction. Philippe Lalliot, France's ambassador to UNESCO gave this perspective: "When people die in their tens of thousands, must we be concerned about cultural cleansing? Yes, definitely yes ... It's because culture is a powerful incentive for dialogue that the most extreme and the most fanatical groups strive to annihilate it." According to the London Charter and several Hague Conventions, the deliberate destruction of historical sites and places of worship, unless such destruction is a necessity during war, is a war crime.
ISIL has received severe criticism from other Muslims, especially religious scholars and theologians. In late August 2014, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Abdul-Aziz ibn Abdullah Al ash-Sheikh, condemned the Islamic State and al-Qaeda saying, "Extremist and militant ideas and terrorism which spread decay on Earth, destroying human civilisation, are not in any way part of Islam, but are enemy number one of Islam, and Muslims are their first victims". In late September 2014, 126 Sunni imams and Islamic scholars—primarily Sufi—from around the Muslim world signed an open letter to the Islamic State's leader al-Baghdadi, explicitly rejecting and refuting his group's interpretations of Islamic scriptures, the Qur'an and hadith, used by it to justify its actions. "[You] have misinterpreted Islam into a religion of harshness, brutality, torture and murder ... this is a great wrong and an offence to Islam, to Muslims and to the entire world", the letter states. It rebukes the Islamic State for its killing of prisoners, describing the killings as "heinous war crimes" and its persecution of the Yazidis of Iraq as "abominable". Referring to the "self-described 'Islamic State'", the letter censures the group for carrying out killings and acts of brutality under the guise of jihad—holy struggle—saying that its "sacrifice" without legitimate cause, goals and intention "is not jihad at all, but rather, warmongering and criminality". It also accuses the group of instigating fitna—sedition—by instituting slavery under its rule in contravention of the anti-slavery consensus of the Islamic scholarly community. Other scholars have described the group as not Sunnis, but Khawarij.
The group's declaration of a caliphate has been criticised and its legitimacy disputed by Middle Eastern governments, other jihadist groups, and Sunni Muslim theologians and historians. Qatar-based TV broadcaster and theologian Yusuf al-Qaradawi stated: "[The] declaration issued by the Islamic State is void under sharia and has dangerous consequences for the Sunnis in Iraq and for the revolt in Syria", adding that the title of caliph can "only be given by the entire Muslim nation", not by a single group.
Two days after the beheading of Hervé Gourdel, hundreds of Muslims gathered in the Grand Mosque of Paris to show solidarity against the beheading. The protest was led by the leader of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, Dalil Boubakeur, and was joined by thousands of other Muslims around the country under the slogan "Not in my name". French president François Hollande said Gourdel's beheading was "cowardly" and "cruel", and confirmed that airstrikes would continue against ISIL in Iraq. Hollande also called for three days of national mourning, with flags flown at half-mast throughout the country and said that security would be increased throughout Paris.
The group has attracted widespread criticism internationally for its extremism, from governments and international bodies such as the United Nations and Amnesty International. On 24 September 2014, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon stated: "As Muslim leaders around the world have said, groups like ISIL – or Da’ish – have nothing to do with Islam, and they certainly do not represent a state. They should more fittingly be called the 'Un-Islamic Non-State'." The group was described as a cult in a Huffington Post column by notable cult authority Steven Hassan.
Criticism of the name "Islamic State" and "caliphate" declaration
The declaration of a new caliphate in June 2014 and the name "Islamic State" have been criticised and ridiculed by Muslim scholars and rival Islamists inside and outside the territory it controls. In a speech in September 2014, President Obama said that ISIL is not "Islamic" on the basis that no religion condones the killing of innocents and that no government recognises the group as a state, and many object to using the name "Islamic State" owing to the far-reaching religious and political claims to authority which that name implies. The United Nations Security Council, the United States, Canada, Turkey, Australia, Russia, the United Kingdom and other countries generally call the group "ISIL", while much of the Arab world uses the Arabic acronym "Dāʻish". France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said "This is a terrorist group and not a state. I do not recommend using the term Islamic State because it blurs the lines between Islam, Muslims, and Islamists. The Arabs call it 'Daesh' and I will be calling them the 'Daesh cutthroats.'" Retired general John Allen, the US envoy to co-ordinate the coalition, US military Lieutenant General James Terry, head of operations against the group, and Secretary of State John Kerry have all shifted toward the term DAESH by December 2014.
In late August 2014, a leading Islamic educational institution, Dar al-Ifta al-Misriyyah in Egypt, advised Muslims to stop calling the group "Islamic State" and instead refer to it as "Al-Qaeda Separatists in Iraq and Syria" or "QSIS", because of the militant group's "un-Islamic character". When addressing the United Nations Security Council in September 2014, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott summarised the widespread objections to the name "Islamic State" thus: "To use this term [Islamic State] is to dignify a death cult; a death cult that, in declaring itself a caliphate, has declared war on the world". The group is very sensitive about its name. "They will cut your tongue out even if you call them ISIS – you have to say 'Islamic State'", said a woman in ISIL-controlled Mosul.
In mid-October 2014, representatives of the Islamic Society of Britain, the Association of British Muslims and the UK's Association of Muslim Lawyers proposed that "'Un-Islamic State' (UIS) could be an accurate and fair alternative name to describe this group and its agenda", further stating, "We need to work together and make sure that these fanatics don't get the propaganda that they feed off." The "Islamic State" is mocked on social media websites such as Twitter and YouTube, with the use of hashtags, mock recruiting ads, fake news articles and YouTube videos. One parody, by a Palestinian TV satire show, portrays ISIL as "buffoon-like hypocrites", and has had more than half a million views on YouTube.
Even Osama bin Laden was opposed to the heedless creation of a caliphate.
Views of ISIL as un-Islamic
Mehdi Hasan, a political journalist, said in the New Statesman, "Whether Sunni or Shia, Salafi or Sufi, conservative or liberal, Muslims – and Muslim leaders – have almost unanimously condemned and denounced Isis not merely as un-Islamic but actively anti-Islamic."
Views of ISIL as Islamic
The British historian Tom Holland, writing for the New Statesman said, "Islamic State, in its conceit that it has trampled down the weeds and briars of tradition and penetrated to the truth of God’s dictates, is recognisably Salafist. When Islamic State fighters smash the statues of pagan gods, they are following the example of the Prophet; when they proclaim themselves the shock troops of a would-be global empire, they are following the example of the warriors of the original caliphate; when they execute enemy combatants, and impose discriminatory taxes on Christians, and take the women of defeated opponents as slaves, they are doing nothing that the first Muslims did not glory in. Such behaviour is certainly not synonymous with Islam; but if not Islamic, then it is hard to know what else it is."
Hassan Hassan, an analyst at the Delma Institute, wrote in The Guardian that because the Islamic State "bases its teachings on religious texts that mainstream Muslim clerics do not want to deal with head on, new recruits leave the camp feeling that they have stumbled on the true message of Islam".
In mid-February 2015, Graeme Wood, a lecturer in political science at Yale University, said in The Atlantic, "Muslims who call the Islamic State un-Islamic are typically, as the Princeton scholar Bernard Haykel, the leading expert on the group’s theology, told me, 'embarrassed and politically correct, with a cotton-candy view of their own religion' that neglects 'what their religion has historically and legally required.' Many denials of the Islamic State’s religious nature, he said, are rooted in an 'interfaith-Christian-nonsense tradition.'" Wood further states, "The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. 'Very' Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam."
In the media
By 2014, ISIL was increasingly being viewed as a militia rather than as a terrorist group. As major Iraqi cities fell to ISIL in June 2014, Jessica Lewis, a former US army intelligence officer at the Institute for the Study of War, described ISIL as "not a terrorism problem anymore", but rather "an army on the move in Iraq and Syria, and they are taking terrain. They have shadow governments in and around Baghdad, and they have an aspirational goal to govern. I don't know whether they want to control Baghdad, or if they want to destroy the functions of the Iraqi state, but either way the outcome will be disastrous for Iraq." Lewis has called ISIL "an advanced military leadership". She said, "They have incredible command and control and they have a sophisticated reporting mechanism from the field that can relay tactics and directives up and down the line. They are well-financed, and they have big sources of manpower, not just the foreign fighters, but also prisoner escapees."
While officials[which?] fear that ISIL may either inspire attacks in the United States by sympathisers or by those returning after joining ISIL, US intelligence agencies find there is no immediate threat or specific plots. Former US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel sees an "imminent threat to every interest we have", but former top counter-terrorism adviser Daniel Benjamin has derided such alarmist talk as a "farce" that panics the public.
Some news commentators, such as international newspaper columnist Gwynne Dyer, and samples of American public opinion, such as surveys by NPR, have advocated a strong but measured response to ISIL's recent provocative acts.
Allegations of Turkish support
Turkey has been accused of supporting or colluding with ISIL, especially by Syrian Kurds. According to journalist Patrick Cockburn, there is "strong evidence for a degree of collaboration" between the Turkish intelligence services and ISIL, although the "exact nature of the relationship ... remains cloudy". David L. Phillips of Columbia University's Institute for the Study of Human Rights, who compiled a list of allegations and claims accusing Turkey of assisting ISIL, writes that these allegations "range from military cooperation and weapons transfers to logistical support, financial assistance, and the provision of medical services". Several ISIL fighters and commanders have claimed Turkey supports ISIL. Within Turkey itself, ISIL is believed to have caused increasing political polarisation between secularists and Islamists.
Turkey has been further criticised for allowing individuals from outside the region to enter its territory and join ISIL in Syria. With many Islamist fighters passing through Turkey to fight in Syria, Turkey has been accused of becoming a transit country for such fighters and has been labelled the "Gateway to Jihad". Turkish border patrol officers are reported to have deliberately overlooked those entering Syria upon the payment of a small bribe. A report by Sky News exposed documents showing that passports of foreign Islamists wanting to join ISIL by crossing into Syria had been stamped by the Turkish government. An ISIL commander stated that "most of the fighters who joined us in the beginning of the war came via Turkey, and so did our equipment and supplies", adding that ISIL fighters received treatment in Turkish hospitals.
Also, authorities in Turkey have confirmed social media reports that an injured Islamic State commander is being treated in a Denizli hospital, saying the militant has every right to receive medical care as he is a Turkish citizen.
Allegations of Qatari support
The State of Qatar has long been accused of acting as a conduit for funding towards the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. While there is no proof that the Qatari government is behind the movement of funds from the LNG-rich nation to ISIL, the government has been criticized for not doing enough to stem the flow of financing. Private donors within Qatar, sympathetic with the aims of radical groups such as al-Nusra Front and ISIL, are believed to be channeling their resources to support these organisations.
In August 2014, a German minister Gerd Müller accused Qatar of having links with ISIL, stating "You have to ask who is arming, who is financing ISIS troops. The keyword there is Qatar". Qatar has denied that it supports Islamist insurgents in Syria and Iraq. Qatari foreign minister Khalid bin Mohammad Al Attiyah reiterated this stance when he stated "Qatar does not support extremist groups, including [ISIL], in any way. We are repelled by their views, their violent methods and their ambitions." Diplomats and opposition sources say that while Qatar supports relatively moderate rebels also backed by Saudi Arabia and the West, it also has backed more hardline factions seeking to set up a strict Islamic state. Qatar has also strongly backed Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, outlawed since the Egyptian military overthrew an elected Islamist president in 2013, and has given refuge to many foreign Islamists including from Hamas and the Taliban.
According to the U.S. Treasury Department, a number of terrorist financiers have been operating in Qatar. Qatari citizen Abd al Rahman al Nuaymi has served as an interlocutor between Qatari donors and leaders of Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI, later renamed ISIS). Nuaymi reportedly oversaw the transfer of two million dollars per month to AQI for a period of time. Nuaymi is also one of several of Qatar-based, Al Qaeda financiers sanctioned by Treasury in recent years. According to some reporting, U.S. officials believe the largest share of private donations supporting ISIS and al-Qaeda–linked groups now come from Qatar rather than Saudi Arabia.
Allegations of Saudi Arabian support
Although Saudi Arabia's government rejected these claims, the Iraqi President Nouri al-Maliki accused Saudi Arabia of funding ISIL. Some media outlets like NBC, BBC, and The New York Times and the US-based think tank Washington Institute for Near East Policy have written of individual Saudi donations to the group, and the Saudi state's decade-long sponsorship of Salafism around the world, but have concluded that there is no evidence of direct Saudi state support for ISIL.
Allegations of Syrian support
During the Syrian Civil War, multiple parties in the conflict have accused the Syrian government of some form of collusion with ISIL, whose dominance in the opposition against the Bashar al-Assad government, would give that government a basis for its claim to being under attack by "terrorists" and "a secular bulwark against al-Qaida and jihadi fanaticism". Several sources have claimed that ISIL prisoners were strategically released from Syrian prisons at the beginning of the Syrian Civil War in 2011. The Syrian government has bought oil directly from ISIS, and in March 2015 a European Union report brought to light that the Syrian government and ISIL jointly run a HESCO gas plant in Tabqa, central Syria; the facility continues to supply government-held areas, and electricity continues to be supplied to ISIL-held areas from government-run power plants. United States Secretary of State John Kerry has stated that the Syrian government has tactically avoided Isis forces in order to weaken moderate opposition such as the Free Syrian Army, as well as "even purposely ceding some territory to them [ISIS] in order to make them more of a problem so he can make the argument that he is somehow the protector against them". A IHS Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Center database analysis confirmed that only 6% of Syrian government forces attacks were targeted at ISIL in Jan 1–Nov 21, 2014, while in the same period only 13% of all ISIS attacks targeted government forces. The National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces has stated that the Syrian government has operatives inside ISIS, as has the leadership of Ahrar ash-Sham. ISIS members captured by the FSA have claimed that they were directed to commit attacks by Syrian government operatives.
Allegations of United States support
Rand Paul, the junior Senator from Kentucky, accused the US government of indirectly supporting ISIL in the Syrian Civil War by arming their allies and fighting their enemies in that country. A Syrian rebel spokesmen rejected the statements, saying “The Free Syrian Army has been fighting ISIS since January and continues to do so at great cost and risk. Thousands of Syrian freedom fighters have died fighting this terrorist threat”.
Abu Yusaf, a commander of the ISIL, said in August 2014 that Free Syrian Army members who had been trained by United States' and Turkish and Arab military officers had subsequently joined ISIL. In September 2014, some US-backed Syrian rebels and ISIL reportedly signed a "non-aggression" agreement. These reports were denied by the Islamic Front, the Syria Revolutionaries Front, and other rebel groups, and the fighting between these groups and ISIL continued.
Iranian allegations of United States support
Iran is notable as both the leader of the Shi'ite axis in the region and the only state whose leaders have consistently advanced allegations of secret US-ISIS coordination.
Following a widely-publicized diplomatic spat in which Defense Secretary Ashton Carter publicly questioned the will of the Iraqi people to defend Iraq, Major General Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force, questioned "How is it possible for the US troops to be present in Ramadi under the pretext of supporting Iraqi nation and yet do nothing to stop the killings there? Can this fact mean anything other than their involvement in the conspiracy?"
General Soleimani is understood to be extremely close to the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei. While Khamenei does not travel outside of Iran or grant interviews to the foreign press, he uses Twitter to communicate directly to Westerners. He often refers to the United States, UK and Israel as "arrogant" powers and has stated that ISIS was created and is funded by the US in order to destroy Islam. For example, Khamenei tweeted a condemnation of the ISIS beheading of 21 Egyptian Copts, while cautioning against "allowing the arrogants 2 [sic] introduce their mercenaries as representatives of Islam."
While most experts believe the Iranian clerical regime is far more reactionary than are the Iranian public, many ordinary Iranians believe that an alliance of the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia is directly responsible for the creation of ISIS. The New York Times profiled several Iranians in September 2014, finding that "the claim that ISIS is a creation of the Obama administration has gained wide traction" in Iran, where many normally-skeptical Iranians reason that "creating a terrorist organization opposed to Iranian interests is the obvious thing for a superpower to do."
Conspiracy theorists in the Arab world have advanced rumours that the US is secretly behind the existence and emboldening of ISIL, as part of an attempt to further destabilise the Middle East. After such rumours became widespread, the US embassy in Lebanon issued an official statement denying the allegations, calling them a complete fabrication. Others[which?] are convinced that ISIL leader al-Baghdadi is an Israeli Mossad agent and actor called Simon Elliot. The rumours claim that NSA documents leaked by Edward Snowden reveal this connection. Snowden's lawyer has called the story "a hoax."
Countries and groups at war with ISIL
ISIL's expanding claims to territory have brought it into armed conflict with many governments, militias and other armed groups. International rejection of ISIL as a terrorist entity and rejection of its claim to even exist have placed it in conflict with countries around the world.
Opposition within Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and other nations
American-led Coalition to counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
The Global Coalition to counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or Daesh), also referred to as the Counter-ISIL Coalition or Counter-DAESH Coalition, is a US-led group of nations and non-state actors that have committed to "work together under a common, multifaceted, and long-term strategy to degrade and defeat ISIL/Daesh". According to a joint statement issued by 59 national governments and the European Union, participants in the Counter-ISIL Coalition are focused on multiple lines of effort:
- Supporting military operations, capacity building, and training;
- Stopping the flow of foreign terrorist fighters;
- Cutting off ISIL/Daesh's access to financing and funding;
- Addressing associated humanitarian relief and crises; and
- Exposing ISIL/Daesh's true nature (ideological delegitimisation).
Operation Inherent Resolve is the operational name given by the US to military operations against ISIL and Syrian al-Qaeda affiliates. Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF–OIR) is co-ordinating the military portion of the response.
The following multi-national organisations are part of the Counter-ISIL Coalition:
23x15px European Union – declared to be part, most members are participating;
23x15px NATO – all 28 members are taking part;
23x15px Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf or GCC – all six current members and the two pending members, Jordan and Morocco, are taking part.
|Military operations in or over Iraq and/or Syria
airstrikes, air support, and ground forces performing training
|Supplying military equipment to opposition forces
within Iraq and/or Syria in co-operation with EU/NATO/partners
|Humanitarian and other contributions |
to identified coalition objectives
Part of the anti-ISIL coalition engaged in anti-ISIL military operations within their own borders
Note: Listed countries in this box may also be supplying military and humanitarian aid, and contributing to group objectives in other ways.
23x15px European Union members (not in NATO)
Note: These countries may also be supplying humanitarian aid and contributing to group objectives in other ways.
23x15px European Union members (not in NATO)
Other state opponents
23x15px Russia – arms supplier to Iraqi and Syrian Governments. In June 2014, the Iraqi army received Russian Sukhoi Su-25 and Sukhoi Su-30 fighter aircraft to combat the Islamic State.
Other non-state opponents
- 23px al-Nusra Front—with localised truces and co-operation at times
- 23px al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula
23x15px Kurdistan Workers' Party of Turkey—ground troops in Iraqi Kurdistan and in Syrian Kurdistan
File:Flag placeholder.svg Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan—ground troops in Iraqi Kurdistan and in Syrian Kurdistan
23x15px Houthis—Shia faction in Yemen, fighting for control of the country
According to a March 2015 report to the UN Security Council, some 22,000 foreign fighters from 100 nations have traveled to Syria and Iraq, most to support Islamic State (IS). The report to UN Security Council filed in late March 2015 warned that Syria and Iraq had become a "finishing school for extremists". (In mid-2014, IS leader Abu Bakr had issued a call, "Rush O Muslims to your state ...")
Groups with expressions of support
One source (Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium (TRAC)) has identified 60 jihadist groups in 30 countries that have pledged allegiance or support to ISIL as of mid-November 2014. Many of these groups were previously affiliated with al-Qaeda, indicating a shift in global jihadist leadership toward ISIL.
Memberships of the following groups have declared support for ISIL, either fully or in part.
- 23x15px Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters
- 23x15px Jemaah Islamiyah
- Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia
- 23x15px Abu Sayyaf (Philippines)
- 23x15px Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem
- 23x15px Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid - (pledged support to ISIL; the majority of the group split off after its leader pledged allegiance to ISIL)
Military and resources
Foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq
As of early 2015, journalist Mary Anne Weaver estimates that half of ISIS fighters are made up of foreigners. A UN report estimated a total of 15,000 fighters from over 80 countries in ISIL's ranks as of November 2014. US intelligence estimated an increase to around 20,000 foreign fighters in February 2015, including 3,400 from Western countries.
Statistics gathered by nation indicate up to: 3,000 from Tunisia, 2,500 from Saudi Arabia, 1,700 from Russia, 1,500 from Jordan, 1,500 from Morocco, 1,200 from France, 1,000 from Turkey, 900 from Lebanon, 650 from Germany, 600 from Libya, 600 from the United Kingdom, 500 from Uzbekistan, 500 from Pakistan, 440 from Belgium, 360 from Turkmenistan, 360 from Egypt, 350 from Serbia, 330 from Bosnia, 300 from China, 300 from Kosovo, 300 from Sweden, 250 from Australia, 250 from Kazakhstan, 250 from the Netherlands, 200 from Austria, 200 from Algeria, 190 from Tajikistan, 180 from the United States, 150 from Norway, 150 from Denmark, 140 from Albania, 130 from Canada, 110 from Yemen, 100 from Sudan, 100 from Kyrgyzstan, 100 from Spain, 80 from Italy, 70-80 from Palestine, 70 from Somalia, 70 from Kuwait, 70 from Finland, 50 from Ukraine, 40-50 from Israel, 40 from Switzerland, 30 from Ireland, 18 from India, and 10-12 from Portugal.
According to a statement of a former senior leader of IS, these fighters receive food and housing but have not received payment.
ISIL relies mostly on captured weapons. Major sources are Saddam Hussein's Iraqi stockpiles from the 2003–11 Iraq insurgency and weapons from government and opposition forces fighting in the Syrian Civil War and during the post-US withdrawal Iraqi insurgency. The captured weapons, including armour, guns, surface-to-air missiles, and even some aircraft, enabled rapid territorial growth and facilitated the capture of additional equipment.
The group has a long history of using truck and car bombs, suicide bombers, and IEDs, and has used chemical weapons in Iraq and Syria. ISIL captured nuclear materials from Mosul University in July 2014, but is unlikely to be able to turn them into weapons.
ISIL is known for its extensive and effective use of propaganda. It uses a version of the Muslim Black Standard flag and developed an emblem which has clear symbolic meaning in the Muslim world.
In November 2006, shortly after the group's rebranding as the "Islamic State of Iraq", the group established the Al-Furqan Foundation for Media Production, which produces CDs, DVDs, posters, pamphlets, and web-related propaganda products and official statements. A second media wing, Al-I'tisam Media Foundation, which was formed in March 2013 and distributes through the Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF). Later that year in August, ISIL announced Ajnad Foundation for Media Production which specializes in Nasheeds and audio content. When ISIL announced it's expansion to other countries in November 2014 it established media departments for the new branches, and its media apparatus ensured that the new branches follow the same models it uses in Iraq and Syria.
In late 2014, ISIL established the Al-Hayat Media Center, which targets Western audiences and produces material in English, German, Russian and French. In December 2014, FBI Director James Comey stated that ISIL's "propaganda is unusually slick. They are broadcasting... in something like 23 languages". In April 2015 hackers claiming allegiance to ISIL managed to black out 11 global television channels belonging to TV5Monde for several hours, and take over the company's social media pages for nearly a day.
From July 2014, al-Hayat began publishing a digital magazine called Dabiq, in a number of different languages including English. According to the magazine, its name is taken from the town of Dabiq in northern Syria, which is mentioned in a hadith about Armageddon. The group also runs a radio network called al-Bayan, which airs bulletins in Arabic, Russian and English and provides coverage of its activities in Iraq, Syria and Libya.
ISIL's use of social media has been described by one expert as "probably more sophisticated than [that of] most US companies". It regularly takes advantage of social media, particularly Twitter, to distribute its message by organising hashtag campaigns, encouraging Tweets on popular hashtags, and utilising software applications that enable ISIL propaganda to be distributed automatically via its supporters' accounts. Another comment is that "ISIS puts more emphasis on social media than other jihadi groups... They have a very coordinated social media presence." In August 2014, Twitter administrators shut down a number of accounts associated with ISIL. ISIL recreated and publicised new accounts the next day, which were also shut down by Twitter administrators. The group has attempted to branch out into alternative social media sites, such as Quitter, Friendica and Diaspora; Quitter and Friendica, however, almost immediately worked to remove ISIL's presence from their sites.
In a switch from its former practices, ISIL's media arm imposed a social media blackout on 27 September 2014, fearing that tweets and posts would give away military positions. ISIL has also attempted to present a more "rational argument" in its series of "press release/discussions" performed by hostage/captive John Cantlie and posted on YouTube. In one "Cantlie presentation", various current and former US officials were quoted, such as US President Barack Obama and former CIA Officer Michael Scheuer.
ISIL has been flexible in using numerous sources of funding to sustain its operations. According to a 2015 study by the Financial Action Task Force, its five primary sources of revenue are as followed (listed in order of significance):
- Illicit proceeds from the occupation of territory (including control of banks, oil and gas reservoirs, taxation, extortion, and robbery of economic assets);
- Kidnapping for ransom;
- Donations, including through non-profit organizations;
- Material support provided by foreign fighters;
- Fundraising through modern communication networks;
The contribution of such sources was also analyzed in a 2014 study by the RAND Corporation using 200 documents — personal letters, expense reports and membership rosters — which had been captured from Islamic State of Iraq (al-Qaeda in Iraq). It found that from 2005 until 2010, outside donations amounted to only 5% of the group's operating budgets, with the rest being raised within Iraq. In the time period studied, cells were required to send up to 20% of the income generated from kidnapping, extortion rackets and other activities to the next level of the group's leadership. Higher-ranking commanders would then redistribute the funds to provincial or local cells that were in difficulties or needed money to conduct attacks. The records show that the Islamic State of Iraq was dependent on members from Mosul for cash, which the leadership used to provide additional funds to struggling militants in Diyala, Salahuddin and Baghdad.
In mid-2014, Iraqi intelligence obtained information from an ISIL operative which revealed that the organisation had assets worth US$2 billion, making it the richest jihadist group in the world. About three-quarters of this sum is said to be represented by assets seized after the group captured Mosul in June 2014; this includes possibly up to US$429 million looted from Mosul's central bank, along with additional millions and a large quantity of gold bullion stolen from a number of other banks in Mosul. However, doubt was later cast on whether ISIL was able to retrieve anywhere near that sum from the central bank, and even on whether the bank robberies had actually occurred.
On 11 November 2014, ISIL announced its intent to mint its own gold, silver, and copper coins, based on the coinage used by the Umayyad Caliphate in the 7th century. Following the announcement, the group began buying up gold, silver, and copper in markets throughout northern and western Iraq, according to precious metal traders in the area. Members of the group also reportedly began stripping the insulation off electrical power cables to obtain the copper wiring. The announcement included designs of the proposed coins, which displayed imagery including a map of the world, a sword and shield, the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, and a crescent moon. Economics experts, such as Professor Steven H. Hanke of Johns Hopkins University, were sceptical of the plans. See also Modern gold dinar.
Exporting oil from oilfields captured by ISIL brought in tens of millions of dollars. One US Treasury official had estimated that ISIL earns US$1 million a day from the export of oil. Much of the oil is sold illegally in Turkey. In 2014 Dubai-based energy analysts put the combined oil revenue from ISIL's Iraqi-Syrian production as high as US$3 million per day.
In 2014, the majority of the group's funding came from the production and sale of energy controlling around 300 oil wells in Iraq alone. At its peak, it operated 350 oil wells in Iraq, but lost 45 to foreign airstrikes. It had captured 60% of Syria's total production capacity. About one fifth of its total capacity had been in operation. ISIL earned US$2.5 million a day by selling 50,000–60,000 barrels of oil daily. Foreign sales rely on a long-standing black market to export via Turkey. Many of the smugglers and corrupt Turkish border guards who helped Saddam Hussein to evade sanctions are helping ISIL to export oil and import cash.
Other energy sales include selling electric power from captured power plants in northern Syria; some of this electricity is reportedly sold back to the Syrian government.
Sale of antiques and artefacts
Sales of artefacts may be the second largest source of funding for ISIL, according to an article in Newsweek. More than a third of Iraq's important sites are under ISIL's control. It looted the 9th century BC grand palace of the Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II at Kalhu. Tablets, manuscripts and cuneiforms were sold, worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Stolen artefacts are smuggled into Turkey and Jordan. Abdulamir al-Hamdani, an archaeologist from SUNY Stony Brook, has said that ISIL is "looting... the very roots of humanity, artefacts from the oldest civilizations in the world".
Taxation and extortion
ISIL extracts wealth through taxation and extortion. Regarding taxation, Christians and foreigners are at times required to pay a tax known as a "Jizya." In addition, the group routinely practices extortion, by demanding money from truck drivers and threatening to blow up businesses, for example. Robbing banks and gold shops has been another source of income. The Iraq government indirectly finances ISIS, as they continue to pay the salaries of the thousands of government employees who continue to work in areas controlled by ISIS, which then confiscates as much as half of those Iraqi government employees' pay.
ISIL is widely reported as receiving funding from private donors in the Gulf states, and the governments of Iraq and Iran have repeatedly accused Saudi Arabia and Qatar of financing and supporting the group. Ahead of the conference of the US-led anti-ISIL coalition held in Paris in September 2014, France's foreign minister acknowledged that a number of countries at the table had "very probably" financed ISIL's advances.
Although Iran and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have accused Saudi Arabia and Qatar of funding the group, there is reportedly no evidence that this is the case. However, according to The Atlantic, ISIL may have been a major part of Saudi Arabian Bandar bin Sultan's covert-ops strategy in Syria.
Unregistered charity organisations are used as fronts to pass funds to ISIL. As they use aliases on Facebook's WhatsApp and Kik, the individuals and organisations are untraceable. Donations transferred to fund ISIL's operations are disguised as "humanitarian charity". Saudi Arabia has imposed a blanket ban on unauthorised donations destined for Syria as the only means of stopping such funding.
Timeline of recent events
- Index to main: 2013 events; 2014 events: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December; 2015 events: January, February, March, April.
- 1 May: The Guardian reported that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIL, was recovering in a part of Mosul from severe injuries he received during a March 2015 airstrike. It was reported that due to al-Baghdadi's incapacitation from his spinal injury, he may never be able to resume direct control of ISIL again.
- 5 May: ISIL claims that it was related to the Curtis Culwell Center attack in Garland, Texas on 3 May.
- 7 May: ISIL-backed Taliban forces launched a major offensive against the north-eastern Afghan city of Kunduz, triggering a humanitarian crisis and a wave of fleeing refugees.
- 10 May: British actor Michael Enright announced by mobile phone to the Daily Mail he had volunteered to fight ISIL.
- 13 May: ISIL claimed responsibility for the killing of 43 Shia Ismaili Muslims in a bus in Karachi, Pakistan. On the same day, the Iraqi Defense Ministry reported that Abu Alaa Afri, ISIL's Deputy Leader, had been killed in a US-led Coalition airstrike on a mosque in Tel Afar, on 12 May 2015, which also killed dozens of other ISIL militants present. Akram Qirbash, ISIL's top judge, was also killed in the airstrike. ISIL had issued statements in which they vowed to retaliate for al-Baghdadi's injury, which Iraqi forces believed would happen through ISIL attacks in Europe.
- 14 May: An Al-Mourabitoun commander called Adnan Abu Walid Sahraoui pledged the group's allegiance to ISIL, expanding ISIL's area of operation into Mali. The group's founder, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, later issued a statement rejecting Sahraoui's announcement.
- On night of 15 May, ISIL militants entered the city of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province, using six near-simultaneous car bombs. ISIL also released an audio tape message, with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi calling all Muslims to fight against the Iraqi Government, in the Salahuddin, and Al Anbar Provinces, claiming that this is their duty as Muslims. The message breaks the rumors of his death.
- 15–16 May: U.S. Special Operations forces killed a senior ISIL commander named "Abu Sayyaf," during a raid intended to capture him in Deir ez-Zor, eastern Syria overnight.
- 17 May: ISIL forces captured the city of Ramadi, the former capital of Islamic State of Iraq, after Iraqi government forces abandoned their posts; more than 500 people were killed.
- 18 May: Turkey's Peoples' Democratic Party, which has strong ties with Syrian Kurdish militants fighting against ISIL, were attacked, offices of the party in Adana and Mersin were bombed and 3 people were wounded. Although the party accused ISIL, Turkish Police has not ascertained the attackers' identities yet. 
- 21 May: ISIL forces captured the Syrian town of Tadmur and the ancient city of Palmyra, beheading dozens of Syrian soldiers. Two gas fields also fell into ISIL hands. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, ISIL had by then seized 95,000 square kilometers of land, nearly half of Syria's territory. ISIL also reportedly kidnapped a Syriac Catholic priest, Fr. Jacques Mourad, in the area between Palmyra and Homs. 
- 22 May: Al-Walid, the last border crossing between Syria and Iraq that was held by the Syrian Army, fell to ISIL. ISIL also carried out its first terror attack in Saudi Arabia, when a suicide bomber killed at least 21 people in a Shiite mosque in the city of Qatif.
- 27 May: ISIL seizes the Khunayfis phosphate mines Script error: No such module "convert". south of Palmyra, depriving the Assad regime of a key source of revenue. 
- 28 May: ISIL claims the seizure of Sirte Airport.
- 31 May: ISIL launched an assault on the Syrian town of Al-Hasakah, with ISIL clashing with government forces on the southern periphery and Kurdish forces announcing their intent to protect their portion of the city. Kurdish forces execute at least 20 civilians accused of being ISIL and burn homes of suspected ISIL supporters near Ras al-Ayn and Tal Tamr.
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