The Islamic State for Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), otherwise known as the Islamic State for Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and most recently as the Islamic State (IS) is, strictly speaking, a Sunni extremist group which holds territorial ambitions. The group has a severe anti-Shia disposition and supports the most astringent aspects of Wahhabi, Salafi Jihadist and Takfiri theologies. It has the professed aim of returning to the “glory days” of Islam by the setting up of a “Caliphate”, primarily in Iraq and Syria.
The group went beyond using conventional weapons and guerrilla tactics in hitting the US and coalition Forces, Iraq interim government officials, Shia officials as well as civilians…
The organization started its existence in 1999 as Jamaat al Tawhid wal Jihad (JTJ-Organization of Monotheism and Jihad), led by Jordanian national Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian Salafi Jihadist. JTJ started initially as an anti-royalist group aimed against the Jordanian Monarch, who was not considered by it as a “good” Muslim. Zarqawi later travelled to Afghanistan to fight in the Soviet -Afghan war, but arrived at the time of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and did not see any real action. He then stayed in Afghanistan, where he ran a militant training camp in Herat for some time.
The organization soon spread into north-eastern Iraq from Jordan It had the professed aim of: a) toppling the Iraqi interim Government; b) forcing the withdrawal of the US-led coalition forces from Iraq; c) assassinating collaborators of the “occupation regime’; d) decimating the Shia population of Iraq and defeat its militias through the liberal use its “death squad” activities and; e) establishing a pure Sunni State in Iraq. It took part in the Iraq insurgency and in the Iraq war which started on the intervention of the US in the country in 2003.
The JTJ also functioned as an opposition group to U.S.’s Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan (October 2001) and was reputed to have a number of foreign mujahedeen and even Iraqi fighters in its ranks. Abu Musab al Zarqawi came firmly in the sights of the US anti-terrorist experts when, in 2004, he pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda network. Zarqawi was also allied to the Kurdish militant group Ansar al-Islam in Iraq.
The organization gained a significant presence in the Kirkuk, Al Anbar, Nineveh and other nearby regions of Iraq and gained notoriety for its willingness to use suicide bombings, including the use of Car bombs in its operations. It targeted the Iraqi Security Forces and all elements facilitating occupation. The group went beyond using conventional weapons and guerrilla tactics in hitting the US and coalition Forces, Iraq interim government officials, Shia officials as well as civilians and Kurdish and political and religious figures, United Nations and other humanitarian workers.
By now, the ambitions of the jihadist ISI had spread to fighting the Government forces in Syria also, where an insurgency against the Government of Bashar al Assad was well on its way.
Al Zarqawi’s militants used classic terrorist tactics, including the use of improvised explosive devices for random hits, the use of targeted kidnappings, for obtaining ransom and the employment of urban guerrilla tactics, using rocket propelled grenades, mortar attacks and the use of small arms. It gained notoriety for beheading Iraqi and foreign hostages and posting recordings of such killings on the internet. Zarqawi was specifically targeted by the U.S. and died as fallout of the aerial bombing of his hideout in 2006. He was found wounded but alive when Iraqi (and later U.S. forces) reached the site after the bombing, but was learnt to have been “beaten to death”; it was not clarified by whom.
The JTJ was at this stage re-named as Tanzim Qaidat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn, (Organization of the Jihad’s Base in Mesopotamia—also known as Al Qaeda in Iraq). The organization underwent further changes in its name, joined other Sunni insurgent groups to form the Mujahedeen Shura Council. This organization merged with several more insurgent Sunni factions and, on October 13, 2006, consolidated shortly afterwards into the Dawlat al-Iraq al-Islamiya or the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), comprising an assortment of Sunni insurgent groups, inter alia, the Jund al Sahaba (Soldiers of the Prophet’s Companions) and most significantly the original Al Qaeda organization in the Land of the Two Rivers (traditionally the area between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers).
The leaders of this group, Abu Abdullah al-Rashid al- Baghdadi and Abu Ayub al-Masri, were both killed in a joint US-Iraqi operation in April 2010. The present leader of the organization, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi took over in May 2010; command of the organization became independent, with it breaking away from the Al Qaeda Central Command.
The entity, known as Islamic State for Syria and Iraq (ISIS), was established in April 2013 and was essentially a renaming of the ISI. By now, the ambitions of the jihadist ISI had spread to fighting the Government forces in Syria also, where an insurgency against the Government of Bashar al Assad was well on its way. By March 2011, protests had begun in Syria against the government of Bashar al Assad and the protests had intensified and become violent, due to confrontations between protesters and the security forces.
The group comprises Sunni Islamist mujahedeen and its ideology is influenced by Sunni cleric Abu Musab al-Suri, whose philosophy emphasised providing services to the people in order to avoid being seen as extremists, maintaining strong relationships with communities and with other fighting groups. The organization is known by a variety of names, including Islamic State for Iraq and ash-Sham – ISIS or Islamic State for Iraq, Dawlat al Iraq al- Islamiyah, Al- Qaeda in Iraq and the Islamic State for Iraq and the Levant – ISIL.
The ISIL is extremely ruthless on the establishment of an Islamic State, establishing its own rule on conquered territory, carrying out sectarian attacks and imposing Sharia Law in such territory.
The Gaza Strip faction is known as DAESH, also known as al-Nusra al- Maqdisiyya, Al Dawlat al Islamiyah fi Iraq wal ash Sham. The Francophile Africa chapters are known as Daach. The word DAESH is an Arabic acronym for Dawlat al Islamiyah fil Iraq wal ash Sham, is used mainly by detractors of the ISIL. The ISIL consider the word derogatory as it is thought to translate as “to tread underfoot, trample down, crush” and reportedly use flogging as a punishment for persons using the word in ISIL controlled areas. The ISIL is extremely ruthless on the establishment of an Islamic State, establishing its own rule on conquered territory, carrying out sectarian attacks and imposing Sharia Law in such territory.
The group is currently led by Iraqi national Abu Bakr al –Baghdadi who was reported to have been born in 1971 and whose real name is Hamed Dawood Mohammed Khalil al-Zawi. The headquarters of the ISIS is in Baquba, Iraq and Baghdadi styles himself as the “emir” of the organization. The strength of the organization grew under Baghdadi and after entering the Syrian Civil War, the ISIS established a significant presence in the Syrian Governorates of Idlib, Aleppo, Ar-Raqqah and Dier ez Zeid. It achieved a series of military victories against the government forces, thereby capturing Chinese and Russian origin weapons and collected funds by ransom kidnappings, looting of banks in occupied territories and collections by imposition of sharia rule in captured territory..
Al – Baghdadi started sending experienced Syrian and Iraqi guerrilla fighters from his organization by August 2011 into Syria, to establish a new setup within Syria. This new organization was led by Syrian National Abu Mohammad al-Jawlani and it started recruiting manpower and establishing cells within Syria. On January 23, 2012, this group formed into Jabhat al-Nusra li Ahl ash Sham, or Jabhat al Nusra (The Support Front for the People of ash-Sham), Tanzim Qai’dat al- Jihad fi Bilad ash Sham and al- Nusra Foundation. The group is also known as al Qaeda in Syria, and is known to operate in Lebanon in addition to Syria.
This grew rapidly into an effective fighting force. The avowed goal of this unit is the overthrow of the Assad regime and its replacement by a Sunni Islamic State. Al-Nusra Foundation, despite having referred to the United States and Israel as “enemies of Islam” and warned against the intervention of Western Nations in Syria, however, insists it will remain focussed on fighting the Assad regime and not concentrate on either Western targets or global Jihad.
The concept of the Caliphate, which originally was restricted to Iraq and Syria, had, by late June 2014, expanded to being a world-wide Caliphate.
Essentially, al Nusra, which has a significant element of foreign jihad’s, has concentrated its energies on throwing out the Assad regime. Al Nusra is seen by Syrians as a largely home grown group, despite the presence of a large number of foreign fighters; it is essentially involved in fighting to undermine the Assad regime. Al Baghdadi issued an audio statement on April 8, 2013, announcing that al Nusra Front had been established, financed and supported by the Islamic State of Iraq and that the two groups were merging under the name Islamic State of Iraq and ash Sham.
The merger was denied by al-Jawlani, who added neither he nor anyone else in al Nusra Foundation leadership had been consulted on the issue. The issue was further complicated by Ayman al Zawahiri, the Supremo of al Qaeda, reportedly intervening in the fray and ruling against the merger, in letter to both leaders. Al Baghdadi took up issue with Zawahiri’s ruling, leading to the latter banning the ISIL and putting al Nusra in charge of operations in Syria. Baghdadi contested Zawahiri’s decision and continued operating in Syria. The power struggle continued till February 2014, after an eight month power struggle, the original Al Qaeda stated the ISIL was “notoriously intransigent”, had consistently failed to hold consultations and cut all ties with the organization. The concept of the Caliphate, which originally was restricted to Iraq and Syria, had, by late June 2014, expanded to being a world-wide Caliphate. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, known to his supporters as Amir al-Mu’mmin (Caliph Ibrahim) was declared as the Caliph and the organization was renamed as the Islamic State (IS).
As a caliphate, it claims religious authority over Muslims worldwide and intends to bring Muslim-inhabited regions of the world under its own control, covering the Levant region, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, Cyprus and southern Turkey. ISIL has already absorbed fundamentalist minded groups in the Sinai and eastern Libya. The ISIL has stated that the “legality of all emirates, groups, States and organizations had become null and void due to the khalifa’s (caliphate’s) authority and arrival of its troops’ in their areas”. ISIL added it rejected the political divisions established by Western Powers during World War I and the Skyes-Picot Agreement (1916). The name “Islamic State for Iraq and the Levant” (ISIL) was decided as the primary name for the organization by the United States Department of State in May 2014.