Image 1 of 13: Who are they? ISIS militants are led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Not much is known about the elusive leader (born Awwad Ibrahim al-Badri al-Samarri). A rebel fighter in Iraq after the 2003 American invasion, he spent 2005-2009 in US captivity. He’s assumed bin Laden’s “Top Terrorist” spot with a $10MIL reward for his re-capture.
Image 1 of 13: How many followers? Hard to say. The UK’s Guardian newspaper suggests that prior to seizing Mosul and Tikrit, ISIS militants numbered 6,000 strong, including 1,000 Chechens. But new conquests have attracted recruits from around the region and the globe. ISIS ranks are increasing.
Image 1 of 13: What’s in a name? The Arabic name is Dawlat al-Islam fi al-Iraq al-Sham (DAASH), or The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria. They’ve also been called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). In April, these fanatical bad boys adopted “ISIS” for the unrecognized Islamic State in Iraq & Syria. New names reflect an evolving agenda.
Image 1 of 13: How’d they hatch? ISIS was born as anti-US insurgents, a subset of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Initially they sought influence in Iraq, but their activities expanded after the American military withdrawal in 2011. Frustration at Iraq’s Shia-led government also had a role to play, enabling ISIS to roam freely with little resistance from the army.
Image 1 of 13: So they’re part of Al-Qaeda? Nope. Originally aligned (both are Sunni), the two organizations are now more like rivals than allies. Al-Qaeda is a terror group, with training camps and sleeper cells whose terrorist events occur in isolation. ISIS is more a rogue militia, akin to Boko Haram. ISIS has called al-Qaeda “traitors” and “a joke”.
Image 1 of 13: Where are they based? Born in Iraq, ISIS captured a swath of its homeland over 300 miles long, from northern Syria down to outlying areas of Baghdad. ISIS’s seizure of Turabil (Iraq’s main border crossing with Jordan) put hundreds of more miles spanning the Iraqi-Syrian border under its control. Their de facto “nation” is expanding.
Image 1 of 13: What’s their plan? ISIS aims to establish an Islamic caliphate and erase colonial borders. Over three years, it has grabbed control of an unofficial Sharia Law state extending loosely from Mosul in northern Iraq to Falluja in the south to Aleppo in eastern Syria. Now the world’s most feared terrorist organization has its eye on Baghdad.
Image 1 of 13: Who’s funding this? ISIS acts as mafia (stealing assets and reselling them on a global black market) and as an international charity (tapping wealthy proponents of Saudi Wahhabism in the Gulf and abroad). It acts as a public utility, producing and selling electricity and oil along with selling off antiquities from cities it captures.
Image 1 of 13: Any other income? Their recent Mosul bank robbery added over $425 million to their wallet and they’ve mastered the art of merchandising! T-shirts, hoodies, and baseball caps slapped with pro-ISIS slogans are offered online by Indonesia-based websites and in Turkish bricks & mortar shops. Their war chest is estimated at $2 billion.
Image 1 of 13: Who’s arming them? ISIS seized billions of dollars worth of sophisticated US-made military equipment (think humvees, tanks, and reportedly, a Black Hawk helicopter!) after the Iraqi army fled Mosul. Why worry about shipping and handling when you can just take what’s in front of you?
Image 1 of 13: Are they religiously motivated? ISIS has an uncompromising view of Islam. Christians in captured areas are warned to flee, convert to Islam, pay tax, or be killed. Muslims deemed insufficiently devout to the cause are flogged, mutilated, beheaded and stoned. ISIS has resurrected crucifixion and no one is spared.
Image 1 of 13: World reaction? Regional support follows Sunni/Shia lines, wider reaction varies. Kurdistan grabbed a chance to take oil-rich Kirkuk. President Al-Sisi voiced concerns over increased ISIS focus on Egypt. The US and Iran both issued statements supporting Iraq; Iran sent troops to protect Baghdad, but it’s unlikely the US army will step in.
Image 1 of 13: The future? Syria’s ISIS fighters; their ranks have expanded with mercenary pros. ISIS spokesman Shaykh Adnani said in a YouTube video, “the [Islamic] State has not prevailed by numbers, nor weapons, nor wealth; it prevails by Allah’s bounty alone, through its creed.” Will they cause the region to self-destruct?
The Middle East’s media has gone gaga over Gaza - and rightfully so - but there’s hellish happenings elsewhere in the region that demand their share of world awareness. The brutal tactics against both civilians and military enemies of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) are providing some of the internet’s most horrifying images ranging from stonings, suicide bombings, crucifixions and beheadings. So, what is the backstory to the growing unrest that threatens to knock the region back to a pre-Arab Uprising era?
Since 9/11, the Western benchmark for terrorism has been al-Qaeda. To put ISIS in context, consider that al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri renounced ISIS last year because of its brutal tactics! Initially, the groups were aligned, but philosophical evolution of ISIS prompted its declaration as an independent body.
ISIS militants aspire to erase contemporary Middle Eastern borders, beginning with the porous line between Syria and Iraq, aiming to create a holistic “Islamic state” based on a strict interpretation of Sharia Law.
This national transformation from moderate/secular to fundamentalist/religious is being achieved in part by propaganda (painting a cross-border caliphate of like-minded peoples) but more through armed force and violence. ISIS boosted its military power with vehicles and weaponry left by the retreating Iraqi army. What they don’t steal, they purchase with their deep pockets filled with confiscated cash and natural resources.
Populist “support” results from ISIS violence and terror tactics.
Speaking on ISIS victories in Iraq, Henry Habib, professor emeritus of political science at Concordia University told Canadian Broadcasting Channel news, "It's like the beginning of an earthquake."
Here are 13 facts that summarize the group's genesis and give a glimpse into what they aim to achieve.