ISIS is a powerful terrorist militant group that has seized control of large areas of the Middle East. Infamous for its brutal violence and murderous assaults on civilians, this self-described caliphate has claimed responsibility for hundreds of terrorist attacks around the world, in addition to destroying priceless monuments, ancient temples and other buildings, and works of art from antiquity.
The Making of ISIS
The roots of ISIS trace back to 2004, when the organization known as “al Qaeda in Iraq” formed. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was originally part of Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda Network, founded this militant group.
The U.S. invasion of Iraq began in 2003, and the aim of al Qaeda in Iraq was to remove Western occupation and replace it with a Sunni Islamist regime.
When Zarqawi was killed during a U.S. airstrike in 2006, Egyptian Abu Ayyub al-Masri became the new leader and renamed the group “ISI,” which stood for “Islamic State of Iraq.” In 2010, Masri died in a US-Iraqi operation, and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi took power.
When the civil war in Syria started, ISI fought against Syrian forces and gained ground throughout the region. In 2013, the group officially renamed themselves “ISIS,” which stands for “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria,” because they had expanded into Syria.
ISIS and Sharia Law
ISIS rule spread quickly throughout Iraq and Syria. The group focused on creating an Islamic state and implementing sharia law—a strict religious code based on traditional Islamic rules and practices.
In 2014, ISIS took control of Falluja, Mosul and Tikrit in Iraq, and declared itself a caliphate, which is a political and religious territory ruled by a leader known as a caliph.
ISIS fighters attacked a northern town in Iraq that was home to the Yazidis, a minority religious group, in August 2014. They killed hundreds of people, sold women into slavery, forced religious conversions and caused tens of thousands of Yazidis to flee from their homes.
The attack sparked international media coverage and brought attention to the brutal tactics employed by ISIS. Also in 2014, al Qaeda broke ties with ISIS, formally rejecting the group and disavowing their activities.
One Group, Many Names
Throughout its existence, ISIS has been called several names, including:
ISIL: This acronym stands for “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.” The Levant is a broad geographical region that includes Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel and Jordan. Some experts believe the ISIL label more accurately describes the objectives of the militant group.
IS: The shortened “IS” simply means “Islamic State.” In 2014, the militant group announced they were officially calling themselves IS because their goals for an Islamic state reached beyond the areas identified in other titles.
Daesh: Many Middle Eastern and European governments have used this Arabic acronym for “al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham,” which translates to “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria,” to address the group. However, ISIS doesn’t approve of the name, and in 2014, threatened to cut out the tongue of anyone who called them Daesh in public.
Although there’s been debate over which name most accurately describes the militant group, these titles are typically used interchangeably, and they all refer to the same organization.
ISIS News and Video Brutality
ISIS became recognized around the world for carrying out heinous acts of violence, including public executions, rapes, beheadings and crucifixions. The group has earned an nefarious reputation for videotaping brutal killings and displaying them online.
One of the first widely publicized acts of ISIS violence happened in August 2014, when a few of the group’s militants beheaded U.S. journalist James Foley and posted a video of the bloody execution on YouTube.
About a month later, ISIS released another video that showed the beheading of U.S. journalist Steven Sotloff. A series of gruesome videos showing the beheadings of kidnapped journalists and international aid workers followed for the next several months.
In February 2015, ISIS released footage of Jordanian military pilot Moath al-Kasasbeh being burned alive in a cage. The same month, an ISIS video showed militants beheading 21 Egyptian Christians on a beach in Libya.
Images of a man being thrown off a building in Syria were made public in March 2015. ISIS claimed to have killed the man because he was a homosexual.
Numerous other videos and images documenting brutal executions have been released and attributed to ISIS.
ISIS Terror Acts
ISIS has also claimed responsibility for hundreds of terrorist attacks in the Middle East and around the world. Some of the most well-known attacks on Western soil that were linked to ISIS include:
- November 2015, Paris Attacks: In a series of attacks, bombers and shooters terrorized the streets of Paris, killing 130 people.
- December 2015, San Bernardino Attack: A married couple opened fire at the Inland Regional Center in California and killed 14 people.
- March 2016, Brussels Bombings: Bombings at Brussels Airport in Belgium and a nearby Metro station killed 32 people.
- June 2016, Pulse Nightclub Shooting: A gunman opened fire inside a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., and killed 49 people.
- July 2016, Nice Attack: A terrorist driving a truck mowed down a crowd of people in the French Riviera town, killing 86.
- December 2016, Berlin Attack: A man hijacked and drove a truck into a Christmas market in Berlin, killing himself and 11 others.
- May 2017, Manchester Attack: A single suicide bomber killed 22 people during an Ariana Grande concert at the Manchester Arena in England.
Assaults on Historical Sites
Since about 2014, members of ISIS have destroyed numerous historical sites and artifacts throughout Iraq, Syria and Libya.
The group claims cultural monuments, statues and shrines are idolatrous and shouldn’t be worshipped. However, several news investigations have revealed that ISIS has sold and profited from many of these artifacts.
Some of the cultural sites ISIS has attacked or destroyed include:
- Ancient ruins, monuments and buildings in the cities of Hatra, Nimrud, Khorsabad, Palmyra and others
- Iraq’s Mosul Museum and the Mosul Public Library
- Various churches, temples, mosques and shrines throughout the Middle East
ISIS has been called the richest terrorist organization in the world. While estimates vary, the group was said to have made $2 billion in 2014 alone. Much of ISIS’s money has come from seizing control of banks, oil refineries and other assets in the territories it occupies.
The group has also used kidnapping ransoms, taxes, extortion, stolen artifacts, donations, looting and support from foreign fighters to fill its coffers.
However, a report released in 2017 by the British International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) revealed that ISIS financial revenue has dropped dramatically in recent years.
War Against ISIS
In response to ISIS violence, various countries—including the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Russia, several Arab nations and other countries—have initiated efforts to defeat the terrorist group.
In 2014, a U.S.-led coalition started airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria. That same year, the Pentagon announced a program to train Syrian rebels to fight against ISIS. However, this initiative was nixed a year later when only about 150 rebels were recruited.
The United States has primarily used targeted airstrikes and special operations forces to fight ISIS. In 2015, President Barack Obama announced that the U.S. had launched nearly 9,000 airstrikes on ISIS.
The United States military dropped its most powerful non-nuclear bomb on an ISIS compound in Afghanistan in April 2017.
Reports have suggested ISIS has weakened both militarily and financially. The group has lost control of large amounts of territory in Iraq, and several of its leaders have been killed or captured, including the May 2018 arrest of five top ISIS officials in Syria and Turkey.
While notable gains against ISIS have been made, international efforts to control this powerful terrorist organization will likely continue for many years.
Caliphate in Decline: An Estimate of Islamic State’s Financial Fortunes: International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation.
Here Are the Ancient Sites ISIS Has Damaged and Destroyed: National Geographic.
What is ‘Islamic State’?: BBC.
Islamic State group: The full story: BBC.
Al-Qaeda disavows any ties with radical Islamist ISIS group in Syria, Iraq: Washington Post.
Timeline: US Policy on ISIS: The Wilson Center.
ISIS Fast Facts: CNN.
ISIS goes global: 143 attacks in 29 countries have killed 2,043: CNN.
The ISIS Chronicles: A History: The National Interest.
How an arrest in Iraq revealed Isis’s $2bn jihadist network: The Guardian.
Five Top ISIS Officials Captured in U.S.-Iraqi Sting: The New York Times.
The rise and fall of the Isis ⟊liphate'
On a midwinter night in early January, the most wanted man in the world entered a home in a forsaken town near the Syrian border for a rare meeting with his surviving aides.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was down to a few dozen loyalists, all tested in battle and by the chaos of his organisation’s scrambling retreat to the far eastern edge of Syria. The caliphate he had proclaimed four and a half years earlier had been whittled down to less than 50 square kilometres and was shrinking by the day. Gunfire crackled in the middle distance and bombs thudded nearby, just as they had for months as the last towns and villages held by Islamic State fell steadily to the advancing Kurds.
Alleged Isis fighters captured near the frontline Syrian village of Baghuz. Photograph: Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images
Above the small town of Baghuz, where the terrorist group’s leader and his entourage were holed up, two US drones circled, searching for targets below. Several villages away, Kurdish forces were taking positions among the fresh rubble of still raging battles, readying for a final assault on the last holdout, a place that until very recently few could find on a map. The most diehard Isis members were preparing for what increasingly looked like being their last stand, a long and ignominious way from where it all began when its fighters swept into towns and cities across Iraq and Syria, capturing all before them and rendering the border between the two countries little more than a line in the dirt.
Baghuz, barely a speck on a bank of the Euphrates, was about to be etched into infamy. Inside the walls of the small home, Baghdadi, ailing, angry and paranoid, would face the biggest challenge yet to his authority. The small town would soon be known around the world as the place where Isis fought and lost its final battle, where the vainglory of the “caliphate” finally crumpled in defeat. But according to three intelligence agencies and two sources with detailed knowledge, it was the place where foreign fighters close to Baghdadi’s inner circle nearly succeeded in killing the leader.
Accounts of intelligence officers and people in Baghuz who spoke to the Guardian say Baghdadi and his guards were forced to flee when several men inside the small home opened fire. “We are certain about this,” one European intelligence source said. “We don’t know about his condition, but we do know there was an attempt to kill him.”
According to regional and foreign intelligence officers, Baghdadi fled from Baghuz to the Syrian desert around 7 January. Outside his immediate circle and the men who tried to kill him, very few knew he was there and even fewer know where he has gone since. The best guess of those who have hunted him and known him personally is that he has crossed the border into Iraq’s Anbar province, where the earliest incarnations of Isis gained momentum.
The enclave Baghdadi left behind finally fell over the weekend, after six weeks of gruelling battles and a seemingly never-ending departure of diehards who staggered from bunkers, rubble and tunnels in the ruins. Up to 50,000 people emerged from a corner of the town that was thought to hold no more than a few hundred holdouts with the scale of the exodus both stunning the victors and overwhelming camps that had been set up to house less than a quarter of their number. Some of the war’s newest refugees had news about the caliph who had left them to their fate, and now far more incentive to disclose what they knew.
Few in Baghuz knew what had happened when the gunfire erupted, but they later gained some sense of events when Isis members circulated a leaflet calling for the execution on sight of a leading foreigner, Abu Muath al-Jazairi. Locals who fled the town in February said something serious had clearly taken place. “We could not go outside,” said Jumah Hamdi Hamdan, 53, who had retreated to Baghuz from the nearby village of Keshma. “There were things we could not involve ourselves in. Baghdadi’s men were fighting north Africans. The danger was too high.”
Other witnesses, including the US woman Hoda Muthana, who was with the Isis vanguard on its scrambled retreat, said the fighting had started several months earlier in Keshma, a town that lies in near-total ruin, along with every other village in the area. “There were battles going on between the factions in Isis,” she said from a detention centre in eastern Syria. “There were a lot of Tunisians and Russians and there were two sheikhs who were tortured and executed. One was from Jordan and the other from Yemen. Isis was trying to wipe out anyone who criticised them.”
Hoda Muthana with her son at al-Hawl refugee camp in Syria. Photograph: Achilleas Zavallis/The Guardian
Destruction had been a calling card of Isis’s presence ever since Baghdadi proclaimed the group’s existence. Nearly every town and city it had occupied was decimated, both by the extremists themselves and coalition jets above that relentlessly battered their hideouts. Raqqa and Kobane in Syria were laid to waste and, across the river in Iraq, Falluja, Tikrit, Ramadi and Mosul remain broken and dysfunctional years after Isis was driven out.
Trucks full of women and children who fled heavy fighting in Baghuz. Photograph: Achilleas Zavallis/The Guardian
On the road to Baghuz, enormous craters dot both sides of roads leading in an and out of every village. Ruined homes and factories are caked with concrete dust and trucks are scattered around like playground toys. Not one building appears to be intact.
Less visible, but even more significant, is the damage the Isis occupation has done to the local communities. “Our homes may be broken, but the toll on our young and old is worse,” said Radwan Shamsi, an elderly man who ran a shop in the Syrian town of al-Bab before fleeing to the al-Hawl refugee camp. “It is like trying to put an egg back together. May God damn them.”
Isis militants wave a jihadi flag as vehicles cross the Syrian-Iraqi border in June 2014. Photograph: -/AFP/Getty Images
Al Qaeda v ISIS: Leaders & Structure
Al Qaeda and ISIS - also known as ISIL, Daesh, or the Islamic State - differ in their leadership structure and how they manage daily operations. The two rival jihadist groups share the goal of forming a global caliphate. But ISIS claims its organization achieved that goal in 2014, whereas al Qaeda views the caliphate as a long-term objective.
Al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden used charisma, fatwas and rhetoric to rally jihadists around the world. ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi has been a mysterious figure who rarely appeared in public after ISIS announced its caliphate in 2014. ISIS has used ruthless violence to exert power.
Ayman al Zawahiri
Zawahiri was born in Cairo in 1951 to a middle class Egyptian family. He was trained as a doctor, but became active in Islamist groups during his teenage years. In 1973, he joined Islamic Jihad, an armed jihadist group calling for the overthrow of the Egyptian government. In 1981, he was imprisoned in connection with the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar al Sadat. He left Egypt for Pakistan in 1985 to help jihadists fighting Soviet forces in Afghanistan. In 1998, he joined forces with Osama bin Laden.
Zawahiri became al Qaeda’s main ideologue and most prominent spokesperson throughout the 2000s. He took over the leadership of al Qaeda in 2011, after bin Laden was killed.
Abu Bakr al Baghdadi
Baghdadi was born in Samarra in 1971. He reportedly received jihadist training in Afghanistan in the late 1990s, when he lived with Abu Musab al Zarqawi in Kabul. He fought with jihadists in Fallujah in the early 2000s after returning to Iraq, and was reportedly held at the U.S. detention facility Camp Bucca from February to December 2004. In 2010 he assumed leadership of ISIS, then called the Islamic State of Iraq. Little else is known of his background, but jihadist publications claim that he is from a religious family descended from noble tribes, and that he holds a PhD from Baghdad’s Islamic University.
Baghdadi is known for avoiding the spotlight. There are only two known photos of him, and he reportedly conceals his identity with a bandanna from everyone outside his small inner circle.
Al Qaeda does not directly manage the daily operations of its franchies. ISIS, however, claims to have direct control over the fighters and residents in its territory.
Unlike ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, Zawahiri does not claim to have direct hierarchical control over al Qaeda’s vast, networked structure. Al Qaeda’s core leadership seeks to centralize the organization’s messaging and strategy rather than to manage the daily operations of its franchises. But formal affiliates are required to consult with al Qaeda’s core leadership before carrying out large-scale attacks.
Al Qaeda’s core leadership includes a shura council, as well as committees for military operations, finance, and information sharing. Al Qaeda leaders communicate with affiliated groups through their respective information committees.
Other key figures
Nasser al Wuhayshi, leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and second-in-command in al Qaeda’s core leadership. Wuhayshi was reportedly killed in a U.S. drone strike in June 2015, and replaced by Qasim al Raymi.
Abu Mohammed al-Joulani, head of the Nusra Front in Syria and former member of al Qaeda in Iraq.
Mansoor al Harbi, a key trainer and logistician based in Afghanistan. The Saudi press reported in 2015 that he had been killed by a U.S. airstrike.
Farouq al Qahtani al Qatari, a commander based in the Kunar province of Afghanistan.
Khalid al Habib, a field commander in southeast Afghanistan.
Baghdadi is the supreme political and religious leader in ISIS territory. The caliph has virtually unchecked authority, but in practice he relies on deputies like Abu Muslim al Turkemani, who oversees ISIS areas in Iraq, to manage administration of its territory. The Islamic State has a Shura Council that can theoretically depose the caliph, but all members are appointed by Baghdadi.
ISIS leadership has direct command and control over its fighters in Iraq and Syria, though its ability to direct its affiliates abroad is unclear. In March 2015, ISIS affiliates claimed responsibility for the Bardo Museum attacks in Tunis and the mosque attacks in Yemen, but U.S. officials were skeptical of the extent to which the attacks were coordinated by ISIS leadership in Iraq and Syria.
The upper echelon of ISIS leadership includes Baghdadi’s advisers, his deputies for overseeing operations in Iraq and Syria, and the shura council – which technically has the authority to depose Baghdadi. ISIS also has a sharia council, as well as councils responsible for security, military affairs, media, and finance.
Other key figures
Abu Muslim al Turkemani, also known as Fadhil Ahmad al-Hayali Baghdadi’s deputy who oversaw operations in Iraq. He was reportedly killed by a U.S. strike in 2014.
Abu Ali al Anbari, Baghdadi’s deputy who oversees operations in Syria.
Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, official spokesman for ISIS.
Abu Arkan al Ameri, head of ISIS’s 10-member shura council.
Abd al-Rahman Mustafa al Qaduli, a senior leader and former deputy of Zarqawi in al Qaeda in Iraq.
Tarkhan Tayumurazovich Batirashvili, a senior commander based in Syria and member of the shura council.
Al Qaeda views the formation of a global caliphate as a long-term goal, while ISIS announced it had reached that goal in June 2014.
“Today, with the grace of Allah, we are redrawing the map of the Islamic world to become one state under the banner of the caliphate.”– A 2001 video from bin Laden, reposted by followers in 2014 via Long War Journal
“It has always been my belief that the victory of Islam will never take place until a Muslim state is established in the manner of the Prophet in the heart of the Islamic world.”–Ayman al Zawahiri’s 2005 letter to Abu Musab al Zarqawi
“…the Jihad in Iraq requires several incremental goals: The first stage: Expel the Americans from Iraq. The second stage: Establish an Islamic authority or amirate, then develop it and support it until it achieves the level of a caliphate over as much territory as you can spread its power in Iraq, i.e., in Sunni areas. . . .The third stage: Extend the jihad wave to the secular countries neighboring Iraq. The fourth stage:…[This is] the clash with Israel, because Israel was established only to challenge any new Islamic entity. . . . [T]heir ongoing mission is to establish an Islamic state, and defend it.”–Ayman al Zawahiri’s 2005 letter to Abu Musab al Zarqawi
“Those who move from east to west, claiming that they want to establish God’s sharia but do not want to establish the prerequisites and pillars. are ignorant and unaware of the Prophet’s doctrine.”– A 2001 video from bin Laden, reposted by followers in 2014 via Long War Journal
“If our state is not supported by the proper foundations…the enemy will easily destroy it.”– A 2010 letter from bin Laden viaSite Intelligence Group
Forming a caliphate is impossible if “our image is that of dominator, someone who usurps the rights of others, and an attacker.”– A statement by Zawahiri in 2014, referencing ISIS via Site Intelligence Group
Both bin Laden and Zawahiri advocated a caliphate in principle. But experts believe that al Qaeda has used the idea as a motivational tool rather than as an immediate objective. In the early 2000s, al Qaeda affiliates proposed establishing caliphates in Yemen and Iraq, but bin Laden cautioned that it was not the right time and that such attempts would likely fail.
Al Qaeda leaders have repeatedly emphasized that four conditions must be met before declaring a caliphate. In 2005, Zawahiri wrote that the first requirement is to “expel the Americans from Iraq.”
As of mid-2015, al Qaeda had not attempted to capture land to form a state. Its operatives established bases in Afghanistan, Yemen, and other countries, but have generally not attempted to govern.
“By Allah’s grace – you have a state and Khilafah, which will return your dignity, might, rights, and leadership. It is a state where the Arab and non-Arab, the white man and black man, the easterner and westerner are all brothers…Their blood mixed and became one, under a single flag and goal, in one pavilion, enjoying this blessing, the blessing of faithful brotherhood.” - Speech by ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi
“These phases [of establishing a caliphate] consist of immigrating to a land with a weak central authority to use as a base where a jama’ah can form, recruit members, and train them. The jama’ah would then take advantage of the situation by increasing the chaos…The next step would be to fill the vacuum by managing the state of affairs to the point of developing into a full-fledged state, and continuing expansion into territory. This has always been the roadmap towards Khilafah (caliphate) for the mujahidin.”
“Sadly, [the mujahidin] are now opposed by the present leadership of famous jihad groups who have become frozen in the phase of nikayah (injury) attacks, almost considering the attainment of power to be taboo or destructive.”– Issue #1 of ISIS’s “Dabiq” magazine, July 2014
In June 2014, a few months after severing ties with al Qaeda, ISIS declared a caliphate in areas seized from Iraq and Syria.
In the first issue of ISIS’s “Dabiq” magazine, the group attempted to justify the declaration. The magazine lists a five-step process that, unlike the steps outlined by Zawahiri, focuses on fomenting local chaos rather than expelling foreign troops. The magazine claims that “this has always been the roadmap towards Khilafah (caliphate)” and criticizes “other famous jihad groups” who do not attempt to capture and rule territory.
ISIS has attempted to govern its territories, establishing court systems, schools, social services, and local governments. Foreign fighters occupy many of the top administrative posts in the bureaucracy. ISIS also doles out harsh punishments, including executions, lashings, and stonings.
ISIS’s 10 Most Extreme Acts of Terror
Nearly two years ago an extreme offshoot of al-Qaeda proclaimed itself a caliphate in the Middle East. Today ISIS has been condemned worldwide for its commission of brutal crimes against humanity, including beheadings and other horrific acts of violence as well as its unlawful seizure and destruction of public and private property in Iraq, Syria and beyond.
President Obama and the GOP-controlled Congress have declared their dedication to fighting ISIS until the group is degraded and destroyed.
As the U.S. and its coalition pummel ISIS from the air and through local ground forces, the well-financed terror group has stooped to new lows. By no means a complete list, here are some of their most horrific actions to date.
1: They slaughter children.
In January ISIS executed 13 teenage boys in Mosul because they were watching a soccer match on TV. ISIS used machine guns in the public execution of the children. The boys’ families were unable to claim the bodies out of fear for their own lives.
2: They kill gay men by hurling them off buildings.
ISIS militants threw two men off a tower in Mosul in January because the men took part in “homosexual activities.” A month ago, ISIS flung a man from the top of a seven-story building in Tal Abyad in Raqqa for the same reason. The man survived but was stoned to death. Earlier this month, ISIS jihadists threw a young gay man off a building as a bloodthirsty crowd gawked.
3: They murder Shiites who pray in mosques.
On Friday, ISIS claimed credit for up to four suicide bombings that killed more than 100 Shiites in Yemen at two mosques and wounded hundreds more. The killings occurred during midday prayers in Sanaa, the capital of Yemen. Casualty figures grew by the minute: The rebel-owned TV channel Al-Masirah reported the number of dead at 137 and the injured at 345.
4: They execute their own soldiers.
ISIS killed up to 200 members of its own group between June 2014 and December 2014, the British-based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights (SOHR) reported. The reason? The men had second thoughts about joining and had tried returning home. ISIS has killed others they deemed “ineffective” in battle. Last week ISIS executed 18 of its own fighters in northern Iraq because the men were texting the Kurdish army about surrendering.
5: They kidnap women and sell them as sex slaves or force them to marry ISIS fighters.
Last year ISIS members captured Kurdish women and girls from Iraq’s minority Yazidi community and sold them to sex traffickers in the Middle East. The price range was $500 to $43,000 per woman. Other captured women have been forced to marry ISIS members or act as their sex slaves. An Amnesty International report last year said ISIS tortured and raped many of these captives – leading some to take their own lives.
6: They burn pilots in cages.
In early January ISIS burned alive a captured Jordanian pilot by locking him in a cage, dousing him with an inflammable liquid and setting him afire – videotaping the evil deed for the world to see, just as they have many of their most horrific acts.
7: They traffic in black market organs.
Using surgeons imported from other countries, ISIS harvests and sells human organs to exploit the lucrative international black market. They take organs from their own deceased fighters as well as from their living captives and hostages – including from children in the minority communities of Syria and Iraq – selling hearts, livers and kidneys to line ISIS coffers.
8: They recruit child soldiers.
ISIS recruits or kidnaps children as young as six years old from Iraq, sends them to militant training camps and then plants them on the front lines at age nine. The terror group uses the brainwashed children as human shields, as informants, and for blood transfusions for its own injured soldiers.
9: They destroy ancient cities and priceless artifacts.
Last week ISIS militants left a trail of destruction through the 2,800-year-old capital of the Assyrian empire, Khorsabad, famous for its 64-foot wall erected in 713 BC. ISIS previously attacked the ancient cities of Nimrud and Hatra. ISIS may be selling artifacts on the black market, though it’s also destroyed artifacts from Iraq’s Mosul Museum and the Mosul Public Library – including books from the Ottoman era and sand glass used by ancient Arabs.
10: They make chemical weapons.
ISIS has numerous bomb-making factories in Mosul. At one site ISIS warned nearby residents earlier this year to beware of a gas leak – something had gone wrong during the making of a chlorine bomb.
At the end of January, ISIS tried (and failed) to extract chemical and poisonous waste in Tikrit that had been carefully buried by United Nation teams. “The man in charge of ISIS’s chemical weapons is an Egyptian engineer with an MS from Cairo,” Riyadh Mohammed reported last month for The Fiscal Times. “It is believed he operates somewhere in agricultural area in southern Baghdad.”
ISIS terrorist strung up, burned alive and then sliced like a KEBAB by the 'Angel of Death'
WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT - Footage released online shows fearsome Abu Azrael, one of ISIS' most feared enemies and a poster boy for Shi'a militias, committed the sickening act as a warning to his enemies
A captured ISIS terrorist was suspended over a fire, burned to death and then sliced up like a KEBAB by a rebel fighter nicknamed the &aposAngel of Death&apos.
Footage released online shows fearsome Abu Azrael, one of ISIS&apos most feared enemies and a poster boy for Shi&aposa militias, committed the sickening act as a warning to his enemies.
The hulking fighter laughs as he cuts the dead ISIS terrorists leg with a curved sword, then turns to the camera and says: "ISIS this will be your fate, we will cut you like shawarma (a method of grilling meat on a spit and then shaving it off)".
The footage was reportedly taken in the Iraqi city of Baiji.
Azrael is a commander with the the Imam Ali brigade, an Iraqi Shi’a militia group sponsored by Iran.
Do You Really Stay Conscious After Being Decapitated?
The molecular biologist Francis Crick, one half of the research team that discovered the structure of DNA, later in his career came up with what he called The Astonishing Hypothesis. It is, crudely put, the idea that every aspect of human consciousness -- from affinity for one's family, to a belief in God, to the experience of the color green -- is merely the result of electrical activity in our brains' neural networks. As he wrote in 1994, "You're nothing but a pack of neurons" [source: Crick].
At the basis of our conscious experience are chemicals called neurotransmitters. These chemicals generate electrical signals that form the means by which neurons communicate with one another and ultimately form neural networks. When we stimulate these networks, we experience the physical sensations and emotions that make up our lives. We store these as memories to be recalled when the neural networks that store them are activated once more.
The idea may be a bit glum, but it forms the basis of the idea that the electrical activity in the brain is the detectable trace of our conscious experience. By correlation, then, so long as we can detect this electrical activity -- through the use of technology like electroencephalography (EEG), which measures brain waves -- we can assume that a person is experiencing consciousness. This is what makes a 2011 study from Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands so troubling.
To determine whether decapitation, a common method of euthanizing lab rats, is humane, the researchers connected an EEG machine to the brains of rats, decapitated them and recorded the electrical activity in the brain after the event. The Dutch researchers found that for about four seconds after being separated from the body, the rats' brains continued to generate electrical activity between the 13 to 100-Hertz frequency band, which is associated with consciousness and cognition, defined as "a mental process that includes thinking" [source: Cleveland Clinic].
This finding suggests that the brain can continue to produce thoughts and experience sensations for at least several seconds following decapitation -- in rats, at least. Although findings in rats are commonly extrapolated onto humans, we may never fully know if a human remains similarly conscious after the head is lost. As author Alan Bellows points out, "Further scientific observation of human decapitation is unlikely" [source: Bellows].
Yet the annals of medicine following the invention of the guillotine have some very interesting scientific observations of human decapitation. These suggest it is possible to remain conscious after losing one's head. First, let's look at how we've removed heads in the past.
On The Uncomfortable Matter Of Beheadings And Executions
This 1587 facsimile of a copperplate engraving shows three beheadings as capital punishments decreed by King Henry VIII against Thomas More and two other Roman Catholics in 1535. Hulton Archive/Getty Images hide caption
This 1587 facsimile of a copperplate engraving shows three beheadings as capital punishments decreed by King Henry VIII against Thomas More and two other Roman Catholics in 1535.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Differences in recent weeks over whether to post videos or photographs of the grisly beheadings by ISIS seem to have come down pretty strongly on the side against the postings. But what about the use of the word "beheading" itself in radio stories? Should there be an advance warning for listeners?
And in a related matter, does it confer too much legal dignity on ISIS to say that the victims were "executed," as if by a legitimate state?
"I beg you to stop using the word 'beheading,'" wrote Bonnie Friedman of Maui, Hawaii. "It is inconceivable to me what hearing that word so many times a day must do to the family and friends of the victims and, frankly, to all civilized humans. I know what it does to me."
A dozen other listeners agreed, and many disliked use of the word "executed," too. Jo Hackl of Greenville, S.C., for example, added a juridical dimension:
As a lawyer and writer, I am keenly aware of the power of language, as I know you are. One thing that has troubled me in the media coverage of the murder of the US journalist James Foley by ISIS is the use of the words "beheading" and "execution" to refer to the act. It appears that ISIS chose this horrifying method of murder, and chose to publicize it, in order to inspire terror. By repeatedly echoing the words that ISIS has used, I believe that NPR is playing into the climate of fear that ISIS is trying to create. I suggest using instead the word "murder" which is accurate and places the deed within the context of the rule of law under which the US will seek to hold the perpetrators accountable.
Still other listeners asked that an explicit material warning be given on air. One Twitter follower questioned why NPR did so before a story about college rape, but did not do it on the beheading stories.
Mark Memmott, NPR's editor for standards and practices, was attentive in considering the complaints but concluded:
I think we need to use words that accurately describe what was done. In this case, the videos appear to show the men being beheaded. The word applies. I don't think a warning before saying the word is practical.
In longer reports, we effectively do give listeners a warning by first introducing the topic of ISIS and the killings before use of the word. But I think to require some sort of advisory before beginning each report is unnecessary. For one thing, there are few if any listeners who don't already know about the killings and how they were carried out.
On Aug. 22, Memmott had sent a related guidance to the newsroom on whether to say the men were "executed" or "murdered." Citing Webster's New World College Dictionary and the Associated Press Style Guide, Memmott decided: "Saying Foley was executed would imply that the Islamic State (or ISIS) is an entity that can legally carry out such sentences. It's better to say Foley was 'killed' or 'beheaded' or 'murdered.'"
Saudi Arabia in 2013 beheaded nearly two people per week, reports Amnesty International
The difference between "executed" and "murdered" seems a bit arcane to me. We commonly talk of "gangland" and other similar types of "executions." And while we abhor ISIS and see it as an illegitimate state that is not recognized internationally, it certainly seems to have established de facto governance over large parts of Iraq and Syria. The debates over how to define, whether legally or politically, a state or controlling institution as technically "legitimate"—whether we morally like them or not—are long and tortured. I will leave that to you.
On "beheaded," I agree with Memmott and the newsroom.
In introducing an August 29 interview on the history of beheadings and the surprising frequency of the practice in modern times, Robert Siegel, the host of All Things Considered, sympathetically began by saying, "Now a subject that's very hard to talk about and perhaps very hard to hear about as well."
But as he and Dawn Perlmutter, director of the Symbol Intelligence Group (a Philadelphia consulting firm that aids law enforcement agencies), noted in the interview, Amnesty International reports that about two people are beheaded each week in Saudi Arabia, where it is a form of legal execution. Siegel, meanwhile, noted that in the Bible, David cut off Goliath's head, a frequent image of Renaissance paintings. Henry VIII did the same to Sir Thomas More, other Catholic leaders and two of his wives. Computer games commonly include beheadings.
This is not to defend the repulsive practice, but it is to say that we cannot pretend that it does not exist—or that our refusing to use the word will somehow make the practice go away.
ISIS, beheadings and the success of horrifying violence
The first thing you hear is the music. It lilts and sways. Then you see the Islamist militants. They’re knocking at a policeman’s door. It’s the middle of the night, but the cop soon answers. He’s blindfolded and cuffed. They take him to the bedroom. And then, reports say , they decapitate him with a knife.
Another video captures militants with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) herding hundreds of boys and Iraqi soldiers down a highway to an unknown fate. “Repent,” ISIS told inhabitants of its newly conquered territory on Thursday. “But anyone who insists upon apostasy faces death.”
Death was everywhere in the sacked the city of Mosul, a strategically vital oil hub and Iraq’s largest northern city. One reporter said an Iraqi woman in Mosul claimed to have seen a “row of decapitated soldiers and policemen” on the street. Other reports spoke of “mass beheadings,” though The Washington Post was not able to confirm the tales.
But the United Nations Human Rights chief, Navi Pillay, said the summary executions “may run into the hundreds” and that she was “extremely alarmed.”
The stories, the videos, the acts of unfathomable brutality have become a defining aspect of ISIS, which controls a nation-size tract of land and has now pushed Iraq to the precipice of dissolution. Its adherents kill with such abandon that even the leader of al-Qaeda has disavowed them. “Clearly, [leader Ayman] al-Zawahiri believes that ISIS is a liability to the al-Qaeda brand,” Aaron Zelin, who analyzes jihadist movements for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told The Washington Post’s Liz Sly earlier this year.
But in terms of impact, the acts of terror have been wildly successful. From beheadings to summary executions to amputations to crucifixions, the terrorist group has become the most feared organization in the Middle East. That fear, evidenced in fleeing Iraqi soldiers and 500,000 Mosul residents, has played a vital role in the group’s march toward Baghdad. In many cases, police and soldiers literally ran, shedding their uniforms as they went, abandoning large caches of weapons.
What Does ISIS Want, Exactly?
By now, we're all pretty familiar with ISIS, the militant Islamic group cutting a violent path through both Iraq and Syria. But in spite of their high-profile acts of terror — with the executions of American journalists James Foley and allegedly Steven Sotloff likely ranking as the most overt threat directed at the U.S. — there's a simple question that's on a lot of people's minds. Namely, what does ISIS want? With a little digging, you get a fairly clear picture. The stated mission goal of ISIS, as the group voiced publicly back in June, is to establish a new Islamic caliphate across the Middle East.
It's possible you've heard the word "caliphate" in the reporting on ISIS to date. Basically, it's the idea of an enormous Islamic state that encompasses all Muslims worldwide. However, as Vox points out, the sectarian forces of ISIS aren't counting Shia Muslims in that equation — only Sunnis. ISIS' desire (and apparent strategy) is to overthrow the existing governments of unstable, heavily Muslim nations and establish their own theocratic state in its place. The leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, claims to be the "caliph."
To be clear, interpretations of caliphate aren't limited to the sort of bloodthirsty vision ISIS seems to have. As detailed in journalist Khaled Diab's excellent op-ed in The New York Times , the era of the Abbasid caliphate (from 750 to 1258 A.D.) was a time of relative diversity in the region, as well as dramatic advances in science and mathematics.
As The New Republic details, the organization's differing names across different outlets are actually of consequence here. You've probably noticed this. A lot of places, Bustle included, refer to the organization as "ISIS" (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), while President Obama calls it "ISIL" (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant). But the group itself has a different self-appointed title these days: Simply "IS," short for "Islamic State," which they adopted in late June.
So Why The Name Change?
The switch coincided with al-Baghdadi claiming the vaunted title of caliph. As Vox explains, the original vision of the caliph was that he was the inheritor of the prophet Muhammad's legacy in two big ways. First, he governs the Islamic State, and second, he claims responsibility for all Muslims worldwide. Over the course of hundreds of years, however, it ultimately assumed the form of a sort of imperial leadership position.
There are lesser strategic goals that ISIS has staked out along the way to forming their concept of caliphate. The execution of James Foley was, by their own claim, a response to President Obama's authorization of U.S. airstrikes against ISIS near the strategic Mosul Dam — which didn't halt the bombings, as Obama authorized further strikes last week. But controlling territory and infrastructure like the dam is really just a means to an end for ISIS. More stability means more recruitment, and more opportunity to conquer new lands, spreading their sphere of influence further and further.
Muslims Aren't Exempt From The Violence
The path to this full-fledged Islamic State is a very bloody one — at least, the way ISIS sees it. Asserting oneself as a caliph is a major and controversial path, and most Muslims won't submit to al-Baghdadi's particularly brutal interpretation of Islam. And ISIS' attitude towards such nonbelievers, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, is pretty straightforward: Either get on board or get killed. According to Human Rights Watch, ISIS killed nearly 200 Iraqis in Tikrit between June 11 and 14.
As for their short-term political goals, ISIS seems dedicated to stoking conflict with the U.S. — it's feared that they could turn attention to launching attacks both at America and Europe. This possibility has heightened tensions within the U.K. and U.S., and was echoed by Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah Saturday.
So basically: ISIS' ultimate plan is to take over responsibility for, and control of, the whole world's Muslim population — by force, if need be. And of course, that force has been in constant supply stories of ISIS' grisly campaign throughout Iraq and Syria are consistently harrowing.
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Jul 10, 2017 · ISIS is a powerful terrorist militant group that has seized control of large areas of the Middle East.
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Isis is part of the Ennead of Heliopolis, a family of nine deities descended from the creator god, Atum or Ra. She and her siblings—Osiris, Set, and Nephthys —are the last generation of the Ennead, born to Geb, god of the earth, and Nut, goddess of the sky.
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Apr 18, 2018 · The Islamic State, or ISIS, is a militant organization that emerged as an offshoot of al Qaeda in 2014. It quickly took control of large parts of Iraq and Syria, raising its black flag in victory.
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ISIS borrowed two elements of Qutbism and 20th century Islamism into its version of Wahhabi worldview. While Wahhabism shuns violent rebellion against earthly rulers, ISIS embraces political call to revolutions. While historically Wahhabis weren't champion activists of a Caliphate, ISIS borrowed the idea of restoration of a global Caliphate.
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Aug 08, 2014 · Also known as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Islamic State (IS). ISIS aims to create an Islamic state called a caliphate across Iraq, …
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ISIS fighters are prisoners, not 'honored guests,' says top U.S. general. Erik De Castro / Reuters. World. Battle for Raqqa: U.S.-Backed Forces Reclaim Syrian City From ISIS. Photo.
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May 24, 2021 · Isis was initially an obscure goddess who lacked her own dedicated temples, but she grew in importance as the dynastic age progressed, until she became one of the most important deities of ancient Egypt. Her cult subsequently spread throughout the Roman Empire, and Isis was worshipped from England to Afghanistan.
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Jan 11, 2021 · VIEWER DISCRETION ADVISED NOTE: Since the Islamic State (ISIS) was driven out of Syria and Iraq by the Donald Trump Administration, it has been setting up shop in Somalia and other countries. With Biden in charge, these executions will likely be coming to the West, as well.
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Aug 12, 2016 · ISIS essentially began in 2004 as the Sunni terror group al Qaeda in Iraq It was largely defeated in Iraq by 2008, but went on to fight in Syria The revitalized group returned to Iraq in 2013.
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