The ISIS was preceded by the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), that was established during October 2006, and comprised of various insurgent groups, most significantly the original Al Qaeda Organization in the Land of the Two Rivers (AQI) organization, al-Qaeda in Mesopotami - led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Mujahedeen Shura Council in Iraq, and Jund al-Sahhaba (Soldiers of the Prophet’s Companions), which was integrated into the ISI. ISIS members' allegiance was given to the ISI commander and not al-Qaeda central command. The organisation known as the ISIS was formed during April 2013 and has evolved in one of the main jihadist groups fighting government forces in Syria and Iraq. ISIS regards Baquba, Iraq, as its headquarters with its allegiance to Abu Omar al-Baghdadi as the group’s emir. Baghdadi’s real name is Hamed Dawood Mohammed Khalil al-Zawi.
Images: Al Nasir Li Din Allah Abu Sulayman, the ISIS war minister [left]; Abu Bakr al Baghdadi al Husseini al Qurshi, emir of the ISIS [right]
The ISIS has extensive financial resources (mostly derived from alleged organised crime activities in areas of control as well as diaspora funds and unidentified financial sponsors from within Gulf states) as well as human capital that enable operations in various locations. This is seen in attacks executed in areas regarded as primarily Shi’a areas in Iraq, such as Najaf, Karbala, Kut and Wasit as well as bombings in Baghdad (Iraq). These attacks also reflected sophistication both in terms of execution and diverse tactics. More recent skirmishes with Iraqi government forces are evidence of an extensive ISIS capacity.
The ISIS's objective is the establishment of a world wide Caliphate, reflected in frequent media reports by means of images of the world united under a ISIS banner. Although it has perpetrated many terrorist acts since its formation in 2006, especially against Shia and Christian civilians, ISI/ISIS/ISIL has been especially active in late 2102 and 2013, claiming responsibility for killing and wounding hundreds of people through suicide bombings. It's principal targets are U.S. military and Shia and Christian civilians.
Illustrations by TRAC: August 2014
ISIS Organisational Structure in Iraq and Syria
The ISIS is composed of 16 wilayats (read provinces/administrative districts), in both Iraq and Syria and is reflected in the following map:
List of areas the Islamic State claims it controls after this week's offensive in Ninewa, from Aug. 7, 2014 statement on Twitter:
- All of Sinjar municipality and the areas belonging to it.
- All of Talkif municipality and the areas belonging to it.
- All of al-Hamdaniya municipality and the areas belonging to it.
- All of Makhmour municipality and the areas belonging to it.
- Zammar township and all the villages belonging to it.
- Rabee'ah township and all the villages belonging to it.
- Bartala township and all the villages belonging to it.
- Karam Lays township and all the villages belonging to it.
- Al-Kweir township and all the villages belonging to it.
- Wana township and all the villages belonging to it.
- Large areas in Filfeel township.
- Large areas of Ba'ashiqa township.
- Some of the al-Shalalat areas in Mosul.
- The Sada and Ba'wiza area of Mosul.
- The oil-rich 'Ayn Zalah area.
- The strategic Mosul dam
- The large Tumarat base.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham's 16 wilayats are:
- Southern Division (based in Babil province, south of Baghdad)
- Diyala Division
- Baghdad Division
- Kirkuk Division
- Salahuddin Division
- Anbar Division (is the largest and most active wilayat in Iraq)
- Ninewa Division
- Al Barakah Division (Hasaka)
- Al Kheir Division (Deir al Zour)
- Al Raqqah Division
- Al Badiya Division
- Halab [Aleppo] Division
- Idlib Division
- Hama Division
- Damascus Division
- Coast [Al Sahel] Division
Areas of Operation in Iraq
The ISIS stronghold is in the Anbar province, as seen in the operation of training camps coupled with attacks on Government security personnel, a case in point being various suicide bomb attacks in a single day targeting local police in Rawa. In addition, the ISIS gained control in areas of Ramadi and Fallujah, following the withdrawal of the Iraqi army due to widespread Sunni rejection of attempts to dismantle the Ramadi camp protest site. Their presence in these areas were also seen in Anbar with mortar attacks at the Sahwa leader Abu Risha’s estate and fighting with security forces in various Anbar urban locations, such as the al-Mal’ab quarter in Ramadi and the al-Khaldiya area near Fallujah.
Mosul, Baiji, Babil, and Baghdad
Beyond Anbar, the group has enacted frequent attacks on the Iraqi army in various districts of Mosul as well as target specific bomb attacks in the Baiji area of Salah ad-Din province, Jurf al-Sakhr in northern Babil province (just south of Baghdad), and the Tarmiya area of northern Baghdad province, where assaults have been launched on “Sahwa” forces, resulting in incidents such as the execution of 18 Sunnis suspected of being “Sahwa militia” during November 2013.
During 2013, ISIS operations expanded to Iraqi Kurdistan, as seen in the Arbil bombings in September 2013, that the ISIS referred to as retaliation due to the Kurdistan Regional Government’s alleged support for the “PKK” in Syria.
Photos of an ISIS camp in Ninawa Province
The following photos are reportedly that of an ISIS camp in the Nanawa province:
ISIS in Syria
In April 2013, ISIS attempted to morph into the creation of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS/ISIL) but the formation of a new group was rejected by the al-Nusra Front. ISIS's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, known as Abu Dua, nevertheless pressed ahead with expanding its operations into Syria. In August 2013, US intelligence assessed that he was based in Syria and commanded as many 5,000 fighters, many of them foreign jihadists. The group is active mostly in northern and eastern provinces of Syria. It has assumed joint control of municipalities in Aleppo, Idlib and Raqqa provinces. In November 2013 Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri ordered the disbanding of the main jihadist faction in Syria, the ISIL, in an audio message aired on Al-Jazeera. The tape appeared to confirm a letter posted by Al-Jazeera in June 2013, claimed to have been written by Zawahiri and addressed to the leaders of Al-Qaeda factions in both countries. The head of Al-Qaeda also stressed that the Al-Nusra Front was the branch of the global jihadist group in Syria. ISIL's extremism has resulted in the deaths of more than 1,000 rebels in the last 3-4 weeks alone.
ISIS in Lebanon
The ISIS reach into Lebanon is seen in the following most recent developments:
On 3 January 2014, a leader in the Jordanian Salafi movement said the ISIS has decided officially to infiltrate Lebanon militarily, by stating that “the leader of al-Nusra Front Abu Muhammad al-Goulani and the prince of “ISIL” Abu Baker al-Baghdadi have decided to enter Lebanon militarily”.
The ISIS claimed credit for the suicide bombing Haret Hreik in the southern suburb of Beirut on 22 January 2014, which killed 5 people. In the statement released via Twitter, the ISIS stated that the group has the capacity to violate Hezbollah security measures and that the suicide bombing is "a first small payment from the heavy account that is awaiting those criminals."
The above announcement was followed by the Lebanon-focused A'isha Media Center announcement of an online campaign to support the ISIS in the conflict with Syrian militant factions.
On 25 January 2013 a video recording declared the creation of a Lebanese division for the ISIS. In the recording, Abu Sayyaf al-Ansari (further details unknown) swears allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Iraqi leader of ISIS. He also called on Sunnis to abandon the Lebanese crusader" army, supportive of continued allegations by Sunni Islamists that the armed forces are "backed by Hezbollah." The recording surfaced amid escalating tensions in Lebanon linked to the war in neighbouring Syria. While the Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah has deployed troops to Syria to back President Bashar al-Assad, many Sunnis are opposed to Assad and any support to his government. In the five-minute recording (refer to Video section of this profile), al-Ansari indicated that "a spokesman for ISIS in Lebanon" identified as Abu Omar al-Muhajir would soon make a statement of his own.
Video:ISIS Vows to Invade Lebanon with Hundreds of Terrorists and to Kill Lebanese Interior Minister
ISIS in Gaza Strip/West Bank
During February 2014, the ISIS released a video that showed ISIS fighters announcing plans to wage a jihad in Gaza. A spokesperson in the video announced that DAESH (ISIS) now has "lions and armies in the environs of Jerusalem" and called on Muslims to support the group in their jihad against the enemies of Islam and "Arab tyrants." The ISIS regards Hamas as to moderate and not committed in the fight against Israel. The ISIS announcement is the first indication of presence within Gaza Strip/West Bank as well as a direct challenge to the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas. The extent of support for the ISIS from Gaza culminated in the formation of an ISIS Syrian brigade comprised and dedicated to fighters from Gaza, referred to as the “Sheikh Abu al-Nur al-Maqdisi Brigade,” named after the founder of the Jund Ansar Allah group in Gaza- Abdel Latif Moussa, who was killed in clashes with Hamas in 2009.
Photo Notes: 2013: Syrian Comment: Wissam al-Atal, a doctor from Gaza who became a suicide bomber for ISIS in Syria during 2013.
Photo Notes: February 2014: Syrian Comment: “From Gaza of glory, our allegiance is to our amir Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi”- a fighter from Gaza shows his support for ISIS.
Photo Notes: April 2014: Syrian Comment: Sheikh Abu al-Nur al-Maqdisi brigade fighters training
Photo Notes: Syrian Comment: "Photo gives an idea of where the Gazan contingent has been deployed. Photo from outside ISIS’ Islamic police station in Manbij, Aleppo province.”
2013 Map of ISIS Sheikh Abū Bakr al-Baghdādī alleged movement ultimately to Syria.