The Islamic State group has executed what is believed to be the first female citizen journalist for reporting inside its territory, Syrian activists reported.
Ruqia Hassan, 30, wrote about daily life in Raqqa, IS’s Syrian stronghold and the frequent target of coalition airstrikes against the group. Her frequent Facebook posts appeared under the pen name Nissan Ibrahim.
The exact date of Hassan’s execution is unknown, but her presence on social media stopped abruptly in July 2015.
News of her death was confirmed this week by Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS), a group exposing human rights abuses from within Syria.
RBSS founder Abu Mohammed tweeted Hassan’s last known message:
“I’m in Raqqa and I received death threats, and when #ISIS [arrests] me and kills me it’s ok because they will cut my head and I have dignity its better than I live in humiliation with #ISIS.”
Hassan was an independent reporter who studied philosophy at Aleppo University and joined the opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government when the revolution began in Raqqa.
After IS entered the city, she refused to leave and began reporting on the human rights abuses occurring there.
Life in Raqqa
Raqqa woman secretly flims her life under ISIS rule.
Exclusive report: Raqqa’s Rebel, the Syrian woman who dared film life under the IS group
In a new video purportedly released by the Islamic State, a British executioner calls Prime Minister David Cameron an “imbecile” before executing five men accused of spying against the Islamic State for the United Kingdom. The video was allegedly filmed in Raqqa, the “capital” of the terrorist Islamic State.
The executioner is suspected to be London born Abu Rumaysah also known as Siddhartha Dhar according to reports. He has been called the New Jihad John in the British press.
The propaganda video is ten minutes long and includes the execution of five shackled men dressed in orange boilersuits who “confessed” to spying for Great Britain
In another new video purportedly released by the Islamic State, men and soldiers are beheaded and executed en masse in “Wilayat Sinai” peninsula, Egypt. The video is titled “War of the Minds” and was released on January 4, 2015.
Islamic State threatens to carry out attacks in Russia ‘very soon’
ISIS Threatens to Attack Russia Very Soon
The Islamic State (ISIS), which has claimed responsibility for the crash of a Russian passenger plane in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, has released a video in which it threatens to carry out terrorist attacks in Russia. (more)
The Russian-language video was released on Thursday by the Al-Hayat Media Center, the foreign-language media division of the Islamic State, according to the SITE Intelligence monitoring group.
“Soon, very soon, the blood will spill like an ocean,” the video said, threatening to carry out attacks within Russia. The video also featured gory scenes of executions by beheading and gunshot.
Other details were not immediately available.
The Islamic State (ISIS) has claimed responsibility for the crash of a Russian passenger plane that went down in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula on October 31, killing all 224 people on board. The group, which has released no specific details to back up its claims, said the downing was in revenge for Russian airstrikes against ISIS militants in Syria.
The cause of the crash remains under investigation, but investigators have not yet ruled out a bomb, though other possible causes include metal fatigue and a fuel explosion.
In the face of the deadly threat posed by the so-called Islamic State, many Kurdish women decide not to leave their survival to fate. Instead, they fight for their lives and their future. Taking up arms, they join the YPG – Kurdish People’s Protection Units that defend their town’s borders from the militants. The enemy fears female warriors. Jihadists believe if they are killed by a woman they will go straight to hell.
Women’s Protection Units
The Women’s Protection Units or Women’s Defense Units (Kurdish: Yekîneyên Parastina Jin) (YPJ) is a military organization that was set up in 2012 as the female brigade of the leftist People’s Protection Units (Yekîneyên Parastina Gel, YPG) militia.The YPJ and YPG are the armed wing of a Kurdish coalition that has taken de facto control over much of Syria’s predominantly Kurdish north, Rojava.
The organization grew out of the Kurdish resistance movement, and as of late 2014 it had over 7,000 (or 10,000, according to TeleSUR) volunteer fighters between the ages of 18 and 40. They receive no funding from the international community and rely on the local communities for supplies and food.
The YPJ joined its brother organization, the YPG, in fighting against any groups that showed intentions of bringing the Syrian Civil War to Kurdish-inhabited areas. It has come under increased attacks from ISIL militants and was involved in the Siege of Kobanî.
The group played a critical role in rescuing the thousands of Yazidis trapped on Mount Sinjar by ISIL fighters in August 2014. One fighter said: “We need to control the area ourselves without depending on [the government]… They can’t protect us from [ISIL], we have to protect ourselves [and] we defend everyone … no matter what race or religion they are.
The group had been praised by feminists for “confront[ing] traditional gender expectations in the region” and “redefining the role of women in conflict in the region”. According to photographer Erin Trieb, “the YPJ is in itself a feminist movement, even if it is not their main mission”. She asserted that “they want ‘equality’ between women and men, and a part of why they joined was to develop and advance the perceptions about women in their culture”.
Various Kurdish media agency indicate that “YPJ troops have become vital in the battle against I.S.” in Kobanî.YPJ achievements in Rojava have attracted considerable international attention as a rare example of strong female achievement in a region in which women are heavily repressed.
On the frontline between Kurdish fighters and Islamic State militants, a group of young women have mobilised.
They have left their homes and dreams behind to fight on the frontline. The women say they felt compelled to join the battles with men in order to protect their land. They call themselves the women defenders, or the YPJ (pron: Yuh-pah-Juy); pro-Kurdish Yekineyen Parastina Jin
17-year-old Dilbreen says she signed up to help liberate the country.
“I joined YPJ voluntarily. I joined them to defend the Kurds, the Arabs, the Christians, and all nationals. I will defend my country and all those who are fighting for it,” explained Dilbreen.
The women feel no different from the men fighters. However they believe that while men rely more on their physical strength, they use cunning, stealth and patience to get results.
One YPJ commander, Çiçek told euronews: “The male fighter fights physically, while the woman fights with her mind. The woman knows when to use weapons, and naturally she is a hater of war violence. However, we are forced to defend ourselves. We were raised on such thoughts.”
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the Popular Protection Units (YPG) have seen their numbers swell of late with new recruits coming from Europe, Australia and the United States to join the battle.
Captured, sold, raped: ISIS turns thousands of Christian women and children into sex slaves
Canadian Joins Kurdish women fighting
VANCOUVER — The city was out enjoying an overcast Saturday afternoon of grocery shopping on Davie Street, biking the Stanley Park Seawall and just staring at the freighters out in English Bay. But Hanna Bohman was thinking about leaving town.
It had been almost two months since she’d said goodbye to Syria, where she volunteered with the Kurdish women’s army known as the YPJ. And she was wondering: should she go back? “I’m thinking about it,” she said in an interview at a West End coffee shop. “I’m thinking about it a lot.”
Hanna BohmanHeavy metal-loving Heval Rosa, 19, and 22-year-old, Heval Azidan, who was Hanna Bohman’s best friend.
Pulling her back to the war zone were the “girls” — the female Kurdish guerillas she befriended during her months in Rojava, the independent state they are fighting to establish in northern Syria.
Girls like Heval Rosa.
In a video on Bohman’s tablet, Rosa sat on the tailgate of a pickup truck holding her grenade launcher. “She likes heavy metal,” recalled Bohman. “She asked me, ‘Do you have any heavy metal?’” Seeing the camera trained on her, Rosa stuck out her tongue.
Another video showed half-a-dozen women in camouflage sitting on a floor mat in an abandoned house playing a game, laughing like it was a sleepover. And then there was the video of the uniformed YPJ fighter who insisted that Bohman take her jacket because there was a cold wind.
The conflict in Syria has been hard on women. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has systematically raped them, sold them, traded them and enslaved them. Women have been forced to convert and cover themselves. They’ve been lured from Western countries to serve as comfort wives for lonely killers. But as Bohman found out, the women are fighting back.
The Women’s Defense Unit, or YPJ, was created three years ago and consists of some 7,500 Kurdish fighters. It is the women’s branch of a militia called the YPG, or People’s Protection Units. By decree, 40% of the spots in each YPG fighting unit are filled by women.
“The women fight just as much as the men,” said Bohman, 46, who is also known by her online alias, Tiger Sun. “I think the YPJ girls, they’re the real heroes because they’re not just fighting ISIL, they’re fighting for women’s rights.”
Hanna BohmanSeventeen-year-old Heval Canda was in charge of the fighters on duty. It was her job to pick who lived or died that day.
One of a handful of Canadians who have fought alongside Kurdish forces, Bohman was born in Zambia to Canadian parents. She returned to Canada when she was still a toddler and grew up with humanitarian ambitions, dreaming of flying aid missions in Africa.
Instead she worked a variety of jobs — sales, the oil fields, a horseracing track — until a workplace injury followed by a car accident made her rethink what she really wanted. “I realized I’d been spending too much of my time doing things I didn’t want to do,” she said.
She didn’t know much about the Kurdish people but she was familiar with ISIL and she thought, if Canadians were fighting for the extremist cause, why couldn’t she fight for the other side? After making contact with the YPJ through Facebook, she broke the news to her family. “I told my mother and a couple of friends,” she said. “I was really excited to get going.”
Hanna BohmanTeam commander Heval Arjin, 19, who gave Hanna Bohman her first grenades, playing a game with improvised cards.
But as she was leaving Qatar, next stop northern Iraq, she got nervous. She was trusting her life to people she didn’t know, at a time jihadists had discovered the profitability and shock value of kidnapping. The plane landed in Sulaymaniyah and she crossed a river at night to a Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) camp. The setting reminded her of B.C.’s Okanagan. Nine other Westerners were there — from Germany, the Netherlands and the United States.
She had been told there would be 45 days of training, but by the time she got there they had reduced it to 15 days, and then five. It ended up consisting of five hours of firearms instruction, “everything I could have learned on YouTube,” she said.
Initially, she was assigned to a base where she dug ditches and took shifts on guard duty. The Shingal Mountains of Iraq were just across the border and the biggest threat was ISIL suicide trucks. From there, she moved closer to the action, joining a mobile fighting unit. They would capture a village, hold it and move on. “Most of the time (ISIL) would run away but sometimes they’d put up a fight and we’d just kill them off,” she said. Bohman said she never killed anyone herself.
The YPJ girls she met were young — 17, 18 and 19. Many were poorly educated, some had run away from forced marriages. She described them as a “peasant militia.” During downtime, they played volleyball, danced and sang nationalistic songs, she said. They seemed keenly aware they were fighting for women’s rights.
“As we say, the revolution of Rojava is a women’s revolution,” Feleknas Uca, a Turkish Member of Parliament who is also Kurdish and Yazidi, said in an interview at the Toronto Kurdish Community Centre. She said the YPJ was avenging ISIL’s treatment of women and joked that ISIL fighters were terrified of the sight of red shoes and makeup. “They are very afraid of women because they believe if they die by women they will not go to heaven.”
Hanna BohmanHeval Nujian, 22, told Hanna Bohman that she always smiled because it helps others feel better.
In contrast to ISIL’s misogyny the YPJ manifesto speaks optimistically about “gender freedom” and “struggling at all levels with an awareness of the idea of legitimate defense in the face of various forms of attacks against women.”
In June, Bohman rode with the Kurdish fighters as they captured the town of Tal Abyad. She was crossing a damaged bridge when she jumped and her legs buckled. She had lost so much muscle eating a diet of canned sardines and cucumber, she knew it was time to go home. “I didn’t want anyone getting hurt because I couldn’t carry my weight,” she said. “It was the safest thing for everybody.”
Nobody batted an eye when she got to Montreal airport, she said. “All they said to me was welcome home.” Two weeks later, however, a Canadian Security Intelligence Service officer tracked her down and they met for lunch, she said.
“I asked her why it took them so long to contact me and she said, ‘Well, we didn’t know you went,’” Bohman said. The CSIS officer did not seem concerned about Bohman’s encounters with the PKK. She only seemed interested in Canadians who had joined ISIL, Bohman said. “She wasn’t worried about me.”
Hanna BohmanHeval Silav taught herself how to speak, read, and write English, Arabic, and Kurdish, despite only being allowed to attend school for one year.
The Kurdish conflict has worsened since she left. A ceasefire between Turkey and the PKK collapsed and there have been several deadly skirmishes. Last month, a suspected ISIL suicide bomber killed 32 youths in Suruc, a Kurdish town in Turkey.
Bohman put her uniform back on for an Aug. 6 protest at the U.S. consulate in Vancouver after Turkey launched airstrikes on some of the PKK camps she had visited in Iraq. But she was undecided about going back to Syria.
A new travel zone ban proposed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper may complicate matters. Although those fighting against ISIL are said to be exempted, it was unclear how the law would impact those like Bohman who rubbed shoulders with the PKK, a terrorist group under Canadian law.
“Should Sun be motivated enough by the Turkish offensive against the Kurds to return to fight with the YPG, she could suddenly find herself on the other side of Harper’s proposed travel ban law,” journalist and former infantryman Scott Taylor wrote in Esprit de Corps.
Bohman was well-aware of the problems she could face should she return. “What am I going to do that’s going to make me feel as useful and worthwhile?” she asked. “I’m not doing anything better here in Canada.”
20-year-old Danish Coed Joins Kobane Angels to Fight ISIS
A Danish woman has become the latest Westerner to travel to the besieged Syrian city of Kobane and join Kurdish forces bravely battling Islamic State militants.
Her name is Joanna Palani and she is a 20-year-old of Kurdish descent. Joanna is understood to have written a message on her Facebook page describing a minor foot injury she picked up during a ‘hard’ attack on the jihadist.
Minutes earlier she had updated the page with a photograph of herself calmly smiling while wearing military fatigues, a bullet proof vest and carrying a large assault rifle – threatening ISIS militants with the words: ‘See you on the front line tomorrow’.
Ms. Palani has become the latest Westerner to join the fight against ISIS in Kobane, where Syrian Kurds assisted by Iraqi Peshmerga troops and US and Arab coalition warplanes have managed to force hundreds of militants out of the center of the city.
Ms. Palani is the latest Westerner to join the fight against ISIS in Kobane (pictured), where Syrian Kurds assisted by Iraqi Peshmerga troops and US warplanes have forced hundreds of militants out the city center
Details of Ms. Palani’s journey to fight ISIS in Syria were reported by the Danish newspaper BT.
Less than a month ago she had made a gave an interview to Politiken saying that she was dropping out mid-way through her college course and intended to join the fight against ISIS in Kobane.
It is likely Ms. Palani, who has lived in Denmark since she was three-years-old, has joined the KurdishYPJ regiment – the all-female force of the better known YPG (People’s Protection Unit). Both groups are affiliated with the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), which has been designated a terror
group by NATO, but Ms. Palani makes it clear that she does not agree with this assessment. The US has since removed the Kurds from the terrorist list and is now training and arming them.
‘The Kurds are fighting for democracy and Western values,’ she was quoted as saying.
‘If I get captured or killed, I will be proud of why I was killed. If I was afraid of the consequences of going down there, I would not consider it,’ she reportedly added.
In her earlier interview with Politiken before she left for Syria, Ms. Palani said she would do exactly the same thing had Denmark come under attack by Islamic extremists.
‘I love Denmark. I grew up here and I love the freedom of our society. If Denmark should ever be attacked, I’m going to go in the front row with a Danish flag around my shoulders,’ she was quoted as saying.’But I’ve Kurdish family, and right now it is the Kurds who are attacked by brainwashed Islamists,’ she added. She is far from the first Westerner to join the Kurdish fighters battling ISIS in Kobane.
There have been numerous other reports from Kobane of Westerners travelling taking up arms against the militants – including claims that a number of European biker gangs had ridden to Syria and are helping to assist the resistance.
One of the greatest fears that ISIS fighters have is to be captured or killed by Kobane Female Fighters. Would Allah allow them access to their “virgins” when it was a women who took them out? It is up to “Allah” I guess, said one fighter! This morning Kurdish fighters captured six buildings from ISIS near Kobane and seized a large haul of their weapons and ammunition, a group monitoring the war said.
The terror group has been desperately trying to capture the town for more than two months in an assault that has driven tens of thousands of Kurdish civilians over the border into Turkey.
The six buildings seized by Kurdish fighters this morning were in a strategic location in the town’s north, close to Security Square where the main municipal offices are based, said Rami Abdurrahman, who runs the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
His group that tracks the three-year-old conflict in Syria using sources on the ground.
The Kurds also took a large quantity of rocket-propelled grenade launchers, guns and machine gun ammunition.
The clashes killed around 13 Islamic State militants, including two senior fighters who had been helping to lead the militant group’s assault on the town, he said.
Kurdish forces appear to have made other gains in recent days of fighting.
Last week they blocked a road Islamic State was using to resupply its forces, the first major gain against the jihadists after weeks of violence.
‘During the last few days we have made big progress in the east and southeast,’ said Idris Nassan, an official in Kobane.
Nevertheless, Islamic State still appeared to be holding a significant grip on the town. Abdurrahman estimated it controlled more than 50 percent of the city.
Whilst we go about our daily lives hundreds of innocent people are being brutally killed throughout Syria. Needless to say I won’t mourn the death of any member of IS or other extremist group , but there are many innocent people being killed for their perceived homosexuality, religion/political beliefs , trivial insults to Allah and countless other “crimes” that carry the ultimate sentence – Summary executions
The main cause of the slaughter is IS and other extremist groups , whom have created a living hell in the Middle East.
When will the world wake up and do something decisive to rid the world of all Islamic Extremist and eradicate their twisted, psychopathic Islamic ideology?
Regardless of who started this war ( and their are many guilty parties) its time to get troops on the ground and teach IS a lesson that will result in their total annihilation and complete obliteration.
The Dead :
23 civilians, 22 rebels,
14 Non-Syrian Islamic fighters,
16 Regular forces,
8 unknown rebels,
19 non-Syrian militants allied to regime forces.
— IS executed a young man and a child in the charge of homosexual in al-Ashara town in the eastern countryside of Der-Ezzor.
— IS executed a man in al-Hasakah countryside for ” insulting the name of Allah” .
— 3 IS were killed by clashes against YPG in Abdulaziz mount, Hasakah countryside.
— 12 Osbek and Turkistan militants were killed by clashes against regime forces in al-Mansoura in al-Ghab valley.
– 11 Unknown rebels killed by clashes against regime forces, bombardment, and targeting their checkpoints .
– 27 National Defense Forces militiamen were killed by clashes and attacks on their checkpoints around Syria.
– 16 Regular forces were killed by clashes, snipers, IEDs, and attacks on their checkpoints and vehicles.
– 14 Non-Syrian fighters from ISIS, Jund Al-Sham and Jabhat Al-Nusra were killed by clashes and targeted
— 19 non-Syrian militants allied to regime forces killed by clashes against rebels.
— 8 Hezbollah were killed by clashes against rebels
The Al-Khansaa Brigade, also spelled Al-Khanssaa Brigade, is an all-women police or religious enforcement unit of the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), operating in its de facto capital of Raqqa and Mosul. Formed in early 2014 and apparently named after Al-Khansa, a female Arabic poet from the earliest days of Islam, it is unclear how widespread and sustained the group is.
An ISIL official, Abu Ahmad, said in 2014, “We have established the brigade to raise awareness of our religion among women, and to punish women who do not abide by the law.” The outfit has also been called ISIL’s ‘moral police’
ISIS ‘female Gestapo’ leading campaign of terror against own sex – and 60 are British
Al Khansaa brigade rule by terror
Daesh Defectors – 3 women leave al-Khansaa brigade
Islamic State’s ‘female Gestapo’ is conducting a sickening campaign of terror against their own sex.
The special brigade – set up to enforce the terror group’s strict Islamic views – bite and whip any woman who steps out of line and force girls to become sex slaves.
As many as 60 British women are thought to be members of the brigade, which operate in ISIS’ self-proclaimed capital Raqqa, in Syria.
The city is ruled by fear, with torture, stoning and crucifixions common.. All women are prohibited from going outside or travelling without a male relative.
What It’s Like To Be A Woman In Islamic State
ISIS imposes a strict dress code demanding all females from puberty upwards wear two gowns to hide their body shape, black gloves to cover their hands, and three veils so their faces cannot be seen, even in direct sunlight.
Women have been publicly buried alive in sand for breaking the code.
One former Syrian schoolteacher trapped in the city opened up to Channel 4 in a documentary, Escape From ISIS, to be aired next week.
She said: “We have no freedom. We cannot go out on the balcony or look through the window. They will arrest a woman if she wears perfume or raises her voice. A woman’s voice cannot be heard.”
The teacher told of her horrifying capture by the city’s ruthless all-women police unit, the Al-Khansa brigade.
“They said my eyes were visible through my veil. I was tortured. They lashed me. Now some of them punish women by biting. They give you the option between getting bitten or lashed.”
ISIS: Women’s Role In The Islamic State |
British women in the brigade are thought to include Aqsa Mahmood, the 20-year-old Glaswegian woman who left her family to join ISIS last year.
They are paid up to £100 a month, a relative fortune.
One former Al-Khansa enforcer, a young Syrian woman called Umm Abaid, told the filmmakers how she had led a normal life until the arrival of ISIS and the imposition of Sharia law in Raqqa.
“I went to school, to coffee shops,” she said, “but slowly, slowly my husband [a Saudi Arabian IS fighter killed in a suicide bomb attack] convinced me about Islamic State and its ideas. I joined the brigade and was responsible for enforcing the clothing regulations.
“Anyone who broke the rules, we would lash. Then we would take her male guardian, her brother, father or husband, and lash him, too.”
The brigade even stops buses to check women passengers.
If one is found breaking the code, all the passengers are forced to get off and the bus is refused permission to proceed. The driver can be lashed because he let the woman on board.
Some of the Al-Khansa members operate undercover, posing as housewives and mingling in the crowds to listen for any dissent.
They also run brothels where kidnapped girls are expected to satisfy fighters returning from battle.
ISIS Sex Slave Operation
Those who have escaped the brothels say they have slept with 100 different fighters in a few weeks.
Emily Dyer, a research fellow with the Henry Jackson Society, spends hours tracking social media messages sent to the West by jihadi brides.
She says many Muslim British women see joining ISIS as an “attractive option” but once they arrive in Syria the reality of their situation is wholly different from the propaganda they are fed.
Under ISIS prohibitions, single women live in all-female safe houses called maqqars. If they are married, they must be only mothers or housewives unless selected to be IS ‘enforcers’ or fighters.
A girl tracked by Emily on Twitter said: “I’m fed up. They make me do the washing up.”
Another said: “I’ve done nothing except hand out clothes and food. I help clean weapons and transport dead bodies from the front. It’s beginning to get really hard.’
One complained: ‘My iPod doesn’t work any more. I have to come back [to the West
Women in maqqars are forbidden access to mobile phones or the internet.. They are then prepared to become jihadi brides, even if they are young teenagers.
But girls who marry one fighter, have found they are expected to spend a week with their new ‘spouse’ before they are ‘divorced’ by an Islamic cleric and married to another fighter for a week.
Yet more Muslim girls and women from Europe, and notably the UK, arrive in Raqqa each month to join ISIS.
It’s just one of the reasons politicians view the threat from ISIS so seriously
A BRITISH mother who travelled to Syria with her five young children to live among ISIS fighters described the experience as
“Not my cup of tea.”
Former Guantanamo detainee Jamal Al Harith joins Islamic State
Shukee Begum, 33, said she went to the war-torn country to find her husband Jamal al-Harith, a former Guantánamo Bay detainee who left Britain 18 months ago to join the group.
Harith, a Muslim convert born Ronald Fiddler, was released from Guantánamo Bay and repatriated to Britain in 2004 after lobbying by the British government.
see Below for more details Jamal al-Harith
‘Isis…it was just not my cup of tea’: British mum speaks
A law graduate from northern England, Ms Begum insists she only travelled to persuade her husband to return and never supported the ISIS militants, who have carved out regions of control in Iraq and Syria.
“I was seeing on the news at this point that ISIS was going from bad to worse … So I decided that I was going to try and speak some sense into him,” she told Channel 4 in an exclusive interview.
Shukee Begum, 33, claimed she and her children, who were all under nine years old, found themselves in crowded and uncomfortable conditions.
Ms Begum, from Oldham, described the conditions in the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa as “worse than I expected”,
She said: “You’ve got hundreds of families living in one hall, sharing perhaps one or two bathrooms between them, one or two kitchens between them.
“My husband is a family man. I’ve always known him. I’ve been married to him for 11 years. I’ve always known him to be a good man with good characteristics.”
At first, Ms Begum lived in an overcrowded safe house in the ISIS-controlled city of Raqqa with “hundreds of families living in one hall”, many “crying” and “sick”, who were sharing one or two bathrooms.
“There was a gangster-kind-of mentality among single women there. Violent talk, talking about war, killing,” Ms Begum said.
“They would sit together and huddle around their laptops and watch ISIS videos together and discuss them and everything. It was just not my cup of tea.”
After she was reunited with her husband, who refused to help her leave, ISIS authorities would not allow her to go, Ms Begum added.
“This is what I want to make clear as well to other women thinking of coming into ISIS territory — that you can’t just expect to come into ISIS territory and then expect that you can just leave again easily,” she said. “There is no personal autonomy there at all.”
She was smuggled out of the territory before being held captive in the city of Aleppo, and is now living close to the border with Turkey and hopes to move back to Britain.
“I’d love to go back to the UK. The UK is my home. I grew up there. My friends are there. My family are there. That’s where I consider to be home,” she said.
“But I’m just not sure at the moment, with the track record of the current government, if the UK is somewhere I can achieve justice. I hope I’m wrong.”
Hundreds of Britons have travelled to join Islamic State.
A report released last month indicated dozens of fighters have defected from the group, notorious for beheadings and blowing up ancient monuments, due to disillusionment over killing fellow Sunni Muslims and civilians.
Together with the Tipton Three, he was among five British citizens repatriated in March 2004 and the next day released by British authorities without charge. That year, he was a party to Rasul v. Rumsfeld, which sued the United States government and the military chain of command for its interrogation tactics. The case was finally dismissed in 2009 after being remanded by the United States Supreme Court to the US District Court for the District of Columbia, on grounds of the government officials having had “limited immunity” at the time. In December 2009, the US Supreme Court declined to accept the case for hearing on appeal.
Early life and education
He was born Ronald Fiddler in 1966 in Manchester, England, to parents who had migrated from Jamaica. He has a sister Maxine Fiddler. Fiddler attended local schools. He became a web designer, working in Manchester.
Conversion and travels
About 1994, Fiddler converted to Islam and officially changed his name to Jamal Udeen Al-Harith.
Several years later, Al-Harith started an Internet relationship with Samantha Cook, who lived in Perth, Australia. He traveled there in early 2000 to meet her in person. She is the daughter of the Australian Senator Peter Cook. After their relationship ended in July 2000, he returned to Manchester and his work.
Travel and detention
After some time back in Manchester, in 2002 Al-Harith traveled to Pakistan for a backpacking trip. While there, he paid a truck driver to take him to Iran. The truck was stopped when he passed near the Afghan border. Taliban guards, seeing his British passport, arrested him as a British spy, which was typical of their treatment of foreigners.
American troops discovered Al-Harith among numerous foreigners held by the Taliban in jail in Kandahar and released him. He was being aided by the Red Cross to make arrangements to return to Britain. They enabled him to call his family in Britain, whom he told he would be soon flying home. The Red Cross had arranged with the British embassy to fly him out from the American airbase to Kabul to meet the British representative.
But, Al-Harith was not allowed to leave Kabul because Americans had become suspicious about the purpose of his travels in the region. Not believing his explanations, they arrested him as a suspected enemy combatant and transported him to Guantanamo Bay detention camp. The military held him there and interrogated him for more than two years without charges. He said he suffered “cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment”.
The Americans notified the Australian government of Al-Harith’s detention because he had recently been in the country. The ASIO carried out an investigation of his activities while in the country and concluded that he was not a security risk.
He was among nine British citizens who were held as detainees at Guantanamo. Eventually he was interviewed by MI5 and the British Foreign Office, as well as American officials.
Repatriation and release
In March 2004, Al-Harith was among five British citizens, including the Tipton Three, who were released and repatriated to the United Kingdom. The next day, all were released by British authorities without charges.
The case went through several levels of hearings: the US District Court, the Court of Appeals, and the US Supreme Court. Following the US Supreme Court’s decision of Boumediene v. Bush (2008), which ruled that detainees had the right to access federal courts directly, the Supreme Court remanded the case to the US District Court. It dismissed the case in 2009 on the grounds of “limited immunity” for government officials, holding that at the time in question, the courts had not clearly established that torture was prohibited in the treatment of detainees at Guantánamo. (This was established by law in the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005.) In December 2009, the US Supreme Court declined to accept the case for hearing on appeal.
Because of his imprisonment as a “terrorist,” Al-Harith has had difficulty getting work in Britain. His sister has said that he is struggling to get back to his life.
In 2014, al-Harith travelled to Syria to enlist in the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. His wife, with their five children, joined him for some months in 2015 before fleeing from the Isis-controlled territory.
Prime Minister David Cameron is due to make a statement later on Friday.
“The prime minister has said before that tracking down these brutal murderers was a top priority,” a spokesperson said.
by Frank Gardner, BBC security correspondent
As the militant who sadistically murdered Western aid workers and journalists on camera, Mohammed Emwazi became a top target for US and British intelligence agencies, even though he is thought to have played no military role within Islamic State.
After his identity was revealed in February, Emwazi largely stayed out of sight, taking particular care not to leave a digital trail to his whereabouts.
But GCHQ, the UK government’s communications headquarters, has expended enormous efforts to intercept and decipher any encrypted messages that might reveal his location or those of his associates.
Emwazi is believed to have travelled to Syria in 2013 and later joined IS militants.
He first appeared in a video in August last year, when footage was posted online showing the murder of US journalist James Foley.
Earlier this year, details emerged about how Emwazi made a number of journeys abroad before he left for Syria in 2013.
They included a trip to Tanzania in August 2009, when he is believed to have first became known to security services in the UK.
His naming this year led to a row over the cause of his radicalisation, with British advocacy group Cage suggesting that contact with MI5 may have contributed to it.
However, Downing Street said that suggestion was “completely reprehensible”, with Mr Cameron defending the UK’s security services.
Civil war erupted in Syria four years ago, and now President Bashar al-Assad’s government, IS, an array of Syrian rebels and Kurdish fighters all hold territory. Millions have been displaced and more than 250,000 people killed as a result of the fighting.
IS aims to establish a caliphate over the entire Muslim world, a state ruled by a single political and religious leader according to Islamic law, or Sharia. It already hold control of swathes of land in Syria and Iraq.
Security analyst Charlie Winter said that if Emwazi’s death was confirmed, it could affect those wanting to join Islamic State “out of a sense of adventure”.
He added: “They want to go and find a collective group where they can be part of something bigger. But they also don’t want to die.”
Mohammed Emwazi’s movements before heading to Syria
1. Aug 2009, refused entry to Tanzania: travels to Tanzania with two friends, but is refused entry at Dar es Salaam. Tanzanian police have denied Emwazi’s name is on their database of suspected foreign criminals detained and deported in 2009, as he had claimed. Emwazi and his friends are put on flight to Amsterdam, where they are questioned. They return to Dover and are questioned again.
2. Sept 2009, travels to Kuwait for work: leaves the UK for Kuwait for work.
3. May/June 2010, returns to UK for holiday: he returns to the UK for an eight-day visit.
4. July 2010, refused re-entry to Kuwait: Emwazi returns to the UK once more for a couple of days. He is stopped at Heathrow on his return to Kuwait and told he cannot travel as his visa has expired.
5. 2013, travels to Syria: Emwazi attempts to travel to Kuwait but is stopped and questioned. Three days later, he heads abroad. Police later inform his family he has travelled to Syria.
Emwazi was given the nickname “John” by a group of his hostages. The hostages said that he was part of a terrorist cell they called “The Beatles“, and that he guarded Western hostages while handling communications with their families. The nickname refers to John Lennon of the Beatles, and other members of the cell are known as “George”, “Paul”, and “Ringo”, in reference to the other Beatles. The cell members all had British accents. The nicknames “Jihadi John”, “Jailer John” and “John the Beatle” were created by the press.
Ringo Starr expressed his disgust at the use of his former band’s name in this context, saying: “It’s bullshit. What they are doing out there is against everything the Beatles stood for,” saying that the Beatles had stood for peace and opposed violence.
Jihadi John Apologizes to His Family – but for Beheading Hostages
On 3 October 2014, a video released by ISIS showing Emwazi beheading British aid worker Alan Henning. Henning, a taxi driver from Salford, Greater Manchester, had volunteered to deliver aid to Syria when he was kidnapped in Ad Dana, an area held by ISIS, on 27 December 2013.
On 16 November 2014 a video was posted by ISIS of Emwazi standing over a severed head, which the White House confirmed was that of Peter Kassig. Kassig’s actual beheading was not shown, and unlike earlier hostage beheading videos he did not make a statement.
The video that ended with a shot of Kassig’s severed head showed the beheadings of 21 Syrian soldiers in gruesome detail, by a group led by a masked Emwazi. It was said by the BBC that, unlike previous videos, this one shows the faces of many of the militants, indicates the location as being Dabiq in Aleppo Province, and that this video “revels in gore.” Unlike previous videos that cut away without showing the killing, Emwazi is shown beheading a victim.
Haruna Yukawa, age 42, was captured sometime before August 2014. Kenji Goto, age 47, was captured sometime in October 2014 while trying to rescue Yukawa. In January 2015, they were threatened to be killed unless the Japanese government paid a ransom of $200 million. Haruna was beheaded on 24 January, and Kenji on 31 January 2015.
It was claimed in August 2014 that ISIS held more than 20 hostages. Many hostage families chose not to reveal their relatives’ names in order to avoid drawing attention to them and compromising their safety. All or nearly all of the Europeans were ransomed by their countries. However, laws in the US and the UK prohibit payment of ransoms.
The videos were produced and distributed by Al Hayat Media Center, a media outlet of ISIS that is under the authority of the ISIS’s official propaganda arm, the Al-Itisam Establishment for Media Production, that targets specifically Western and non-Arabic speaking audiences.
An unnamed forensics expert commissioned by The Times to look at the James Foley video said “I think it has been staged. My feeling is that the murder may have happened after the camera was stopped.” The Times concluded that “No one is questioning that the photojournalist James Foley was beheaded, but camera trickery and slick post-production techniques appear to have been used.” Two unnamed video specialists in the International Business Times of Australia claimed that portions of the video appeared to be staged and edited. Dr. James Alvarez, a British-American hostage negotiator, also claimed the James Foley video was “expertly staged”, with the use of two separate cameras and a clip-on microphone attached to Foley’s orange jumpsuit. Jeff Smith, Associate Director of the CU Denver National Center for Media Forensics, said “What’s most interesting is that the actual beheading that takes place in the videos, both of them are staged.”
British analyst Eliot Higgins (Brown Moses) published photographic and video forensic evidence suggesting that the James Foley video was taken at a spot in the hills south of the Syrian city of Raqqa.
‘Jihadi John’ became the subject of a manhunt by the FBI, MI5, and Scotland Yard. In his videos, “Jihadi John” concealed his identity by covering himself from head to toe in black, except for tan desert boots, with a mask that left only his eyes visible. Despite this, several facts about ‘Jihadi John’ could be ascertained from both videos. He spoke with an apparent London or southern England accent and appeared to have a skin tone consistent with African or South Asian descent. In both videos, he was seen to sport a pistol in a leather shoulder holster under his left shoulder, typical of right-handed people, but his actions in the videos suggest he is left-handed.
Other factors that could have led to his identification were his height, general physique, the pattern of veins on the back of his hands, his voice and clothes. A team of analysts might use the topography of the landscape in the video in an attempt to identify the location. On 24 August 2014, the British Ambassador to the United States, Sir Peter Westmacott, said that Britain was very close to identifying ‘Jihadi John’ using sophisticated voice recognition technology, but when pressed, refused to disclose any other details.
On 14 September British Prime Minister David Cameron confirmed that the identity of ‘Jihadi John’ was known but had yet to be revealed.
On 25 September, FBI DirectorJames Comey told reporters that they had identified the suspect, but did not give information regarding the man’s identity or nationality. “I believe that we have identified him. I’m not going to tell you who I believe it is,” Comey stated. Michael Ryan, an author and scholar from the Middle East Institute speculated “Maybe 98 percent of 95 percent sure is not sure enough to put a man’s name out.”
On 26 February 2015, The Washington Post identified the perpetrator as Mohammed Emwazi, a British man then in his mid-20s who was born in Kuwait and grew up in west London.The Washington Post investigation was undertaken by Souad Mekhennet and Alan Goldman.
Emwazi was born to Iraqi parents who moved to neighboring Kuwait from Iraq. When the Kuwaiti government rejected their application for citizenship, in 1994 they moved to Iraq and then on to Britain. According to his student card from the University of Westminster, Emwazi was born on 17 August 1988.
In an interview with The Washington Post, one of Emwazi’s close friends said: “I have no doubt that Mohammed is Jihadi John. He was like a brother to me. … I am sure it is him.” Asim Qureshi, research director at the advocacy group CAGE, who had been in contact with Emwazi before he left for Syria, also identified the man in the videos as Emwazi, stating: “There was an extremely strong resemblance. This is making me feel fairly certain that this is the same person.” U.S. officials declined to comment for the Washington Post report, and Emwazi’s family declined a request for an interview. Qureshi said that Emwazi was “extremely kind, gentle and soft-spoken, the most humble young person I knew”.
The BBC stated that Emwazi is believed to be “an associate of a former UK control order suspect … who travelled to Somalia in 2006 and is allegedly linked to a facilitation and funding network for Somali militant group al-Shabab.” He reportedly prayed on occasion at a mosque in Greenwich. He graduated with a degree in Information Systems with Business Management from the University of Westminster (2009). His final address in the UK before he went abroad was in the Queen’s Park area of north-west London.
The Post reported interviews with Emwazi’s friends indicating that Emwazi was radicalized after a planned safari to Tanzania following his graduation. According to the interviews, Emwazi and two friends, a German convert to Islam named Omar and another man, Abu Talib, never made the safari. Rather, upon landing in Dar es Salaam in May 2009, the three were detained, held overnight by police, and eventually deported. In May 2010, The Independent reported on the episode, identifying Emwazi as Muhammad ibn Muazzam. According to e-mails sent by Emwazi to Qureshi and that were provided to the Post, after leaving Tanzania, Emwazi flew to Amsterdam, where he claimed that an MI5 officer accused him of attempting to go to Somalia, where al-Shabab operates. Emwazi denied attempting to reach Somalia, but a former hostage told the Post that “Jihadi John was obsessed with Somalia” and forced captives to watch videos about al-Shabab. Tanzanian officials have denied that they detained and deported Emwazi at the request of MI5, saying instead that he had been refused entry for being drunk and abusive.
Later, Emwazi and his friends were permitted to return to Britain, where Emwazi met with Qureshi in late 2009. The Post quoted Qureshi as saying that Emwazi was “incensed” at the way he had been treated. Emwazi moved to Kuwait shortly afterward, where (according to emails he wrote to Qureshi), he worked for a computer company. Emwazi returned to London twice, however, and, on the second visit, he made plans to wed a woman in Kuwait.
In June 2010, Emwazi was detained by counter-terrorism officials in Britain, who searched and fingerprinted him, and blocked him from returning to Kuwait. In an email four months later to Qureshi, Emwazi expressed sympathy for Aafia Siddiqui, an al-Qaeda operative who had just been sentenced in U.S. federal court for assault and attempted murder. Qureshi said he last heard from Emwazi when Emwazi sought advice from him in January 2012. Close friends of Emwazi interviewed by the Post said that he was “desperate to leave the country” and one friend stated that Emwazi unsuccessfully tried to travel to Saudi Arabia to teach English in 2012. Sometime after January 2012, Emwazi traveled to Syria, where he apparently contacted his family and at least one of his friends.
In March 2015, following media reports that his mother had recognised Jihadi John’s voice as her son’s, his father denied that this had happened or that Emwazi was Jihadi John.
Reacting to the naming of Emwazi by the media, a spokesman for the family of Steven Sotloff told the BBC that they wanted to see him behind bars. Bethany Haines, daughter of David, said “It’s a good step but I think all the families will feel closure and relief once there’s a bullet between his eyes.”
Lord Carlisle, a former independent reviewer of UK anti-terror laws, said, “Had control orders been in place, in my view there is a realistic prospect that Mohammed Emwazi, and at least two of his associates, would have been the subject of control orders with a compulsory relocation.”
In reaction to the revelation, Emwazi’s father, Jassem, has said that he is ashamed of his son. Previously, when he learned from his son that he was going to Syria “for jihad“, Jassem had told him that he hoped he would be killed. But the day after the naming he issued a statement denying that his son was Jihadi John. An unidentified cousin issued a statement which said, “We hate him. We hope he will be killed soon. This will be good news for our family.”
On 8 March 2015, according to The Sunday Times, Emwazi apologised to his family for “problems and trouble the revelation of his identity has caused” them. The message was conveyed via an unspecified third party.
Hostage reveals chilling moment Jihadi John drew sword on face of captive to brand him for beheading
Marc Marginedas, 46, was held by ISIS militants for six months last year
He says he was guarded by three men who spoke with British accents
Group nicknamed The Beatles because they regularly ‘beat’ prisoners
Jihadi John – later identified as Mohammed Emwazi – was the gang leader
He would draw on the prisoners heads with a red pen to mark out who he next planned to brutally execute in a filmed beheading
When his pencil was blunt he would scratch a cross into next victim’s head
Islamic State torturer-in-chief Jihadi John scratched the outline of a sword on the face of one of his victims in order to signify that he was to be beheaded, according to an account by a hostage held by the terrorist group. Spanish journalist Marc Marginedas, 46, who was released a year ago, says he and 18 other hostages were guarded by three terrorists, who all spoke with British accents.
And he reveals that they named them the ‘Beatles’ because they liked ‘beating’ people, not simply because they were British.
The leader of the group, who came to be known as Jihadi John and has since been identified as Kuwaiti-born Londoner Mohammed Emwazi, went on to behead five hostages. The hostages were eventually taken to a prison in Raqqa, northern Syria, where the ‘Beatles’ had a room next to the prisoners, separated only by a broken glass door and a curtain. Mr Marginedas said the three masked ‘Beatles’ liked to burst into their cell shouting and threatening the prisoners, and always ended up ‘beating’ at least one of the hostages.
Prisoner: Marc Marginedas, a seasoned war reporter – was held for six months by Islamic State terrorists
On one occasion he recalls how Jihadi John carried out a savage beating of one of the hostages who had been told to approach the door.
Recalls Mr Marginedas: ‘Once in position, [Jihadi John] took a red pen and began to draw a sword on the [unnamed] hostage’s face, letting him know, in this macabre he would end his days in Syria, beheaded.’
‘The pen tip broke before he finished the sketch, but Jihadi John wanted to finish his work with the rest of sharpened pencil, already cut almost like a knife, tearing the skin of the cheek with a vengeance, and leaving for the following days a visible wound in the face, outlined by the scar.’
Mr Marginedas also claims that the Beatles were only put in charge of the prisoners because Islamic State commanders couldn’t spare hardened fighters from the battlefield.
And he believes this may have been a source of a grievance to them which only served to fuel their cruelty.
Mr Marginedas was captured on the 4th of September 2013 by rebel jihadists, close to the city of Hama, in Western Syria. He had entered the country three days before, through Turkey; accompanied by members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). According to Mr Marginedas, Jihadi John was a ‘manic-depressive’, similar to that of a serial killer so often depicted in films
Another Spanish journalist, released shortly after Mr Marginedas, has told how the prisoners had to wear orange jumpsuits and had to memorise in Arabic a number written on their back.
Writing in the Sunday Times, Javier Espinosa, described how Emwazi squeezed maximum drama out of the torture and intimidation of the hostages. Espinosa, a journalist for Spanish newspaper El Mundo, said Emwazi liked to carry an antique metre-long sword with a silver handle, of the kind Muslim armies used in the Middle Ages. After enduring a mock execution at the hands of Jihadi John, Mr Espinosa said ‘that encounter confirmed the psychopathic character of my interlocutors.’
Emwazi was among ‘psychotic’ extremists who pillaged the Spaniard’s belongings to put towards a haul of stolen cash apparently so large there were rooms filled with millions of dollars. It was, he continued, one of ‘several episodes of psychological and physical torture, privations and humiliations’ prisoners endured.
Mr Espinosa was snatched with his colleague photographer Ricardo Garcia Vilanova when the pair were working near the Turkish border in 2013.
Alongside American journalists and aid workers including Britons Alan Henning and David Haines, they were locked in ISIS prisons – as Mr Espinosa describes them as ‘elegant mansions’ and the former government headquarters in Raqqa – across the war-ravaged country for months.
Being woken by the screams of other hostages as they were tortured in their cells was commonplace. On one occasion, the Spaniard notes, a young boy was beaten to a pulp after being caught smoking – a forbidden habit under oppressive Sharia law.
The European and American hostages who disappeared had been either freed or moved, Mr Espinosa claims to have been told. Instead they were being picked off one by own, their deaths showcased to the world in barbaric propaganda videos.
Mr Marginedas recounts an incident in February last year when Jihadi John visited the hostages and claimed that he had been wounded in combat:
‘Once, on a February evening, he appeared in the room and began walking in circles to the silent hostages. He seemed limp, and claimed that he had been wounded in combat during the day.
‘He said “I wonder what you would do to me if you were in my position,” hinting that he was aware of the suffering being imposed on innocent and the desire for revenge that may be raising his performance.’
Mr Marginedas says the jihadists’ evil cruelty is further demonstrated by another episode in which the ‘Beatles’ gave the leftovers of their food to half the starving hostages while the remaining hostages were ordered to watch their fellow prisoners eating. This, he says, was designed to sow bad feeling among the prisoners – which it did, with recriminations against those who had played the Beatles’ game by eating the food.
Mr Marginedas was one of the first of the 19 hostages from 11 different countries to be released by IS. He recalls how Jihadi John first told him the good news: ‘Marcos, Marcos [is the name on my passport], are you ready to go? ‘ , he asked in a quiet, mellow voice.
“Yeah, I replied, instinctively looked up by the surprise news that was giving me and forgetting that when we spoke to the ‘Beatles’ I had to keep my eyes focused on the ground, fearing that we might end up identifying these three masked by eye.
‘”Do not look at the eyes!”, he shouted, lifting his hand.
A Danish photographer who endured months of torture at the hands of Islamic State extremists says the terrorist killer known as “Jihadi John” forced him to stand for days and dance the Tango at a prison in Syria.
Daniel Rye Ottosen, 26– the last ISIS hostage to be released alive last June– revealed details about his experience in captivity in an interview Sunday with Denmark radio network DR.
The identity of “Jihadi John”– the British terrorist infamous for beheading at least 4 hostages—became public last spring. Mohammed Emwazi, 26, was born in Kuwait, raised in London, and graduated from Westminster University before going to Syria in 2013 to fight with ISIS.
He has become the face of several gruesome propaganda videos— wearing a mask and all black, and wielding a knife before decapitating high profile hostages captured by ISIS terrorists.
Ottosen– a freelance photographer from Odense, Denmark —says after being captured, Emwazi forced him into a degrading dance that ended in a brutal beating, Britain’s Telegraph reported Monday.
“‘Do you want to dance?'” he remembers Emwazi asking. “Then he took me up, and we were supposed to dance the Tango together, John and I.”
Days of beatings and torture taught Ottosen and his fellow hostages not to engage with their captors. “At that point, I just looked down at the ground the whole time because I did not want to look at them – if you looked them in the eye you would just get beaten even more.”
“So I had my head down and my arms up and he led me around the prison and then suddenly it just changed and he threw me down and kicked and hit me,” Ottosen said.
“Then they ended by threatening to cut my nose off with side-cutting pliers and such things,” Ottosen added.
Ottosen said that after his arrest he was repeatedly tortured for about two weeks in a cell in Aleppo, as the rebels tried to force him to confess to being a CIA spy.
Emwazi first appeared in an ISIS video in 2014, when he beheaded American freelance journalist James Foley. He later appeared in videos showing the beheadings of American journalist Steven Sotloff, British aid worker David Haines, British taxi driver Alan Henning, and American aid worker Peter Kassig.
“They were very good at torturing. They were well aware of the where the limits lay,” Ottosen said. The most brutal torture involved being forced to stand for days on end.
“One of the tricks they used with me was to hang me up from the ceiling with my arms over my head and my hands handcuffed, hanging from a chain. I could stand with both of my feet on the ground but they left me there for an entire day,”Ottosen recalled.
The unending torture was so agonizing that when the extremists threatened to extend it for another three days, Ottosen broke down and tried unsuccessfully to take his own life to escape.
“I decided that I didn’t want to be a part of this world anymore,” he told DR. “So I took that chain around my neck and actually secured it with my little finger so that it couldn’t just loosen and then I hopped and tried to take my own life.”
Later, he was held in a children’s hospital with Foley. The two would do exercises in their cells to build strength and morale. “James was not so strong with his motor skills so I taught him to stand on one leg with closed eyes,” he remembers.
“We did some partner exercises where you lean against each other and then stand up. Some very basic things, but something that is difficult when you have no energy and when one’s muscles have basically disappeared.”
Ottosen was released in June last year after his family paid a 1.5 million pounds or $3.2 million to ISIS. Much of the ransom came from a Facebook fundraising campaign mounted by Ottomen’s sister, Anita Rye Ottosen.
The payment has been controversial, as Emwazi in the following months went on to behead Ottoman’s fellow captives. Both the American and British governments forbade the hostages’ families from giving in to ISIS demands.
Ottosen is still working through the psychological and physical trauma he experienced in the clutches of ISIS. He has only recently begun to work again as a photographer, after more than a year of healing. He has recounted his ordeal in a new book being released in Denmark Tuesday.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL; Arabic: الدولة الإسلامية في العراق والشام), also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS, /ˈaɪsɨs/) or the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham,Daesh (داعش, Arabic pronunciation: [ˈdaːʕiʃ]), or Islamic State (IS), is a Salafi jihadistextremist militant group and self-proclaimed Islamic state and caliphate, which is led by and mainly composed of Sunni Arabs from Iraq and Syria. As of March 2015[update], it has control over territory occupied by ten million people in Iraq and Syria, and has nominal control over small areas of Libya and Nigeria. The group also operates or has affiliates in other parts of the world, including South Asia.
The group is known in Arabic as ad-Dawlah al-Islāmiyah fī ‘l-ʿIrāq wa-sh-Shām, leading to the acronym Da’ish or Daesh, the Arabic equivalent of “ISIL”. On 29 June 2014, the group proclaimed itself to be a worldwide caliphate, with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi being named its caliph, and renamed itself ad-Dawlah al-Islāmiyah (الدولة الإسلامية, “Islamic State” (IS)). As a caliphate, it claims religious, political and military authority over all Muslims worldwide, and that “the legality of all emirates, groups, states, and organisations, becomes null by the expansion of the khilāfah’s [caliphate’s] authority and arrival of its troops to their areas”.
The group originated as Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad in 1999, which pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda in 2004. The group participated in the Iraqi insurgency, which had followed the March 2003 invasion of Iraq by Western forces. In January 2006, it joined other Sunni insurgent groups to form the Mujahideen Shura Council, which proclaimed the formation of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) in October 2006. After the Syrian Civil War began in March 2011, the ISI, under the leadership of al-Baghdadi, sent delegates into Syria in August 2011. These fighters named themselves Jabhat an-Nuṣrah li-Ahli ash-Shām—al-Nusra Front—and established a large presence in Sunni-majority areas of Syria, within the governorates of Ar-Raqqah, Idlib, Deir ez-Zor, and Aleppo. In April 2013, al-Baghdadi announced the merger of the ISI with al-Nusra Front and that the name of the reunited group was now the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). However, Abu Mohammad al-Julani and Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leaders of al-Nusra and al-Qaeda respectively, rejected the merger. After an eight-month power struggle, al-Qaeda cut all ties with ISIL on 3 February 2014, citing its failure to consult and “notorious intransigence”. In Syria, the group has conducted ground attacks on both government forces and rebel factions in the Syrian Civil War. The group gained prominence after it drove Iraqi government forces out of key cities in western Iraq in an offensive initiated in early 2014. Iraq’s territorial loss almost caused a collapse of the Iraqi government and prompted a renewal of US military action in Iraq.
On 8 April 2013, having expanded into Syria, the group adopted the name Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, which more fully translates as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant or Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. These names are translations of the Arabic name ad-Dawlah al-Islāmīyah fī-l-ʻIrāq wa-sh-Shām,al-Shām being a description of the Levant or Greater Syria. The translated names are commonly abbreviated as ISIL or ISIS, with a debate over which of these acronyms should be used.The Washington Post concluded that the distinction between the two “is not so great”.
The name Daʿish is often used by ISIL’s Arabic-speaking detractors. It is based on the Arabic letters Dāl, alif, ʻayn, and shīn, which form the acronym (داعش) of ISIL’s Arabic name al-Dawlah al-Islamīyah fī al-ʻIrāq wa-al-Shām. There are many spellings of this acronym, with Daesh gaining acceptance. ISIL considers the name Da’ish derogatory, because it sounds similar to the Arabic words Daes, “one who crushes something underfoot”, and Dahes, “one who sows discord”. ISIL also reportedly uses flogging as a punishment for those who use the name in ISIL-controlled areas. In 2015, over 120 British parliamentarians asked the BBC to use Daesh, following the example of John Kerry and Laurent Fabius.
On 14 May 2014, the United States Department of State announced its decision to use “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” (ISIL) as the group’s primary name. However, in late 2014, top US officials shifted toward Daesh, since it was the preferred term used by their Arab allies.
On 29 June 2014, the group renamed itself ad-Dawlah al-Islāmiyah (الدولة الإسلامية, “Islamic State” (IS)) and declared it a worldwide caliphate. Accordingly, the “Iraq and Shām” was removed from all official deliberations and communications, and the official name became the Islamic State from the date of the declaration. The name “Islamic State” and the claim of a caliphate have been widely criticised, with the UN, various governments, and mainstream Muslim groups refusing to use it.
Following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the Jordanian Salafi jihadistAbu Musab al-Zarqawi and his militant group Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, founded in 1999, achieved notoriety in the early stages of the Iraqi insurgency for the suicide attacks on Shia Islamic mosques, civilians, Iraqi government institutions and Italian soldiers partaking in the US-led ‘Multi-National Force‘. Al-Zarqawi’s group officially pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden‘s al-Qaeda network in October 2004, changing its name to Tanzim Qaidat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn (تنظيم قاعدة الجهاد في بلاد الرافدين, “Organisation of Jihad’s Base in Mesopotamia“), also known as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). Attacks by the group on civilians, Iraqi government and security forces, foreign diplomats and soldiers, and American convoys continued with roughly the same intensity. In a letter to al-Zarqawi in July 2005, al-Qaeda’s then deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri outlined a four-stage plan to expand the Iraq War. The plan included expelling US forces from Iraq, establishing an Islamic authority as a caliphate, spreading the conflict to Iraq’s secular neighbours, and clashing with Israel, which the letter says “was established only to challenge any new Islamic entity”.
Iraqi insurgents in 2006
In January 2006, AQI joined with several smaller Iraqi insurgent groups under an umbrella organisation called the Mujahideen Shura Council (MSC). According to Brian Fishman, this was little more than a media exercise and an attempt to give the group a more Iraqi flavour, and perhaps to distance al-Qaeda from some of al-Zarqawi’s tactical errors, more notably the 2005 bombings by AQI of three hotels in Amman. On 7 June 2006, a US airstrike killed al-Zarqawi, who was succeeded as leader of the group by the Egyptian militant Abu Ayyub al-Masri.
On 12 October 2006, the MSC united with three smaller groups and six Sunni Islamic tribes to form the “Mutayibeen Coalition”. It swore by Allah “to rid Sunnis from the oppression of the rejectionists (Shi’ite Muslims) and the crusader occupiers … to restore rights even at the price of our own lives … to make Allah’s word supreme in the world, and to restore the glory of Islam”. A day later, the MSC declared the establishment of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), comprising Iraq’s six mostly Sunni Arab governorates.Abu Omar al-Baghdadi was announced as its emir, and al-Masri was given the title of Minister of War within the ISI’s ten-member cabinet.
A joint US–Iraqi Army training exercise near Ramadi in November 2009. The Islamic State of Iraq had declared the city to be its capital.
Between July and October 2007, al-Qaeda in Iraq was reported to have lost its secure military bases in Al Anbar province and the Baghdad area. During 2008, a series of US and Iraqi offensives managed to drive out AQI-aligned insurgents from their former safe havens, such as the Diyala and Al Anbar governorates, to the area of the northern city of Mosul.
By 2008, the ISI was describing itself as being in a state of “extraordinary crisis”. Its violent attempts to govern its territory led to a backlash from Sunni Arab Iraqis and other insurgent groups and a temporary decline in the group, which was attributable to a number of factors, notably the Anbar Awakening.
In late 2009, the commander of US forces in Iraq, General Ray Odierno, stated that the ISI “has transformed significantly in the last two years. What once was dominated by foreign individuals has now become more and more dominated by Iraqi citizens”. On 18 April 2010, the ISI’s two top leaders, Abu Ayyub al-Masri and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, were killed in a joint US-Iraqi raid near Tikrit. In a press conference in June 2010, General Odierno reported that 80% of the ISI’s top 42 leaders, including recruiters and financiers, had been killed or captured, with only eight remaining at large. He said that they had been cut off from al-Qaeda’s leadership in Pakistan.
On 16 May 2010, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was appointed the new leader of the Islamic State of Iraq. Al-Baghdadi replenished the group’s leadership, many of whom had been killed or captured, by appointing former Ba’athist military and intelligence officers who had served during Saddam Hussein‘s rule. These men, nearly all of whom had spent time imprisoned by the US military, came to make up about one third of Baghdadi’s top 25 commanders. One of them was a former colonel, Samir al-Khlifawi, also known as Haji Bakr, who became the overall military commander in charge of overseeing the group’s operations. Al-Khlifawi was instrumental in doing the ground work that led to the growth of ISIL.
Former Ba’athists in ISI are “true believers” in the religious ideology they espoused and not secularists using ISI as a front for their cause. Islamification policies started by Saddam after 1989 resulted in the spread of a hybrid ”Ba’athist-Salafism”.
In July 2012, al-Baghdadi released an audio statement online announcing that the group was returning to former strongholds from which US troops and the Sons of Iraq had driven them in 2007 and 2008. He also declared the start of a new offensive in Iraq called Breaking the Walls, aimed at freeing members of the group held in Iraqi prisons. Violence in Iraq had begun to escalate in June 2012, primarily with AQI’s car bomb attacks, and by July 2013, monthly fatalities exceeded 1,000 for the first time since April 2008.
Syrian Civil War
The war in Syria explained in five minutes
In March 2011, protests began in Syria against the government of Bashar al-Assad. In the following months, violence between demonstrators and security forces led to a gradual militarisation of the conflict. In August, al-Baghdadi began sending Syrian and Iraqi ISI members experienced in guerilla warfare across the border into Syria to establish an organisation there. Led by a Syrian known as Abu Muhammad al-Julani, this group began to recruit fighters and establish cells throughout the country. In January 2012, the group announced its formation as Jabhat al-Nusra li Ahl as-Sham—Jabhat al-Nusra—more commonly known as al-Nusra Front. Al-Nusra grew rapidly into a capable fighting force, with popular support among Syrians opposed to the Assad government.
On 8 April 2013, al-Baghdadi released an audio statement in which he announced 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 Al-Sham”. Al-Julani issued a statement denying the merger, and complaining that neither he nor anyone else in al-Nusra’s leadership had been consulted about it. In June 2013, Al Jazeera reported that it had obtained a letter written by al-Qaeda’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, addressed to both leaders, in which he ruled against the merger, and appointed an emissary to oversee relations between them to put an end to tensions. The same month, al-Baghdadi released an audio message rejecting al-Zawahiri’s ruling and declaring that the merger was going ahead. The ISIL campaign to free imprisoned ISIL members culminated in July 2013, with the group carrying out simultaneous raids on Taji and Abu Ghraib prisons, freeing more than 500 prisoners, many of them veterans of the Iraqi insurgency. In October 2013, al-Zawahiri ordered the disbanding of ISIL, putting al-Nusra Front in charge of jihadist efforts in Syria, but al-Baghdadi contested al-Zawahiri’s ruling on the basis of Islamic jurisprudence, and his group continued to operate in Syria. In February 2014, after an eight-month power struggle, al-Qaeda disavowed any relations with ISIL.
According to journalist Sarah Birke, there are “significant differences” between al-Nusra Front and ISIL. While al-Nusra actively calls for the overthrow of the Assad government, ISIL “tends to be more focused on establishing its own rule on conquered territory”. ISIL is “far more ruthless” in building an Islamic state, “carrying out sectarian attacks and imposing sharia law immediately”. While al-Nusra has a “large contingent of foreign fighters”, it is seen as a home-grown group by many Syrians; by contrast, ISIL fighters have been described as “foreign ‘occupiers'” by many Syrian refugees. It has a strong presence in central and northern Syria, where it has instituted sharia in a number of towns. The group reportedly controlled the four border towns of Atmeh, al-Bab, Azaz and Jarablus, allowing it to control the entrance and exit from Syria into Turkey. Foreign fighters in Syria include Russian-speaking jihadists who were part of Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar (JMA). In November 2013, the JMA’s Chechen leader Abu Omar al-Shishani swore an oath of allegiance to al-Baghdadi; the group then split between those who followed al-Shishani in joining ISIL and those who continued to operate independently in the JMA under new leadership.
In January 2014, rebels affiliated with the Islamic Front and the US-trained Free Syrian Army launched an offensive against ISIL militants in and around the city of Aleppo. In May 2014, Ayman al-Zawahiri ordered the al-Nusra Front to stop its attacks on its rival, ISIL.[not in citation given] In June 2014, after continued fighting between the two groups, al-Nusra’s branch in the Syrian town of Al-Bukamal pledged allegiance to ISIL. In mid-June 2014, ISIL captured the Trabil crossing on the Jordan–Iraq border, the only border crossing between the two countries. ISIL has received some public support in Jordan, albeit limited, partly owing to state repression there. ISIL has undertaken a recruitment drive in Saudi Arabia, where tribes in the north are linked to those in western Iraq and eastern Syria.
On 29 June 2014, the organisation proclaimed itself to be a worldwide caliphate. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi—known by his supporters as Amir al-Mu’minin, Caliph Ibrahim—was named its caliph, and the group renamed itself ad-Dawlah al-Islāmiyah (الدولة الإسلامية, “Islamic State” (IS)). As a “Caliphate”, it claims religious, political and military authority over all Muslims worldwide. The concept of it being a caliphate and the name “Islamic State” have been rejected by governments and Muslim leaders worldwide.
In June and July 2014, Jordan and Saudi Arabia moved troops to their borders with Iraq, after Iraq lost control of, or withdrew from, strategic crossing points that then came under the control of ISIL, or tribes that supported ISIL. There was speculation that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had ordered a withdrawal of troops from the Iraq–Saudi crossings in order “to increase pressure on Saudi Arabia and bring the threat of ISIS over-running its borders as well”.
Yazidi refugees and American aid workers on Mount Sinjar in August 2014
On 3 August 2014, ISIL captured the cities of Zumar, Sinjar, and Wana in northern Iraq. The need for food and water for thousands of Yazidis, who fled up a mountain out of fear of approaching hostile ISIL militants, and the threat of genocide to Yazidis and others as announced by ISIL, in addition to protecting Americans in Iraq and supporting Iraq in its fight against the group, were reasons for the 2014 American intervention in Iraq on 7 August, to aid the Yazidis stranded on Mount Sinjar and to start an aerial bombing campaign in Iraq on 8 August.
On 11 October 2014, it was reported that ISIL had dispatched 10,000 militants from Syria and Mosul to capture the Iraqi capital city of Baghdad, and Iraqi Army forces and Anbar tribesmen threatened to abandon their weapons if the US did not send in ground troops to halt ISIL’s advance. On 13 October, ISIL fighters advanced to within 25 kilometres (16 mi) of Baghdad Airport.
At the end of October 2014, 800 radical militants gained partial control of the Libyan city of Derna and pledged their allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, thus making Derna the first city outside Syria and Iraq to be a part of the “Islamic State Caliphate”. On 2 November 2014, according to the Associated Press, in response to the coalition airstrikes, representatives from Ahrar ash-Sham attended a meeting with al-Nusra Front, the Khorasan Group, ISIL, and Jund al-Aqsa, which sought to unite these hard-line groups against the US-led coalition and moderate Syrian rebel groups. However, by 14 November 2014, it was revealed that the negotiations had failed. On 10 November 2014, a major faction of the Egyptian militant group Ansar Bait al-Maqdis also pledged its allegiance to ISIL.
Coalition airstrike on ISIL position, October 2014
ISIL has often used water as a weapon of war. The closing of the gates of the smaller Nuaimiyah dam in Fallujah in April 2014, resulted in the flooding of surrounding regions, while water supply was cut to the Shia-dominated south. Around 12,000 families lost their homes and 200 km² of villages and fields were either flooded or dried up. The economy of the region also suffered with destruction of cropland and electricity shortages.
In mid-January 2015, a Yemeni official said that ISIL had “dozens” of members in Yemen, and that they were coming into direct competition with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula with their recruitment drive.
In January 2015, Afghan officials confirmed that ISIL had a military presence in Afghanistan, recruiting over 135 militants by late January. However, by the end of January 2015, 65 of the militants were either captured or killed by the Taliban, and ISIL’s top Afghan recruiter, Mullah Abdul Rauf, was killed in a US drone strike in February 2015.
In late January 2015, it was reported that ISIL members had infiltrated the European Union and disguised themselves as civilian refugees who were emigrating from the war zones of Iraq and the Levant. An ISIL representative claimed that ISIL had successfully smuggled 4,000 fighters, and that the smuggled fighters were planning attacks in Europe in retaliation for the airstrikes carried out against ISIL targets in Iraq and Syria. However, experts believe that this claim was exaggerated to boost their stature and spread fear, although they acknowledged that some Western countries were aware of the smuggling.
In early February 2015, ISIL militants in Libya managed to capture part of the countryside to the west of Sabha, and later, an area encompassing the cities of Sirte, Nofolia, and a military base to the south of both cities.
On 16 February 2015, Egypt conducted airstrikes in Libya, in retaliation against ISIL’s beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians. By the end of that day, 64 ISIL militants in Libya had been killed by the airstrikes, including 50 militants in Derna. However, by early March, ISIL had captured additional Libyan territory, including a city to the west of Derna, additional areas near Sirte, a stretch of land in southern Libya, some areas around Benghazi, and an area to the east of Tripoli.
On 7 March 2015, Boko Haram swore formal allegiance to ISIL, giving ISIL an official presence in Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon. On 13 March 2015, a group of militants from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan swore allegiance to ISIL; the group released another video on 31 July 2015 containing its spiritual leader also pledging allegiance. On 30 March 2015, the senior sharia official of Ansar al-Sharia in Libya, Abdullah Al-Libi, defected to ISIL.
In June 2015, the US Deputy Secretary of State announced that ISIL had lost more than 10,000 members in airstrikes over the preceding nine months.
In the same month, three simultaneous attacks occurred: two hotels were attacked by gunmen in Tunisia, a man was decapitated in France, and a bomb was detonated at a Shia mosque in Kuwait. ISIL claimed responsibility for the attacks in Kuwait and Tunisia. ISIL flags were present at the crime scene in France, but ISIL has not claimed responsibility for the attack.
Worldwide caliphate aims
The Spread of the Caliphate: The Islamic State
Since at least 2004, a significant goal of the group has been the foundation of a SunniIslamic state. Specifically, ISIL has sought to establish itself as a caliphate, an Islamic state led by a group of religious authorities under a supreme leader—the caliph—who is believed to be the successor to Prophet Muhammad. In June 2014, ISIL published a document in which it claimed to have traced the lineage of its leader al-Baghdadi back to Muhammad, and upon proclaiming a new caliphate on 29 June, the group appointed al-Baghdadi as its caliph. As caliph, he demands the allegiance of all devout Muslims worldwide, according to Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh).
When the caliphate was proclaimed, ISIL stated: “The legality of all emirates, groups, states and organisations becomes null by the expansion of the khilafah’s [caliphate’s] authority and arrival of its troops to their areas.” This was a rejection of the political divisions in the Middle East that were established by Western powers during World War I in the Sykes–Picot Agreement.
ISIL is a Salafi group. It follows an extremist interpretation of Islam, promotes religious violence, and regards those who do not agree with its interpretations as infidels or apostates. According to Hayder al Khoei, ISIL’s philosophy is represented by the symbolism in the Black Standard variant of the legendary battle flag of Prophet Muhammad that it has adopted: the flag shows the Seal of Muhammad within a white circle, with the phrase above it, “There is no God but Allah“. Such symbolism has been said to point to ISIL’s belief that it represents the restoration of the caliphate of early Islam, with all the political, religious and eschatological ramifications that this would imply.
According to some observers, ISIL emerged from the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood, the first post-Ottoman Islamist group dating back to the late 1920s in Egypt. It adheres to global jihadist principles and follows the hard-line ideology of al-Qaeda and many other modern-day jihadist groups. However, other sources trace the group’s roots to Wahhabism. The New York Times wrote:
For their guiding principles, the leaders of the Islamic State … are open and clear about their almost exclusive commitment to the Wahhabi movement of Sunni Islam. The group circulates images of Wahhabi religious textbooks from Saudi Arabia in the schools it controls. Videos from the group’s territory have shown Wahhabi texts plastered on the sides of an official missionary van.
According to The Economist, dissidents in the ISIL capital of Ar-Raqqah report that “all 12 of the judges who now run its court system … are Saudis”. Saudi Wahhabi practices also followed by the group include the establishment of religious police to root out “vice” and enforce attendance at salat prayers, the widespread use of capital punishment, and the destruction or re-purposing of any non-Sunni religious buildings.Bernard Haykel has described al-Baghdadi’s creed as “a kind of untamed Wahhabism”.
ISIL aims to return to the early days of Islam, rejecting all innovations in the religion, which it believes corrupts its original spirit. It condemns later caliphates and the Ottoman Empire for deviating from what it calls pure Islam, and seeks to revive the original Wahhabi project of the restoration of the caliphate governed by strict Salafist doctrine. Following Salafi-Wahhabi tradition, ISIL condemns the followers of secular law as disbelievers, putting the current Saudi government in that category.
Salafists such as ISIL believe that only a legitimate authority can undertake the leadership of jihad, and that the first priority over other areas of combat, such as fighting non-Muslim countries, is the purification of Islamic society. For example, ISIL regards the Palestinian Sunni group Hamas as apostates who have no legitimate authority to lead jihad and see fighting Hamas as the first step toward confrontation by ISIL with Israel.
One difference between ISIL and other Islamist and jihadist movements is its emphasis on eschatology and apocalypticism, and its belief that the arrival of Imam Mahdi is near. ISIL believes that it will defeat the army of “Rome” at the town of Dabiq, in fulfilment of prophecy. Following its interpretation of the Hadith of the Twelve Successors, it also believes there will be only four more legitimate caliphs after al-Baghdadi.
Areas controlled (as of 4 May 2015) Remaining territory in countries with ISIL presence
In Iraq and Syria, ISIL uses many of those countries’ existing Governorate boundaries to subdivide its claimed territory; it calls these divisions wilayah or provinces. As of June 2015, it had established official branches in Libya, Egypt (Sinai Peninsula), Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Algeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and the North Caucasus. Outside Iraq and Syria, it controls territory in only Sinai, Afghanistan, and Libya. ISIL also has members in Morocco, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Israel and Palestine, but does not have official branches in those areas.
On 5 October 2014, the Shura Council of Islamic Youth and other militants in Libya were absorbed and designated the Cyrenaica Province of ISIL. The Libyan branch of ISIL has been the most active and successful of all ISIL branches outside Iraq and Syria. It has been active mainly around Derna and Gaddafi’s hometown Sirte.
On 4 January 2015, ISIL forces in Libya seized control of the eastern countryside of Sabha, executing 14 Libyan soldiers in the process. They temporarily controlled part of Derna before being driven out in Mid 2015. Reports from Sirte suggest ISIL militants based there are a mixture of foreign fighters and ex-Gaddafi loyalists. An initiative between pro-Dawn forces associated with Misrata and Operation Dawn clashed with these IS militants in Sirte. Fighting between Libya Dawn forces and ISIL militants was also reported in the Daheera area west of the city of Sirte, and at the Harawa vicinity east of Sirte.
On 10 November 2014, many members of the group Ansar Bait al-Maqdis took an oath of allegiance to al-Baghdadi. Following this, the group assumed the designation Wilayat Sinai (Sinai Province). They are estimated to have 1,000–2,000 fighters. A faction of the Sinai group also operates in the Gaza Strip, calling itself the Islamic State in Gaza. On 19 August 2015, members of the group bombed an Egyptian security headquarters building in northern Cairo, injuring 30 people.
Members of Jund al-Khilafah swore allegiance to ISIL in September 2014. ISIL in Algeria gained notoriety when it beheaded French tourist Herve Gourdel in September 2014. Since then, the group has largely been silent, with reports that its leader Khalid Abu-Sulayman was killed by Algerian forces in December 2014.
On 26 January 2015, a new Wilayat (Province) was announced, with Hafiz Saeed Khan named as Wāli (Governor) and Abdul Rauf as his deputy after both swore an oath of allegiance to al-Baghdadi. The province includes Afghanistan, Pakistan, and “other nearby lands”.
On 9 February 2015, Mullah Abdul Rauf was killed by a NATO airstrike. On 18 March 2015, Hafiz Wahidi, ISIL’s replacement deputy Emir in Afghanistan, was killed by the Afghan Armed Forces, along with nine other ISIL militants who were accompanying him. In June, Reuters received reports that villages in several districts of Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar Province had been captured from the Taliban by ISIL sympathisers. On 10 July 2015, Hafiz Saeed Khan, the Emir of ISIL’s Khorasan Province, was reportedly killed in U.S. drone strike in eastern Afghanistan. However Khorasan Province released an audio tape claimed to be of Hafiz Saeed Khan on 13 July 2015.
On 13 November 2014, unidentified militants in Yemen pledged allegiance to ISIL. By December of that year, ISIL had built an active presence inside Yemen, with its recruitment drive bringing it into direct competition with al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). In February 2015, it was reported that some members of Ansar al-Sharia in Yemen had split from AQAP and pledged allegiance to ISIL As the Yemeni Civil War escalated in March 2015, at least seven ISIL Wilayat, named after existing provincial boundaries in Yemen, claimed responsibility for attacks against the Houthis, including the Hadhramaut Province, the Shabwah Province, and the Sana’a Province.
Shi’aHouthis (Revolutionary Committee) are principal enemies of Yemen’s ISIL branch. U.S. supports the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen against the Houthis, but many in U.S. SOCOM reportedly favor Houthis, as they have been an effective force in rolling back al-Qaeda and recently ISIL in Yemen, “something that hundreds of U.S. drone strikes and large numbers of advisers to Yemen’s military had failed to accomplish”.The Guardian reported: “As another 50 civilians die in the forgotten war, only Isis and al-Qaida are gaining from a conflict tearing Yemen apart and leaving 20 million people in need of aid.”
Boko Haram Latest release barbaric video of insurgency in Nigeria 2015
On 7 March 2015, Boko Haram’s leader Abubakar Shekau pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant via an audio message posted on the organisation’s Twitter account. On 12 March 2015, ISIL’s spokesman Abu Mohammad al-Adnani released an audio tape in which he welcomed the pledge of allegiance, and described it as an expansion of the group’s caliphate into West Africa. ISIL publications from late March 2015 began referring to members of Boko Haram as part of Wilayat Gharb Afriqiya (West Africa Province).
The group is headed and run by al-Baghdadi, with a cabinet of advisers. There are two deputy leaders, Abu Muslim al-Turkmani (KIA) for Iraq and Abu Ali al-Anbari for Syria, and 12 local governors in Iraq and Syria. A third man, Abu Ala al-Afri, is also believed to hold a prominent position within the group, having been rumored to be the deputy leader of ISIL. Unusually, all three are believed to be ethnic Turkmens. The former Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein was also said to have had senior Turkmen within his inner circle. While al-Baghdadi has told followers to “advise me when I err” in sermons, “any threat, opposition, or even contradiction is instantly eradicated”, according to observers. Beneath the leaders are councils on finance, leadership, military matters, legal matters—including decisions on executions—foreign fighters’ assistance, security, intelligence and media. In addition, a Shura council has the task of ensuring that all decisions made by the governors and councils comply with the group’s interpretation of sharia. The majority of ISIL’s leadership is dominated by Iraqis, especially former members of Saddam Hussein’s government. It has been reported that Iraqis and Syrians have been given greater precedence over other nationalities within ISIL due to the fact that the group needs the loyalties of the local Sunni populations in both Syria and Iraq in order to be sustainable. Other reports have indicated however that Syrians are at a disadvantage to foreign members of ISIL, with some native Syrian fighters resenting alleged ‘favoritism’ towards foreigners over pay and accommodation.
In September 2014, The Wall Street Journal estimated that eight million Iraqis and Syrians live in areas controlled by ISIL.Ar-Raqqah in Syria is the de facto headquarters, and is said to be a test case of ISIL governance. As of September 2014, governance in Ar-Raqqah has been under the total control of ISIL where it has rebuilt the structure of modern government in less than a year. Former government workers from the Assad government maintained their jobs after pledging allegiance to ISIL. Institutions, restored and restructured, provided their respective services. The Ar-Raqqah dam continues to provide electricity and water. Foreign expertise supplements Syrian officials in running civilian institutions. Only the police and soldiers are ISIL fighters, who receive confiscated lodging previously owned by non-Sunnis and others who fled. Welfare services are provided, price controls established, and taxes imposed on the wealthy. ISIL runs a soft power programme in the areas under its control in Iraq and Syria, which includes social services, religious lectures and da’wah—proselytising—to local populations. It also performs public services such as repairing roads and maintaining the electricity supply.
British security expert Frank Gardner concluded that ISIL’s prospects of maintaining control and rule were greater in 2014 than they had been in 2006, and that despite being as brutal as before, ISIL had become “well entrenched” among the population and was not likely to be dislodged by ineffective Syrian or Iraqi forces. It has replaced corrupt governance with functioning locally controlled authorities, services have been restored and there are adequate supplies of water and oil. With Western-backed intervention being unlikely, the group will “continue to hold their ground” and rule an area “the size of Pennsylvania for the foreseeable future”, he said. Further solidifying ISIL rule is the control of wheat production, which is roughly 40% of Iraq’s production. ISIL has maintained food production, crucial to governance and popular support.
Although ISIL attracts followers from different parts of the world by promoting the image of holy war, not all of their recruits end up in combatant roles. There have been several cases of new recruits who expected to be mujihadeen that returned from Syria disappointed by the everyday jobs that had been assigned to them, like drawing water or cleaning toilets, or by the ban imposed on use of mobile phones during military training sessions.
ISIL also publishes material directed to women. Although women are not allowed to take up arms, media groups encourage them to play supportive roles within ISIL: providing first aid, cooking, nursing and sewing, to become “good wives of jihad”.
Many world leaders and government spokespeople have called ISIL a terrorist group or banned it, without their countries having formally designated it as such. Some examples:
The Government of Germany banned ISIL in September 2014. Activities banned include donations to the group, recruiting fighters, holding ISIL meetings and distributing its propaganda, flying ISIL flags, wearing ISIL symbols and all ISIL activities. “The terror organisation Islamic State is a threat to public safety in Germany as well”, de Mazière said. “Today’s ban is directed solely against terrorists who abuse religion for their criminal goals.” The ban does not mean ISIL has been outlawed as a foreign terrorist organisation, as that requires a court judgement.
In October 2014, Switzerland banned ISIL’s activities in the country, including propaganda and financial support of the fighters, with prison sentences as potential penalties.
In mid-December 2014, India banned ISIL, after arresting the operator of a pro-ISIL Twitter account. Pakistan designated ISIL as a banned organization in late August 2015, under which all elements expressing sympathy for the group would be blacklisted and sanctioned.
In July 2014, the BBC reported the United Nations’ chief investigator as stating: “Fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) may be added to a list of war crimes suspects in Syria.” By June 2014, according to United Nations reports, ISIL had killed hundreds of prisoners of war and over 1,000 civilians. In August 2014, the UN accused ISIL of committing “mass atrocities” and war crimes, including the mass killing of up to 250 Syrian Army soldiers near Tabqa Air base. Other known killings of military prisoners took place in Camp Speicher, where 1,095–1,700 Iraqi soldiers were shot and “thousands” more went “missing”, and the Shaer gas field, where 200 Syrian soldiers were shot.Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that they were performing “widespread ethnic and religious cleansing in the areas under their control”.
In early September 2014, the United Nations Human Rights Council agreed to send a team to Iraq and Syria to investigate the abuses and killings being carried out by ISIL on “an unimaginable scale”. Prince Zeid bin Ra’ad, the newly appointed UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, urged world leaders to step in to protect women and children suffering at the hands of ISIL militants, who he said were trying to create a “house of blood”. He appealed to the international community to concentrate its efforts on ending the conflict in Iraq and Syria.
In November 2014, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria said that ISIL was committing crimes against humanity. A report by Human Rights Watch in November 2014 accused ISIL groups in control of Derna, Libya of war crimes and human rights abuses and of terrorizing residents. Human Rights Watch documented three apparent summary executions and at least ten public floggings by the Islamic Youth Shura Council, which joined ISIL in November. It also documented the beheading of three Derna residents and dozens of seemingly politically motivated assassinations of judges, public officials, members of the security forces and others. Sarah Leah Watson, Director of HRW Middle East and North Africa, said: “Commanders should understand that they may face domestic or international prosecution for the grave rights abuses their forces are committing.”
Speaking of ISIL’s methods, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights has stated that the group “seeks to subjugate civilians under its control and dominate every aspect of their lives through terror, indoctrination, and the provision of services to those who obey”.
ISIL compels people in the areas that it controls to live according to its interpretation of sharia law. There have been many reports of the group’s use of death threats, torture and mutilation to compel conversion to Islam, and of clerics being killed for refusal to pledge allegiance to the so-called “Islamic State”. ISIL directs violence against Shia Muslims, Alawites, Assyrian, Chaldean, Syriac and ArmenianChristians, Yazidis, Druze, Shabaks and Mandeans in particular.
Amnesty International has held ISIL responsible for the ethnic cleansing of ethnic and religious minority groups in northern Iraq on a “historic scale”. In a special report released on 2 September 2014, it describes how ISIL has “systematically targeted non-Arab and non-Sunni Muslim communities, killing or abducting hundreds, possibly thousands, and forcing more than 830,000 others to flee the areas it has captured since 10 June 2014”. Among these people are Assyrian Christians, Turkmen Shia, Shabak Shia, Yazidis, Kaka’i and Sabean Mandeans, who have lived together for centuries in Nineveh province, large parts of which came under ISIL’s control.
Among the known killings of religious and minority group civilians carried out by ISIL are those in the villages and towns of Quiniyeh (70–90 Yazidis killed), Hardan (60 Yazidis killed), Sinjar (500–2,000 Yazidis killed), Ramadi Jabal (60–70 Yazidis killed), Dhola (50 Yazidis killed), Khana Sor (100 Yazidis killed), Hardan (250–300 Yazidis killed), al-Shimal (dozens of Yazidis killed), Khocho (400 Yazidis killed and 1,000 abducted), Jadala (14 Yadizis killed) and Beshir (700 Shia Turkmen killed), and others committed near Mosul (670 Shia inmates of the Badush prison killed), and in Tal Afar prison, Iraq (200 Yazidis killed for refusing conversion). The UN estimated that 5,000 Yazidis were killed by ISIL during the takeover of parts of northern Iraq in August 2014. In late May 2014, 150 Kurdish boys from Kobani aged 14–16 were abducted and subjected to torture and abuse, according to Human Rights Watch. In the Syrian towns of Ghraneij, Abu Haman and Kashkiyeh 700 members of the Sunni Al-Shaitat tribe were killed for attempting an uprising against ISIL control. The UN reported that in June 2014 ISIL had killed a number of Sunni Islamic clerics who refused to pledge allegiance to it.
Christians living in areas under ISIL control who want to remain in the “caliphate” face three options: converting to Islam, paying a religious levy—jizya—or death. “We offer them three choices: Islam; the dhimma contract – involving payment of jizya; if they refuse this they will have nothing but the sword”, ISIL said. ISIL had already set similar rules for Christians in Ar-Raqqah, once one of Syria’s more liberal cities.
On 23 February 2015, in response to a major Kurdish offensive in the Al-Hasakah Governorate, ISIL abducted 150 Assyrian Christians from villages near Tal Tamr (Tell Tamer) in northeastern Syria, after launching a large offensive in the region.
It was claimed that ISIL campaigns against Kurdish and Yezidi enclaves in Iraq and Syria were a part of organised Arabization plans. For instance, a Kurdish official in Iraqi Kurdistan claimed that the ISIL campaign in Sinjar was a case of Arabization campaign.
During the Iraqi conflict in 2014, ISIL released dozens of videos showing its ill treatment of civilians, many of whom had apparently been targeted on the basis of their religion or ethnicity. Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, warned of war crimes being committed in the Iraqi war zone, and disclosed a UN report of ISIL militants murdering Iraqi Army soldiers and 17 civilians in a single street in Mosul. The UN reported that in the 17 days from 5 to 22 June, ISIL killed more than 1,000 Iraqi civilians and injured more than 1,000. After ISIL released photographs of its fighters shooting scores of young men, the UN declared that cold-blooded “executions” by militants in northern Iraq almost certainly amounted to war crimes.
ISIL’s advance in Iraq in mid-2014 was accompanied by continuing violence in Syria. On 29 May, ISIL raided a village in Syria and at least 15 civilians were killed, including, according to Human Rights Watch, at least six children. A hospital in the area confirmed that it had received 15 bodies on the same day. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that on 1 June, a 102-year-old man was killed along with his whole family in a village in Hama province. According to Reuters, 1,878 people were killed in Syria by ISIL during the last six months of 2014, most of them civilians.
In Mosul, ISIL has implemented a sharia school curriculum which bans the teaching of art, music, national history, literature and Christianity. Although Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution has never been taught in Iraqi schools, the subject has been banned from the school curriculum. Patriotic songs have been declared blasphemous, and orders have been given to remove certain pictures from school textbooks. Iraqi parents have largely boycotted schools in which the new curriculum has been introduced.
After capturing cities in Iraq, ISIL issued guidelines on how to wear clothes and veils. ISIL warned women in the city of Mosul to wear full-face veils or face severe punishment. A cleric told Reuters in Mosul that ISIL gunmen had ordered him to read out the warning in his mosque when worshippers gathered. ISIL ordered the faces of both male and female mannequins to be covered, in an order which also banned the use of naked mannequins. In Ar-Raqqah the group uses its two battalions of female fighters in the city to enforce compliance by women with its strict laws on individual conduct.
ISIL released 16 notes labelled “Contract of the City”, a set of rules aimed at civilians in Nineveh. One rule stipulated that women should stay at home and not go outside unless necessary. Another rule said that stealing would be punished by amputation. In addition to the Muslim custom of banning the sale and use of alcohol, ISIL has banned the sale and use of cigarettes and hookah pipes. It has also banned “music and songs in cars, at parties, in shops and in public, as well as photographs of people in shop windows”.
According to The Economist, Saudi practices also followed by the group include the establishment of religious police to root out “vice” and enforce attendance at salat prayers, the widespread use of capital punishment, and the destruction of Christian churches and non-Sunni mosques or their conversion to other uses.
ISIL carried out executions on both men and women who were accused of various acts and found guilty of crimes against Islam such as homosexuality, adultery, watching pornography, usage and possession of contraband, rape, blasphemy, witchcraft,renouncing Islam and murder. Before the accused are executed their charges are read toward them and the spectators. Executions take various forms, including stoning to death, crucifixions, beheadings, burning people alive, and throwing people from tall buildings.
According to a report by the magazine Foreign Policy, children as young as six are recruited or kidnapped and sent to military and religious training camps, where they practise beheading with dolls and are indoctrinated with the religious views of ISIL. Children are used as human shields on front lines and to provide blood transfusions for Islamic State soldiers, according to Shelly Whitman of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative. The second installment of a Vice News documentary about ISIL focused on how the group is specifically grooming children for the future. A spokesman told VICE News that those under the age of 15 go to sharia camp to learn about religion, while those older than 16 can go to military training camp. Children are also used for propaganda. According to a UN report, “In mid-August, ISIL entered a cancer hospital in Mosul, forced at least two sick children to hold the ISIL flag and posted the pictures on the internet.” Misty Buswell, a Save the Children representative working with refugees in Jordan, said, “It’s not an exaggeration to say we could lose a whole generation of children to trauma.”
Sexual violence perpetrated by ISIL includes: using rape as a weapon of war; instituting forced marriages to its fighters; and trading women and girls as sex slaves.
There are many reports of sexual abuse and enslavement in ISIL-controlled areas of women and girls, predominantly from the minority Christian and Yazidi communities. Fighters are told that they are free to have sex with or rape non-Muslim captive women. Haleh Esfandiari from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars has highlighted the abuse of local women by ISIL militants after they have captured an area. “They usually take the older women to a makeshift slave market and try to sell them. The younger girls … are raped or married off to fighters”, she said, adding, “It’s based on temporary marriages, and once these fighters have had sex with these young girls, they just pass them on to other fighters.”
The capture of Iraqi cities by the group in June 2014 was accompanied by an upsurge in crimes against women, including kidnap and rape. According to Martin Williams in The Citizen, some hard-line Salafists apparently regard extramarital sex with multiple partners as a legitimate form of holy war and it is “difficult to reconcile this with a religion where some adherents insist that women must be covered from head to toe, with only a narrow slit for the eyes”.
As of August 2015, the trade in sex slaves appeared to remain restricted to Yazidi women and girls. It has reportedly become a recruiting technique to attract men from conservative Muslim societies, where dating and casual sex are not allowed.Nazand Begikhani said of the Yazidi victims, “These women have been treated like cattle … They have been subjected to physical and sexual violence, including systematic rape and sex slavery. They’ve been exposed in markets in Mosul and in Raqqa, Syria, carrying price tags.”
A United Nations report issued on 2 October 2014, based on 500 interviews with witnesses, said that ISIL took 450–500 women and girls to Iraq’s Nineveh region in August, where “150 unmarried girls and women, predominantly from the Yazidi and Christian communities, were reportedly transported to Syria, either to be given to ISIL fighters as a reward or to be sold as sex slaves”. In mid-October, the UN confirmed that 5,000–7,000 Yazidi women and children had been abducted by ISIL and sold into slavery. In November 2014 The New York Times reported on the accounts given by five who escaped ISIL of their captivity and abuse. In December 2014, the Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights announced that ISIL had killed over 150 women and girls in Fallujah who refused to participate in sexual jihad. Non-Muslim women have reportedly been married off to fighters against their will. ISIL claims the women provide the new converts and children necessary to spread ISIL’s control.
In its digital magazine Dabiq, ISIL explicitly claimed religious justification for enslaving Yazidi women. According to The Wall Street Journal, ISIL appeals to apocalyptic beliefs and claims “justification by a Hadith that they interpret as portraying the revival of slavery as a precursor to the end of the world”. ISIL appeals to the Hadith and Qur’an when claiming the right to enslave and rape captive non-Muslim women. According to Dabiq, “enslaving the families of the kuffar and taking their women as concubines is a firmly established aspect of the Sharia’s that if one were to deny or mock, he would be denying or mocking the verses of the Qur’an and the narration of the Prophet … and thereby apostatizing from Islam.” Captured Yazidi women and children are divided among the fighters who captured them, with one fifth taken as a tax. ISIL has received widespread criticism from Muslim scholars and others in the Muslim world for using part of the Qur’an to derive a ruling in isolation, rather than considering the entire Qur’an and Hadith. According to Mona Siddiqui, ISIL’s “narrative may well be wrapped up in the familiar language of jihad and ‘fighting in the cause of Allah’, but it amounts to little more than destruction of anything and anyone who doesn’t agree with them”; she describes ISIL as reflecting a “lethal mix of violence and sexual power” and a “deeply flawed view of manhood”.Dabiq describes “this large-scale enslavement” of non-Muslims as “probably the first since the abandonment of Shariah law”.
In late 2014, ISIL released a pamphlet that focused on the treatment of female slaves. It claims that the Quran allows fighters to have sex with captives, including adolescent girls, and to beat slaves as discipline. The pamphlet’s guidelines also allow fighters to trade slaves, including for sex, as long as they have not been impregnated by their owner. Charlie Winter, a researcher at the counter-extremist think tankQuilliam, described the pamphlet as “abhorrent”. In response to this document Abbas Barzegar, a religion professor at Georgia State University, said Muslims around the world find ISIL’s “alien interpretation of Islam grotesque and abhorrent”. Muslim leaders and scholars from around the world have rejected the validity of ISIL’s claims, claiming that the reintroduction of slavery is un-Islamic, that they are required to protect “People of the Scripture” including Christians, Jews, Muslims and Yazidis, and that ISIL’s fatwas are invalid due to their lack of religious authority and the fatwas’ inconsistency with Islam.
The Independent reported in 2015 that the usage of Yazidi sex slaves had created ongoing friction among fighters within ISIL. Sajad Jiyad, a Research Fellow and Associate Member at the Iraqi Institute for Economic Reform, told the newspaper that many ISIL supporters and fighters had been in denial about the trafficking of kidnapped Yazidi women until a Dabiq article justifying the practice was published.The New York Times said in August 2015 that “[t]he systematic rape of women and girls from the Yazidi religious minority has become deeply enmeshed in the organization and the radical theology of the Islamic State in the year since the group announced it was reviving slavery as an institution.” The article claims that ISIL is not merely exonerating but sacralising rape, and illustrated this with the testimony of escapees. One 15-year-old victim said that, while she was being assaulted, her rapist “kept telling me this is ibadah“; a 12-year-old victim related how her assailant claimed that, “by raping me, he is drawing closer to God”; and one adult prisoner told how, when she challenged her captor about repeatedly raping a 12 year old, she was met with the retort, “No, she’s not a little girl, she’s a slave and she knows exactly how to have sex and having sex with her pleases God.”
In December 2013, two suicide bombers stormed the headquarters of TV station Salaheddin and killed five journalists, after accusing the station of “distorting the image of Iraq’s Sunni community”. Reporters Without Borders reported that on 7 September 2014, ISIL seized and on 11 October publicly beheaded Raad al-Azzawi, a TV Salaheddin cameraman from the village of Samra, east of Tikrit. As of October 2014, according to the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory, ISIL is holding nine journalists and has nine others under close observation in Mosul and Salahuddin province.
During 2013 and part of 2014, an ISIL unit nicknamed the Beatles acquired and held 12 Western journalists hostage, along with aid workers and other foreign hostages, totalling 23 or 24 known hostages. A Polish journalist Marcin Suder was captured in July 2013 but escaped four months later. The unit executed American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and released beheading videos. Eight of the other journalists were released for ransom: Danish journalist Daniel Rye Ottosen, French journalists Didier François, Edouard Elias, Nicolas Hénin, and Pierre Torres, and Spanish journalists Marc Marginedas, Javier Espinosa, and Ricardo García Vilanova. The unit continues to hold hostage British journalist John Cantlie and a female aid worker.
Cyber-security group the Citizen Lab released a report finding a possible link between ISIL and a digital attack on the Syrian citizen media group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently (RSS). Supporters of the media group received an emailed link to an image of supposed airstrikes, but clicking on the link introduced malware to the user’s computer that sends details of the user’s IP address and system each time it restarts. That information has been enough to allow ISIL to locate RSS supporters. “The group has been targeted for kidnappings, house raids, and at least one alleged targeted killing. At the time of that writing, ISIL was allegedly holding several citizen journalists in Raqqa”, according to the Citizen Lab report.
On 8 January 2015, ISIL members in Libya claimed to have executed Tunisian journalists Sofiene Chourabi and Nadhir Ktari who disappeared in September 2014. Also in January 2015, Japanese journalist Kenji Goto Jogo was kidnapped and beheaded, after a demand for a $200 million ransom payment was not met.
An unknown number of Syrians and Iraqis, several Lebanese soldiers, at least ten Kurds, two American journalists, one American and two British aid workers, and three Libyans have been beheaded by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. ISIL uses beheadings to intimidate local populations and has released a series of propaganda videos aimed at Western countries. They also engage in public and mass executions of Syrian and Iraqi soldiers and civilians, sometimes forcing prisoners to dig their own graves before shooting lines of prisoners and pushing them in. ISIL was reported to have beheaded about 100 foreign fighters as deserters who tried to leave Raqqa.
Use of chemical weapons
Kurds in northern Iraq reported being attacked by ISIS with chemical weapons in August of 2015.
UNESCO‘s Director-General Irina Bokova has warned that ISIL is destroying Iraq’s cultural heritage, in what she has called “cultural cleansing“. “We don’t have time to lose because extremists are trying to erase the identity, because they know that if there is no identity, there is no memory, there is no history”, she said. Referring to the ancient cultures of Christians, Yazidis and other minorities, she said, “This is a way to destroy identity. You deprive them of their culture, you deprive them of their history, their heritage, and that is why it goes hand in hand with genocide. Along with the physical persecution they want to eliminate – to delete – the memory of these different cultures. … we think this is appalling, and this is not acceptable.”Saad Eskander, head of Iraq’s National Archives said, “For the first time you have cultural cleansing… For the Yazidis, religion is oral, nothing is written. By destroying their places of worship … you are killing cultural memory. It is the same with the Christians – it really is a threat beyond belief.”
In July 2014, ISIL demolished the mosque dedicated to Jonah in Mosul
To finance its activities, ISIL is stealing artifacts from Syria and Iraq and sending them to Europe to be sold. It is estimated that ISIL raises US$200 million a year from cultural looting. UNESCO has asked for United Nations Security Council controls on the sale of antiquities, similar to those imposed after the 2003 Iraq War. UNESCO is working with Interpol, national customs authorities, museums, and major auction houses in attempts to prevent looted items from being sold. ISIL occupied Mosul Museum, the second most important museum in Iraq, as it was about to reopen after years of rebuilding following the Iraq War, saying that the statues were against Islam and threatening to destroy the museum’s contents.
ISIL considers worshipping at graves tantamount to idolatry, and seeks to purify the community of unbelievers. It has used bulldozers to crush buildings and archaeological sites.Bernard Haykel has described al-Baghdadi’s creed as “a kind of untamed Wahhabism”, saying, “For Al Qaeda, violence is a means to an ends; for ISIS, it is an end in itself”. The destruction by ISIL in July 2014 of the tomb and shrine of the prophet Yunus—Jonah in Christianity—the 13th-century mosque of Imam Yahya Abu al-Qassimin, the 14th-century shrine of prophet Jerjis—St George to Christians—and the attempted destruction of the Hadba minaret at the 12th-century Great Mosque of Al-Nuri have been described as “an unchecked outburst of extreme Wahhabism”. “There were explosions that destroyed buildings dating back to the Assyrian era“, said National Museum of Iraq director Qais Rashid, referring to the destruction of the shrine of Yunus. He cited another case where “Daesh (ISIL) gathered over 1,500 manuscripts from convents and other holy places and burnt all of them in the middle of the city square”. In March 2015, ISIL reportedly bulldozed the 13th-century BC Assyrian city of Nimrud, believing its sculptures to be idolatrous. UNESCO head, Irina Bokova, deemed this to be a war crime.
ISIL has received severe criticism from other Muslims, especially religious scholars and theologians. In late August 2014, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Abdul-Aziz ibn Abdullah Al ash-Sheikh, condemned the Islamic State and al-Qaeda saying, “Extremist and militant ideas and terrorism which spread decay on Earth, destroying human civilization, are not in any way part of Islam, but are enemy number one of Islam, and Muslims are their first victims”. In late September 2014, 126 Sunni imams and Islamic scholars—primarily Sufi—from around the Muslim world signed an open letter to the Islamic State’s leader al-Baghdadi, explicitly rejecting and refuting his group’s interpretations of Islamic scriptures, the Qur’an and hadith, used by it to justify its actions. “[You] have misinterpreted Islam into a religion of harshness, brutality, torture and murder … this is a great wrong and an offence to Islam, to Muslims and to the entire world”, the letter states. It rebukes the Islamic State for its killing of prisoners, describing the killings as “heinous war crimes” and its persecution of the Yazidis of Iraq as “abominable”. Referring to the “self-described ‘Islamic State'”, the letter censures the group for carrying out killings and acts of brutality under the guise of jihad—holy struggle—saying that its “sacrifice” without legitimate cause, goals and intention “is not jihad at all, but rather, warmongering and criminality”. It also accuses the group of instigating fitna—sedition—by instituting slavery under its rule in contravention of the anti-slavery consensus of the Islamic scholarly community. Other scholars have described the group as not Sunnis, but Khawarij.
Kurdish demonstration against ISIL in Vienna, Austria, 10 October 2014
According to The New York Times, “All of the most influential jihadist theorists are criticizing the Islamic State as deviant, calling its self-proclaimed caliphate null and void” and have denounced it for its beheading of journalists and aid workers. ISIL is widely denounced by a broad range of Islamic clerics, including al-Qaeda-oriented and Saudi clerics.
Sunni critics, including Salafi and jihadist muftis such as Adnan al-Aroor and Abu Basir al-Tartusi, say that ISIL and related terrorist groups are not Sunnis, but modern-day Khawarij—Muslims who have stepped outside the mainstream of Islam—serving an imperial anti-Islamic agenda. Other critics of ISIL’s brand of Sunni Islam include Salafists who previously publicly supported jihadist groups such as al-Qaeda, for example the Saudi government official Saleh Al-Fawzan, known for his extremist views, who claims that ISIL is a creation of “Zionists, Crusaders and Safavids”, and the Jordanian-Palestinian writer Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, the former spiritual mentor to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was released from prison in Jordan in June 2014 and accused ISIL of driving a wedge between Muslims.
The group’s declaration of a caliphate has been criticised and its legitimacy disputed by Middle Eastern governments, other jihadist groups, and Sunni Muslim theologians and historians. Qatar-based TV broadcaster and theologian Yusuf al-Qaradawi stated: “[The] declaration issued by the Islamic State is void under sharia and has dangerous consequences for the Sunnis in Iraq and for the revolt in Syria”, adding that the title of caliph can “only be given by the entire Muslim nation”, not by a single group. The group’s execution of Muslims for breach of traditional sharia law while violating it itself (encouraging women to emigrate to its territory, traveling without a Wali—male guardian—and in violation of his wishes) has been criticized; as has its love of archaic imagery (horsemen and swords) while engaging in bid‘ah (religious innovation) in establishing female religious police (known as al-Khansa’ Brigades).
Two days after the beheading of Hervé Gourdel,hundreds of Muslims gathered in the Grand Mosque of Paris to show solidarity against the beheading. The protest was led by the leader of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, Dalil Boubakeur, and was joined by thousands of other Muslims around the country under the slogan “Not in my name”. French president François Hollande said Gourdel’s beheading was “cowardly” and “cruel”, and confirmed that airstrikes would continue against ISIL in Iraq. Hollande also called for three days of national mourning, with flags flown at half-mast throughout the country and said that security would be increased throughout Paris.
An Islamic Front Sharia Court Judge in Aleppo Mohamed Najeeb Bannan stated “The legal reference is the Islamic Sharia. The cases are different, from robberies to drug use, to moral crimes. It’s our duty to look at any crime that comes to us. . . After the regime has fallen, we believe that the Muslim majority in Syria will ask for an Islamic state. Of course, it’s very important to point out that some say the Islamic Sharia will cut off people’s hands and heads, but it only applies to criminals. And to start off by killing, crucifying etc. That is not correct at all.” In response to being asked what the difference between the Islamic Front’s and ISIL’s version of sharia would be, he said “One of their mistakes is before the regime has fallen, and before they’ve established what in Sharia is called Tamkeen [having a stable state], they started applying Sharia, thinking God gave them permission to control the land and establish a Caliphate. This goes against the beliefs of religious scholars around the world. This is what [IS] did wrong. This is going to cause a lot of trouble. Anyone who opposes [IS] will be considered against Sharia and will be severely punished.”
The Islamic Front criticized ISIL, saying: “They killed the people of Islam and leave the idol worshippers” (يقتلون أهل الإسلام ويدعون أهل الأوثان) and “They use the verses talking about the disbelievers and implement it on the Muslims” (ينزلون أيات نزلت في الكفار على المسلمين).
The current Grand Imam of al-Azhar and former president of al-Azhar University, Ahmed el-Tayeb has strongly condemned the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant stating that is acting “under the guise of this holy religion and have given themselves the name ‘Islamic State’ in an attempt to export their false Islam” and (citing the Quran) that: “The punishment for those who wage war against God and his Prophet and who strive to sow corruption on earth is death, crucifixion, the severing of hands and feet on opposite sides or banishment from the land. This is the disgrace for them in this world and in the hereafter they will receive grievous torment.” Although El-Tayeb has been criticized for not expressly stating that the Islamic State was heretical, the Ash’ari school of Islamic theology – to which El-Tayeb belongs – does not allow calling a person who follows the shahada an apostate. El-Tayeb has strongly come out against the practice of takfirism (declaring a Muslim an apostate) which is used by the Islamic State to “judge and accuse anyone who doesn’t tow their line with apostasy and outside the realm of the faith” declaring “Jihad on peaceful Muslims” using “flawed interpretations of some Qur’anic texts, the prophet’s Sunna, and the Imams’ views believing incorrectly, that they are leaders of Muslim armies fighting infidel peoples, in unbelieving lands.”
The group has attracted widespread criticism internationally for its extremism, from governments and international bodies such as the United Nations and Amnesty International. On 24 September 2014, United Nations Secretary-GeneralBan Ki-Moon stated: “As Muslim leaders around the world have said, groups like ISIL – or Da’ish – have nothing to do with Islam, and they certainly do not represent a state. They should more fittingly be called the ‘Un-Islamic Non-State’.” The group was described as a cult in a Huffington Post column by notable cult authority Steven Hassan.
Criticism of the name “Islamic State” and “caliphate” declaration
The group’s declaration of a new caliphate in June 2014 and adoption of the name “Islamic State” have been criticised and ridiculed by Muslim scholars and rival Islamists both inside and outside the territory it controls. In a speech in September 2014, President Obama said that ISIL is not “Islamic” on the basis that no religion condones the killing of innocents and that no government recognises the group as a state, while many object to using the name “Islamic State” owing to the far-reaching religious and political claims to authority which that name implies. The United Nations Security Council, the United States, Canada, Turkey, Australia, Russia, the United Kingdom and other countries generally call the group “ISIL”, while much of the Arab world uses the Arabic acronym “Dāʻish”. France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said “This is a terrorist group and not a state. I do not recommend using the term Islamic State because it blurs the lines between Islam, Muslims, and Islamists. The Arabs call it ‘Daesh’ and I will be calling them the ‘Daesh cutthroats.'” Retired general John Allen, the U.S. envoy appointed to co-ordinate the coalition, U.S. military Lieutenant General James Terry, head of operations against the group, and Secretary of State John Kerry had all shifted toward use of the term DAESH by December 2014.
Battle of Kobani
In late August 2014, a leading Islamic educational institution, Dar al-Ifta al-Misriyyah in Egypt, advised Muslims to stop calling the group “Islamic State” and instead refer to it as “Al-Qaeda Separatists in Iraq and Syria” or “QSIS”, because of the militant group’s “un-Islamic character”. When addressing the United Nations Security Council in September 2014, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott summarised the widespread objections to the name “Islamic State” thus: “To use this term [Islamic State] is to dignify a death cult; a death cult that, in declaring itself a caliphate, has declared war on the world”. The group is very sensitive about its name. “They will cut your tongue out even if you call them ISIS – you have to say ‘Islamic State'”, said a woman in ISIL-controlled Mosul.
In mid-October 2014, representatives of the Islamic Society of Britain, the Association of British Muslims and the UK’s Association of Muslim Lawyers proposed that “‘Un-Islamic State’ (UIS) could be an accurate and fair alternative name to describe this group and its agenda”, further stating, “We need to work together and make sure that these fanatics don’t get the propaganda that they feed off.” The “Islamic State” is mocked on social media websites such as Twitter and YouTube, with the use of hashtags, mock recruiting ads, fake news articles and YouTube videos. One parody, by a Palestinian TV satire show, portrays ISIL as “buffoon-like hypocrites”, and has had more than half a million views on YouTube.
Views of ISIL as un-Islamic
Mehdi Hasan, a political journalist in the UK, said in the New Statesman, “Whether Sunni or Shia, Salafi or Sufi, conservative or liberal, Muslims – and Muslim leaders – have almost unanimously condemned and denounced ISIL not merely as un-Islamic but actively anti-Islamic.”
Views of ISIL as Islamic
Hassan Hassan, an analyst at the Delma Institute, wrote in The Guardian that because the Islamic State “bases its teachings on religious texts that mainstream Muslim clerics do not want to deal with head on, new recruits leave the camp feeling that they have stumbled on the true message of Islam”.
In mid-February 2015, Graeme Wood, a lecturer in political science at Yale University, said in The Atlantic, “The religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.”
In the media
By 2014, ISIL was increasingly being viewed as a militia rather than a terrorist group. As major Iraqi cities fell to ISIL in June 2014, Jessica Lewis, a former U.S. Army intelligence officer at the Institute for the Study of War, described ISIL as “not a terrorism problem anymore”, but rather “an army on the move in Iraq and Syria, and they are taking terrain. They have shadow governments in and around Baghdad, and they have an aspirational goal to govern. I don’t know whether they want to control Baghdad, or if they want to destroy the functions of the Iraqi state, but either way the outcome will be disastrous for Iraq.” Lewis has called ISIL “an advanced military leadership”. She said, “They have incredible command and control and they have a sophisticated reporting mechanism from the field that can relay tactics and directives up and down the line. They are well-financed, and they have big sources of manpower, not just the foreign fighters, but also prisoner escapees.”
While officials[which?] fear that ISIL may inspire attacks in the United States from sympathisers or those returning after joining ISIL, U.S. intelligence agencies have found no specific plots or any immediate threat. Former U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel saw an “imminent threat to every interest we have”, but former top counter-terrorism adviser Daniel Benjamin has derided such alarmist talk as a “farce” that panics the public.
Some news commentators, such as international newspaper columnist Gwynne Dyer, and samples of American public opinion, such as surveys by NPR, have advocated a strong but measured response to ISIL’s recent provocative acts. Writing for The Guardian, Pankaj Mishra rejects that the group is a resurgence of medieval Islam and rather expresses that, “In actuality, Isis is the canniest of all traders in the flourishing international economy of disaffection: the most resourceful among all those who offer the security of collective identity to isolated and fearful individuals. It promises, along with others who retail racial, national and religious supremacy, to release the anxiety and frustrations of the private life into the violence of the global.”
Turkey has long been accused by experts, Syrian Kurds, and even U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden of supporting or colluding with ISIL. According to journalist Patrick Cockburn, there is “strong evidence for a degree of collaboration” between the Turkish intelligence services and ISIL, although the “exact nature of the relationship … remains cloudy”. David L. Phillips of Columbia University‘s Institute for the Study of Human Rights, who compiled a list of allegations and claims accusing Turkey of assisting ISIL, writes that these allegations “range from military cooperation and weapons transfers to logistical support, financial assistance, and the provision of medical services”. Several ISIL fighters and commanders have claimed that Turkey supports ISIL. Within Turkey itself, ISIL is believed to have caused increasing political polarisation between secularists and Islamists.
In July 2015, a raid by US special forces on a compound housing the Islamic State’s “chief financial officer”, Abu Sayyaf, produced evidence that Turkish officials directly dealt with ranking ISIS members. According to a senior Western official, documents and flash drives seized during the Sayyaf raid revealed links “so clear” and “undeniable” between Turkey and ISIS “that they could end up having profound policy implications for the relationship between us and Ankara”.
Turkey has been further criticised for allowing individuals from outside the region to enter its territory and join ISIL in Syria. With many Islamist fighters passing through Turkey to fight in Syria, Turkey has been accused of becoming a transit country for such fighters and has been labelled the “Gateway to Jihad”. Turkish border patrol officers are reported to have deliberately overlooked those entering Syria, upon payment of a small bribe. A report by Sky News exposed documents showing that passports of foreign Islamists wanting to join ISIL by crossing into Syria had been stamped by the Turkish government. An ISIL commander stated that “most of the fighters who joined us in the beginning of the war came via Turkey, and so did our equipment and supplies”, adding that ISIL fighters received treatment in Turkish hospitals.
Allegations of Qatari support
The State of Qatar has long been accused of acting as a conduit for the flow of funds to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. While there is no proof that the Qatari government is behind the movement of funds from the gas-rich nation to ISIL, it has been criticized for not doing enough to stem the flow of financing. Private donors within Qatar, sympathetic to the aims of radical groups such as al-Nusra Front and ISIL, are believed to be channeling their resources to support these organisations. According to the U.S. Treasury Department, a number of terrorist financiers have been operating in Qatar. Qatari citizen Abd al Rahman al Nuaymi has served as an interlocutor between Qatari donors and leaders of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). Nuaymi reportedly oversaw the transfer of US$2 million per month to AQI over a period of time. Nuaymi is also one of several of Qatar-based al-Qaeda financiers sanctioned by the U.S.Treasury in recent years. According to some reports, U.S. officials believe that the largest portion of private donations supporting ISIS and al-Qaeda-linked groups now comes from Qatar rather than Saudi Arabia.
In August 2014, a German minister Gerd Müller accused Qatar of having links to ISIL, stating “You have to ask who is arming, who is financing ISIS troops. The keyword there is Qatar”. Qatari foreign minister Khalid bin Mohammad Al Attiyah reiterated this stance when he stated: “Qatar does not support extremist groups, including [ISIL], in any way. We are repelled by their views, their violent methods and their ambitions.”
During the ongoing Syrian Civil War, many opposition and anti-Assad parties in the conflict have accused the Syrian leadership of Bashar Assad of some form of collusion with ISIL, whose dominance in the opposition against the Bashar al-Assad government would give that government a basis for its claim to being under attack by “terrorists” and “a secular bulwark against al-Qaida and jihadi fanaticism”. Several sources have claimed that ISIL prisoners were strategically released from Syrian prisons at the beginning of the Syrian Civil War in 2011. The Syrian government has bought oil directly from ISIL, and in March 2015 a European Union report brought to light that the Syrian government and ISIL jointly run a HESCO gas plant in Tabqa, central Syria; the facility continues to supply government-held areas, and electricity continues to be supplied to ISIL-held areas from government-run power plants. United States Secretary of State John Kerry has stated that the Syrian government has tactically avoided ISIL forces in order to weaken moderate opposition such as the Free Syrian Army (FSA), as well as “even purposely ceding some territory to them [ISIL] in order to make them more of a problem so he can make the argument that he is somehow the protector against them”. An IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Center database analysis confirmed that only 6% of Syrian government forces attacks were targeted at ISIL from 1 Jan to 21 November 2014, while in the same period only 13% of all ISIL attacks targeted government forces. The National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces has stated that the Syrian government has operatives inside ISIL, as has the leadership of Ahrar ash-Sham. ISIL members captured by the FSA have claimed that they were directed to commit attacks by Syrian government operatives.
On 1 June 2015, the United States stated that the Syrian government was “making air-strikes in support” of an ISIL advance on Syrian opposition positions north of Aleppo. The president of the Syrian National Coalition Khaled Koja accused Assad of acting “as an air force for [ISIL]”, with the Defense Minister of the SNC Salim Idris stating that approximately 180 Syrian government officers were serving in ISIL and coordinating the group’s attacks with the Syrian Arab Army.
A report on June 25, 2015 said that ISIS kept gas flowing to Assad regime-controlled power stations. Furthermore, ISIS allowed grain to pass from the Kurdish-held north-east to regime controlled areas at the cost of a 25% levy.
On 28 June 2015, a source close to the Turkish National Intelligence Organization claimed an agreement was made between the Assad regime and ISIL to destroy the FSA in the country’s north, continue oil sales, assassinate Zahran Alloush and surrender Tadmur and Sukhna. The sources said that a group of commanders of both sides held a meeting at a gas production plant in Hasaka‘s al-Shaddadi area on 28 May 2015, not to stop fighting each other, but to focus on destroying a common enemy – the Syrian rebel forces, especially the FSA. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has blamed the rise of ISIL on the international communities inaction in regards to the Assad regime, which left a vacuum of power in which ISIL was able to grow.
ISIL has repeatedly massacred Alawite civilians and executed captured Syrian Alawite soldiers, with most Alawites supporting President Bashar al-Assad, himself an Alawite.
Conspiracy theorists in the Arab world have advanced rumours that the U.S. is secretly behind the existence and emboldening of ISIL, as part of an attempt to further destabilise the Middle East. After such rumours became widespread, the U.S. embassy in Lebanon issued an official statement denying the allegations, calling them a complete fabrication. Others[who?] are convinced that ISIL leader al-Baghdadi is an Israeli Mossad agent and actor called Simon Elliot. The rumours claim that NSA documents leaked by Edward Snowden reveal this connection. Snowden’s lawyer has called the story “a hoax.”
According to The New York Times, many in the Middle East believe that an alliance of the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia is directly responsible for the creation of ISIL. Egyptian, Tunisian, Palestinian, Jordanian and Lebanese news organizations have reported on the conspiracy theory.
Countries and groups at war with ISIL
ISIL’s expanding claims to territory have brought it into armed conflict with many governments, militias and other armed groups. International rejection of ISIL as a terrorist entity and rejection of its claim to even exist have placed it in conflict with countries around the world.
Opposition within Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and other nations
The Global Coalition to counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or Daesh), also referred to as the Counter-ISIL Coalition or Counter-DAESH Coalition, is a US-led group of nations and non-state actors that have committed to “work together under a common, multifaceted, and long-term strategy to degrade and defeat ISIL/Daesh”. According to a joint statement issued by 59 national governments and the European Union, participants in the Counter-ISIL Coalition are focused on multiple lines of effort:
Supporting military operations, capacity building, and training;
Stopping the flow of foreign terrorist fighters;
Cutting off ISIL/Daesh’s access to financing and funding;
Addressing associated humanitarian relief and crises; and
The following multi-national organisations are part of the Counter-ISIL Coalition: European Union – declared to be part, most members are participating; NATO – all 28 members are taking part; Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf or GCC – all six current members and the two pending members, Jordan and Morocco, are taking part.
Military operations in or over Iraq and/or Syria
airstrikes, air support, and ground forces performing training
Supplying military equipment to opposition forces
within Iraq and/or Syria in co-operation with EU/NATO/partners
Humanitarian and other contributions
to identified coalition objectives
Russia – arms supplier to Iraqi and Syrian governments. In June 2014, the Iraqi army received Russian Sukhoi Su-25 and Sukhoi Su-30 fighter aircraft to combat the Islamic State. Security operations within state borders in 2015.
Azerbaijan – security operations within state borders
Al-Nusra Front is a branch of al-Qaeda operating in Syria. Al-Nusra launched many attacks and bombings, mostly against targets affiliated with or supportive of the Syrian government. There were media reports that many of al-Nusra’s foreign fighters had left to join al-Baghdadi’s ISIL.
In February 2014, after continued tensions, al-Qaeda publicly disavowed any relations with ISIL, but ISIL and al-Nusra Front are still able to occasionally cooperate with each other when they fight against the Syrian government.Quartz’s managing edtior Bobby Ghosh wrote:
The two groups share a nihilistic worldview, a loathing for modernity, and for the West. They subscribe to the same perverted interpretations of Islam. Other common traits include a penchant for suicide attacks, and sophisticated exploitation of the internet and social media. Like ISIL, several Al Qaeda franchises are interested in taking and holding territory; AQAP has been much less successful at it. The main differences between Al Qaeda and ISIL are largely political—and personal. Over the past decade, Al Qaeda has twice embraced ISIL (and its previous manifestations) as brothers-in-arms.
On 10 September 2015, an audio message was released by Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri that criticized the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s self-proclaimed caliphate and accused them of “sedition”, described by some media outlets as a “declaration of war”. However, although he denied their legitimacy, Zawahri suggested that there was still room for cooperation against common enemies and said that if he were in Iraq, he would fight alongside them.
Iraq and Syria nationals
According to Reuters, 90% of ISIL’s fighters in Iraq are Iraqi, and 70% of its fighters in Syria are Syrian. The article, citing “jihadist ideologues” as the source, stated that the group has 40,000 fighters and 60,000 supporters across its two primary strongholds in Iraq and Syria.
According to a report to the UN Security Council filed in late March 2015, 22,000 foreign fighters from 100 nations have travelled to Syria and Iraq, most to support ISIL. It warned that Syria and Iraq had become a “finishing school for extremists”. In mid-2014, ISIL’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had issued a call, “Rush O Muslims to your state …”.
A UN report from May 2015[update] shows that 25,000 “foreign terrorist fighters” from 100 countries have joined “Islamist” groups, many of them working for ISIL or al-Qaeda.
Groups with expressions of support
One source (Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium (TRAC)) has identified 60 jihadist groups in 30 countries that have pledged allegiance or support to ISIL as of mid-November 2014. Many of these groups were previously affiliated with al-Qaeda, indicating a shift in global jihadist leadership toward ISIL.
Memberships of the following groups have declared support for ISIL, either fully or in part.
Estimates of the size of ISIL’s military vary widely from tens of thousands up to 200,000.
Foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq
As of early 2015, journalist Mary Anne Weaver estimates that half of ISIL fighters are made up of foreigners. A UN report estimated a total of 15,000 fighters from over 80 countries in ISIL’s ranks as of November 2014. US intelligence estimated an increase to around 20,000 foreign fighters in February 2015, including 3,400 from Western countries.
List of nations by ISIL fighter origin (500 or more)
The group has a long history of using truck and car bombs, suicide bombers and IEDs, and has used chemical weapons in Iraq and Syria. ISIL captured nuclear materials from Mosul University in July 2014, but is unlikely to be able to turn them into weapons. In ISIL’s monthly magazine Dabiq, John Cantlie wrote of a hypothetical scenario where ISIL might be able to buy a nuclear weapon from corrupt officials in Pakistan, to which India’s Minister of State for Defence said, “With the rise of ISIS in West Asia, one is afraid to an extent that perhaps they might get access to a nuclear arsenal from states like Pakistan”.
Propaganda and social media
The logo of al-Hayat Media Centre, copying the style of Al Jazeera‘s logo.
ISIL is known for its extensive and effective use of propaganda. It uses a version of the Muslim Black Standard flag and developed an emblem which has clear symbolic meaning in the Muslim world.
In November 2006, shortly after the group’s rebranding as the “Islamic State of Iraq”, the group established the Al-Furqan Foundation for Media Production, which produces CDs, DVDs, posters, pamphlets, and web-related propaganda products and official statements. It began to expand its media presence in 2013, with the formation of a second media wing, Al-I’tisam Media Foundation, in March and the Ajnad Foundation for Media Production, specializing in Nasheeds and audio content, in August. In mid 2014, ISIL established the Al-Hayat Media Center, which targets Western audiences and produces material in English, German, Russian and French. When ISIL announced its expansion to other countries in November 2014 it established media departments for the new branches, and its media apparatus ensured that the new branches follow the same models it uses in Iraq and Syria.
Al Furqan logo
In December 2014, FBI Director James Comey stated that ISIL’s “propaganda is unusually slick. They are broadcasting… in something like 23 languages”.
From July 2014, al-Hayat began publishing a digital magazine called Dabiq, in a number of different languages including English. According to the magazine, its name is taken from the town of Dabiq in northern Syria, which is mentioned in a hadith about Armageddon. The group also runs a radio network called Al-Bayan, which airs bulletins in Arabic, Russian and English and provides coverage of its activities in Iraq, Syria and Libya.
ISIL’s use of social media has been described by one expert as “probably more sophisticated than [that of] most US companies”. It regularly takes advantage of social media, particularly Twitter, to distribute its message by organising hashtag campaigns, encouraging Tweets on popular hashtags, and utilising software applications that enable ISIL propaganda to be distributed automatically via its supporters’ accounts. Another comment is that “ISIS puts more emphasis on social media than other jihadi groups… They have a very coordinated social media presence.” In August 2014, Twitter administrators shut down a number of accounts associated with ISIL. ISIL recreated and publicised new accounts the next day, which were also shut down by Twitter administrators. The group has attempted to branch out into alternative social media sites, such as Quitter, Friendica and Diaspora; Quitter and Friendica, however, almost immediately worked to remove ISIL’s presence from their sites.
The release of videos and photographs of beheadings, shootings, caged prisoners being burnt alive or submerged gradually until drowned—has been called “the hallmark” of ISIL. Journalist Abdel Bari Atwan describes ISIL’s media content as part of a “systematically applied policy”. The escalating violence of its killings “guarantees” the attention of the media and public. Following the plan of al-Qaeda strategist Abu Bakr Naji, ISIL hopes the “savagery” will lead to a period of “vexation and exhaustion” among its Western enemies, where the US will be drawn into a direct fight with ISIS, and lacking the will to fight a sustained war will be “worn down” militarily.
Along with images of brutality, ISIL presents itself as “an emotionally attractive place where people ‘belong’, where everyone is a ‘brother’ or ‘sister’. A kind of slang, melding adaptations or shortenings of Islamic terms with street language, is evolving among the English-language fraternity on social media platforms in an attempt to create a ‘jihadi cool’.” The “most potent psychological pitch” of ISIL media is the promise of heavenly reward to dead jihadist fighters. Frequently posted in their media are dead jihadists smiling faces, their ISIS ‘salute’ of a ‘right-hand index finger pointing heavenward’, and testimonies of their happy widows.
ISIL has also attempted to present a more “rational argument” in its series of “press release/discussions” performed by hostage/captive John Cantlie and posted on YouTube. In one “Cantlie presentation”, various current and former US officials were quoted, such as US President Barack Obama and former CIA Officer Michael Scheuer. In April 2015 hackers claiming allegiance to ISIL managed to black out 11 global television channels belonging to TV5Monde for several hours, and take over the company’s social media pages for nearly a day. U.S. cybersecurity company FireEye later reported that they believed the cyber-attack was actually carried out by a Russian hacking group, called APT28, with alleged links to the Russian government.
ISIL has numerous sources of funding to sustain its operations. According to a 2015 study by the Financial Action Task Force, its five primary sources of revenue are as followed (listed in order of significance):
illicit proceeds from the occupation of territory (including control of banks, oil and gas reservoirs, taxation, extortion, and robbery of economic assets);
kidnapping for ransom;
donations, including through non-profit organizations;
material support provided by foreign fighters;
fundraising through modern communication networks.
In 2014 the RAND Corporation analyzed ISIL’s funding sources by studying 200 documents — personal letters, expense reports and membership rosters — captured from the Islamic State of Iraq (al-Qaeda in Iraq) by US Forces in Iraq between 2005 and 2010. It found that over this period, outside donations amounted to only 5% of the group’s operating budgets, with the rest being raised within Iraq. In the time period studied, cells were required to send up to 20% of the income generated from kidnapping, extortion rackets and other activities to the next level of the group’s leadership. Higher-ranking commanders would then redistribute the funds to provincial or local cells which were in difficulties or which needed money to conduct attacks. The records show that the Islamic State of Iraq depended on members from Mosul for cash, which the leadership used to provide additional funds to struggling militants in Diyala, Salahuddin and Baghdad.
In mid-2014, Iraqi intelligence obtained information from an ISIL operative which revealed that the organisation had assets worth US$2 billion, making it the richest jihadist group in the world. About three-quarters of this sum is said to be represented by assets seized after the group captured Mosul in June 2014; this includes possibly up to US$429 million looted from Mosul’s central bank, along with additional millions and a large quantity of gold bullion stolen from a number of other banks in Mosul. However, doubt was later cast on whether ISIL was able to retrieve anywhere near that sum from the central bank, and even on whether the bank robberies had actually occurred.
Since 2012, ISIL has produced annual reports giving numerical information on its operations, somewhat in the style of corporate reports, seemingly in a bid to encourage potential donors.
On 11 November 2014, ISIL announced its intent to mint its own gold, silver, and copper coins, based on the coinage used by the Umayyad Caliphate in the 7th century. Following the announcement, the group began buying up gold, silver, and copper in markets throughout northern and western Iraq, according to precious metal traders in the area. Members of the group also reportedly began stripping the insulation off electrical power cables to obtain the copper wiring. The announcement included designs of the proposed coins, which displayed imagery including a map of the world, a sword and shield, the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, and a crescent moon. Economics experts, such as Professor Steven H. Hanke of Johns Hopkins University, were sceptical of the plans. See also Modern gold dinar.
Exporting oil from oilfields captured by ISIL has brought in tens of millions of dollars for the group. One US Treasury official estimated that ISIL earns US$1 million a day from the export of oil. Much of the oil is sold illegally in Turkey. In 2014, Dubai-based energy analysts put the combined oil revenue from ISIL’s Iraqi-Syrian production as high as US$3 million per day.
In 2014, the majority of the group’s funding came from the production and sale of energy; it controlled around 300 oil wells in Iraq alone. At its peak, it operated 350 oil wells in Iraq, but lost 45 to foreign airstrikes. It had captured 60% of Syria’s total production capacity. About one fifth of its total capacity had been in operation. ISIL earned US$2.5 million a day by selling 50,000–60,000 barrels of oil daily. Foreign sales rely on a long-standing black market to export via Turkey. Many of the smugglers and corrupt Turkish border guards who helped Saddam Hussein to evade sanctions are helping ISIL to export oil and import cash.
In April 2015, after the fall of Tikrit, ISIL apparently lost control of “three large oil fields”, which will have significantly degraded its ability to generate income from selling oil.
Other energy sales include selling electric power from captured power plants in northern Syria; some of this electricity is reportedly sold back to the Syrian government.
Sale of antiques and artifacts
Sales of artifacts may be the second largest source of funding for ISIL, according to an article in Newsweek. More than a third of Iraq’s important sites are under ISIL’s control. It looted the 9th century BC grand palace of the Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II at Kalhu (Nimrud). Tablets, manuscripts and cuneiforms were sold, worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Stolen artifacts are smuggled into Turkey and Jordan. Abdulamir al-Hamdani, an archaeologist from SUNY Stony Brook, has said that ISIL is “looting… the very roots of humanity, artefacts from the oldest civilizations in the world”.
Taxation and extortion
ISIL extracts wealth through taxation and extortion. Regarding taxation, Christians and foreigners are at times required to pay a tax known as jizya. In addition, the group routinely practices extortion, by demanding money from truck drivers and threatening to blow up businesses, for example. Robbing banks and gold shops has been another source of income. The Iraq government indirectly finances ISIL, as they continue to pay the salaries of the thousands of government employees who continue to work in areas controlled by ISIL, which then confiscates as much as half of those Iraqi government employees’ pay.
Pictures show damage to the Gbiebeoil refinery in Syria following airstrikes by US and coalition forces.
Illegal drug trade
According to Victor Ivanov, head of the Russian anti-drug agency, Islamic State, like Boko Haram, makes money through trafficking Afghan heroin through its territory. The annual value of this business may be up to $1 billion.
ISIL is widely reported as receiving funding from private donors in the Gulf states, and the governments of Iraq and Iran have repeatedly accused Saudi Arabia and Qatar of financing and supporting the group. Ahead of the conference of the US-led anti-ISIL coalition held in Paris in September 2014, France’s foreign minister acknowledged that a number of countries at the table had “very probably” financed ISIL’s advances.
Unregistered charity organisations act as fronts to pass funds to ISIL. As they use aliases on Facebook’s WhatsApp and Kik, the individuals and organisations remain untraceable. Donations transferred to fund ISIL’s operations are disguised as “humanitarian charity”. Saudi Arabia has imposed a blanket ban on unauthorised donations destined for Syria as the only means of stopping such funding.
1 May: The Guardian reported that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIL, was recovering in a part of Mosul from severe injuries he received during a March 2015 airstrike. It was reported that due to al-Baghdadi’s incapacitation from his spinal injury, he may never be able to resume direct control of ISIL again.
13 May: ISIL claimed responsibility for the killing of 43 Shia Ismaili Muslims in a bus in Karachi, Pakistan. On the same day, the Iraqi Defense Ministry reported that Abu Alaa Afri, ISIL’s Deputy Leader, had been killed in a US-led Coalition airstrike on a mosque in Tel Afar, on 12 May 2015, which also killed dozens of other ISIL militants present. Akram Qirbash, ISIL’s top judge, was also killed in the airstrike. ISIL had issued statements in which they vowed to retaliate for al-Baghdadi’s injury, which Iraqi forces believed would happen through ISIL attacks in Europe.
14 May: An Al-Mourabitoun commander called Adnan Abu Walid Sahraoui pledged the group’s allegiance to ISIL, expanding ISIL’s area of operation into Mali. The group’s founder, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, later issued a statement rejecting Sahraoui’s announcement.
On night of 15 May, ISIL militants entered the city of Ramadi, the capital of the Anbar Province, using six near-simultaneous car bombs. ISIL also released an audio tape message, with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi calling all Muslims to fight against the Iraqi Government, in the Salahuddin, and Al Anbar Provinces, claiming that this is their duty as Muslims. The message breaks the rumors of his death.
21 May: ISIL forces captured the Syrian town of Tadmur and the ancient city of Palmyra, beheading dozens of Syrian soldiers. Two gas fields also fell into ISIL hands. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, ISIL had by then seized 95,000 square kilometers of land, nearly half of Syria’s territory. ISIL also reportedly kidnapped a Syriac Catholic priest, Fr. Jacques Mourad, in the area between Palmyra and Homs.
22 May: Al-Walid, the last border crossing between Syria and Iraq that was held by the Syrian Army, fell to ISIL. ISIL also carried out its first terror attack in Saudi Arabia, when a suicide bomber killed at least 21 people in a Shiite mosque in the city of Qatif.
27 May: ISIL seizes the Khunayfis phosphate mines 70 kilometres (45 mi) south of Palmyra, depriving the Syrian government of a key source of revenue.
31 May: ISIL launched an assault on the Syrian city of Al-Hasakah, with ISIL clashing with Syrian government forces on the southern outskirts, and Kurdish forces announcing their intent to protect their portion of the city. Kurdish forces killed at least 20 civilians in clashes accused of being ISIL and burned homes of suspected ISIL supporters near Ras al-Ayn and Tell Tamer.
1 June: ISIL begins mandating that male civilians in Mosul wear full beards and imposes harsh punishments for shaving, up to and including beheading.
7 June: The Syrian Army reported it repelled an offensive by ISIL on the town of Hasakah. Kurdish forces also seized several villages west of Ras Al Ayn, including al-Jasoum and Sawadieh.
10 June: President Obama authorized the deployment of 450 American advisors to Iraq to help train Iraqi forces in fighting ISIL.
13 June: The Syrian Kurdish YPG militia announced it had begun to move towards the ISIL-controlled border town of Tell Abyad after encircling the town of Suluk 20 km to the southeast.
15 June: A spokesman for Kurdish YPG units announced Syrian Kurdish fighters had taken the town of Tell Abyad from ISIL.
23 June: A Kurdish YPG spokesman announced the town of Ayn Issa and surrounding villages, located 50 km (30 miles) from Raqqa, were under the militia’s “total control”. Abu Mohammad al-Adnani announced the expansion of ISIL to Russia’s North Caucasus region as a new Wilayat.
24 June: ISIL attacks Kobanî, killing at least 146 people. Kurdish forces and the Syrian government claimed the vehicles had entered the city from across the border, an action denied by Turkey.
30 June: Alaa Saadeh, a 23-year-old resident of West New York, New Jersey, is arrested at his home on charges of conspiring to provide material support to ISIL, and aiding and abetting an attempt to do so. His brother, designated by the United States Department of Justice as Co-Conspirator 1 (CC-1), left the United States on 5 May to join ISIL. Other co-conspirators residing in Fort Lee, New Jersey and Queens, New York were arrested on 13 June and 17 June on similar charges, as part of an investigation of a group of individuals from New York and New Jersey that the Department says conspired to provide material support to ISIL.
2 July: Rockets were shot at southern Israel by an ISIS-affiliated group.
12 August: US launches its first manned air strikes against ISIL from Turkey.
13 August: ISIL truck-bombing of a market in a Shia district of Baghdad kills scores, wounds hundreds.
ISIL propaganda shows explosives damaging the historic ancient site of Palmyra.
19 August: ISIL beheaded Dr. Khaled al-Asaad, who was retired chief of antiquities for Palmyra because ISIL accused him of being an “apostate” and lists his alleged crimes, including representing Syria at “infidel conferences,” serving as “the director of idolatry” in Palmyra, visiting Iran and communicating with “a brother in the Syrian security services”.
25 August: ISIL suicide bomber assassinates two Iraqi generals identified by state television as Maj. Gen. Abdul-Rahman Abu-Regheef, deputy chief of operations in Anbar, and Brig. Gen. Sefeen Abdul-Maguid, commander of the 10th Army Division.
29 August: Turkish military aircraft launches first airstrikes against ISIL targets as part of the Western coalition.
30 August: ISIL destroyed the Temple of Bel in Palmyra. The bricks and columns were reported as lying on the ground and only one wall was reported as remaining, according to a Palmyra resident.[
Britain’s young Muslims are taking the fight against President Bashir al-Assad from UK towns to the frontlines of Syria. . Amer Deghayes, a 20-year-old former student from Brighton, who joined the “holy war” against his father’s wishes after carrying out extensive research online.
We joined Amer after the death of his 18-year-old brother Abdullah, who died in a fierce battle against Assad forces in northern Syria. Undeterred by the bloody and brutal conflict, Amer’s 16-year-old brother Jaffer has since met up with him in Syria.
The UK is now attempting to combat, block, and remove thousands of items of “jihadist propaganda” from the internet in an attempt to deter Britons from taking up arms abroad. For Amer, the power of jihadist social media – which promotes stories of jihadi legend, martyrdom, and paradise – opened his eyes to the suffering of Muslims in Syria.
England is also now citing returning militants as “the biggest security threat to the United Kingdom.” The government’s position could leave Amer – and possibly thousands of unknown British fighters – stranded in increasingly fierce and bloody conflicts, and within the grasp of extremist jihadist groups.