News Middle East

Monday 18 December 2017

Ten things you need to know about the 'Islamic State' terror group

ISIS member waving the group's flag in Raqqa, Syria
ISIS member waving the group's flag in Raqqa, Syria
Footage released by Isis of Syrian troops being led through the desert after
Footage begins by showing dozens of men being marched through the desert with their hands behind their heads.
Denise Calnan

Denise Calnan

They're the richest terror group in the history of the world, earning an estimated $2m a day from oil smuggling operations, they've captured vast amounts of land across two countries in just a few months and they've publicised several beheadings of innocent civilians.

Here are ten things you need to know about the Islamic State terror group:

1. What is the Islamic State and where did it come from?

Islamic State, also referred to as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh, started off as an al-Qaeda splinter group in April of last year. They have since had a falling out with al-Qaeda. The aim of ISIS is to create an ‘Islamic State’ across the Sunni areas of Iraq and Syria.

2. What is Islamic State known for?

ISIS have shocked both civilians and military alike for their quick takeover of vast amounts of land in northern and western Iraq, including two key cities Mosul and Tikrit, as well as swaths of Syria. Moreover, the terror group are known for their violence against diverse groups and their recent beheadings of five westerners including one British aid worker, a French hiker and two American journalists.

Shi'ite fighters, who have joined the Iraqi army to fight against militants of the Islamic State, take part in field training in the desert region between Kerbala and Najaf, south of Baghdad. Reuters
Shi'ite fighters, who have joined the Iraqi army to fight against militants of the Islamic State, take part in field training in the desert region between Kerbala and Najaf, south of Baghdad. Reuters

3. Who is the Islamic State leader?

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is an enigmatic character and is rarely seen in public.

A member of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent carries a Kurdish Syrian refugee girl to the first aid tent after crossing the Turkish-Syrian border near the southeastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province. Reuters
A member of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent carries a Kurdish Syrian refugee girl to the first aid tent after crossing the Turkish-Syrian border near the southeastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province. Reuters

In just one year he has become the most powerful jihadist leader in the world. He claims to be a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. A biography posted on a jihadist website in 2013 says he has a doctorate in Islamic studies from a university in Baghdad, CNN reports.

It is claimed al-Baghdadi was detained for four years in Camp Bucca, a US-run prison in southern Iraq. He was released in 2009. The US currently have a $10m bounty on al-Baghdadi.

Jihadi John
Jihadi John" has been identified by the FBI.

4. How is Islamic State organised?

They ignore country’s borders and have enforced Sharia law, a strict moral code and religious law.  They are a relatively organised group, complete with a press officer who manages their image.

Footage of a mosque being blown up in a US anti-ISIS video (Photo: YouTube)
Footage of a mosque being blown up in a US anti-ISIS video (Photo: YouTube)

Experts say the gruesome videos they released of beheadings are ‘professionally edited’. Regarding weapons, the group are ‘more like a conventional army with rockets, missiles and the like’ an Iraq analyst for London-based think tank Chatham House told CNBC.

5. Where do they get their weapons?

The group gathers funds for weapons through a well-established criminal network. The Islamic State group also gathered heavy weaponry when Iraqi security forces fled their posts in Mosul in northern Iraq. They have also acquired weapons from Syrian rebels who are in a fight against the Assad regime.

6. How do they raise money?

The Islamic State is considered one of the richest terrorist groups in history. The group’s key source of revenue is the smuggling of oil it controls in Syria and Iraq, according to the New York Daily News. The newspaper reports that the group control ‘about a dozen oil fields along with several refineries’. The estimated revenue is somewhere in the range of $1m to $2m a day.

7. How many fighters does the group have?

The CIA have estimated that the number of people fighting for the Islamic State group may be three times the previous estimates.

Analysts initially estimated that there could be 10,000 fighters under the rule of al-Baghdadi. Now they believe the terror group could have between 20,000 and 31,500 fighters across Iraq and Syria, a CIA spokesperson told CNN recently.

8. Why did they change their name several times?

The Islamic State terror group have changed their name several times and are referred to differently in several different countries. The original name for the group in Arabic was Al-Dawla Al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham. This translates to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syris, or ISIS.

The name was then changed to ISIL or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the Levant is an archaic French phase for the ‘lands of the rising sun’ which includes modern-day Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine and Jordan. The Obama administration refers to the group as ISIL, claiming it is a more direct translation of the Arabic phrase.

In June, the Islamic militants said they were dropping the final two letters of the acronym and their self-declared caliphate should just be referred to as ‘Islamic State’.

Finally, the French government actually refer to the group as ‘Daesh’, saying that the other labels are blurring the lines between ‘Islam, Muslims and Islamists’.

“This is a terrorist group and not a state,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told the media. “I do not recommend using the term Islamic State because it blurs between Islam, Muslims and Islamists. The Arabs call it ‘Daesh’ and I will be calling them the ‘Daesh cutthroats’.”

9. Who is ‘Jihadi John’?

Dubbed ‘Jihadi John’, this man is the masked executioner who has appeared in the beheading videos with US journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and British aid worker David Haines.

The executioner, who speaks with a British accent, appears to be the same man in each video. The FBI claimed yesterday that they have identified the man, although they have not named him publicly.

10. What is happening now in the fight against Islamic State?

The Iraq government have been scrambling to respond to the assaults on some of their biggest urban areas including Tikrit and Mosul.

Both Iraqi and Kurdish security forces fled the Islamic State fighters within hours of them arriving in their once-patrolled areas leaving civilians at their mercy.

The US, accompanied by allies including Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Jordan, have deployed jets and missiles against the militants in recent days in an effort to destroy the group and their stronghold.

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