With direct threats being made over the last few weeks against Canada and other Western countries, including calls for attacks by empowered extremist militia domestically, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is at the forefront of our political radar.
This is what you need to know about the unrecognized state, and Sunni jihadist insurgent group, that is currently terrorizing Iraq and Syria.
Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) started simply as an al-Qaeda splinter group.
ISIS has now self-proclaimed themselves the Islamic State (IS), and were previously also known as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The proclamation of their new caliphate has been internationally panned, and is unrecognized by the greater Islamic community. Nonetheless, their numbers have continued to grow with each passing month.
The original aim of ISIS has always been to create an Islamic state across Sunni areas of Iraq and Syria, and further through the Levant region, which includes Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Cyprus, and part of southern Turkey.
ISIS has garnered an international reputation for killing hundreds of people at a time and carrying out public executions, including beheadings, crucifying children, castrating women and other acts.
The group currently controls hundreds of square miles across Iraq and Syria, ruling by Sharia law and continues to ignore international borders.
Many former Iraqi soldiers, who served under Saddam Hussein’s military, are believed to have become ISIS fighters, following the formation of the new Iraq government by US-led coalition forces.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is the Caliph of the new self-proclaimed Islamic State, and has lead the al-Qaeda splinter cell since May 2010, though his ties to the group reach back to its formation in 2003.
Very little is known about al-Baghdadi, but biographies circulated on jihadist websites back in July 2013 claimed that he earned a BA, MA, and PhD in Islamic studies from the Islamic University of Baghdad.
Al-Baghdadi was detained for eleven months in 2004 as a ‘civilian internee’ at Camp Bucca by US-Iraqi forces, according to the US Department of Defense. However, conflicting reports by former commander of Camp Bucca, Colonel Kenneth King, circulated by newspapers and cable news channels stated that al-Baghdadi was actually interned for four years, from 2005 to 2009.
After ISIS declared the creation of the so-called “Islamic State” in June 2014, he began using the name al-Khalifah Ibrahim, recognizing his new office within the caliphate.
2004 – Abu Musab al-Zarqawi establishes al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), by joining Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network, after achieving notoriety conducting suicide attacks and beheading hostages.
2006 – Under al-Zarqawi, al-Qaeda in Iraq tries to ignite a sectarian war against the majority Shia community by claiming responsibility for Shiite mosque bombings.
June 7, 2006 – Al-Zarqawi is killed by a U.S. F-16 airstrike. Abu Ayyub al-Masri, also known as Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, takes his place as leader of AQI.
October 2006 – AQI leader Abu Ayyub al-Masri announces the creation of Islamic State in Iraq (ISI), and establishes Abu Omar al-Baghdadi as its figurehead emir and leader.
April 2010 – Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi becomes leader of ISI after Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Ayyub al-Masri are killed in a joint U.S.-Iraqi operation.
April 2013 – Al-Baghdadi released an audio statement announcing that the al-Qaeda-backed Syrian militant group Jabhat al-Nusra, also known as the al-Nusra Front, was merging with ISI to form a new faction, Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham, also known as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), in which ‘the Levant’ refers to the ‘Greater Syria.’
This constant name changing would lead to the U.S. State Department to only eventually settle upon referring to the extremist group as ISIL in May 2014, after months of discussion about the acronyms.
The formation of the al-Nusra Front was initially conceived by al-Baghdadi with experienced guerrilla forces being sent into Syria in 2011 to oppose the Assad regime. This was lead by Syrian fighter Abu Muhammad al-Jawlani.
Al-Jawlani would rebuttal ISIS’s attempt to merge with the group in 2013, claiming no consultation had taken place between ISIS and al-Nusra leadership.
Al-Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri addressed both leaders, and declared that the merger would not continue, and called for a disbanding of ISIS. In direct violation of this decision, al-Baghdadi continued operating within Syria, on the basis of Islamic jurisprudence.
February 3, 2014 – After an 8 month struggle, al-Qaeda renounced all ties to ISIS.
June 10, 2014 – ISIS takes control of Mosul, Iraq.
June 11, 2014 – ISIS takes control of Tikrit, Iraq.
June 21, 2014 – ISIS takes control of Al-Qaim, a town on the border with Syria, as well as three other Iraqi towns.
June 28, 2014 – Iraqi Kurdistan, an autonomous region in Northern Iraq, restricts border crossings into the region for refugees fleeing the fighting.
June 29, 2014 – ISIS announces the creation of a caliphate or Islamic state, that erases all state borders, and declares al-Baghdadi the absolute authority over the world’s estimated 1.5 billion Muslims. The group also announces a name change to the Islamic State (IS). This move is internationally unrecognized.
June 30, 2014 – The Pentagon announces that the United States will intervene, sending an addition 300 troops to the area, bringing the total number of U.S. forces on the ground in Iraq to just under 800. The troops and advisors being sent are meant to add security to the U.S. Embassy and Baghdad airport, along with providing support to Iraqi security forces.
July 2014 – The Free Syrian Army announces that all cities between Deir Ezzor city, located in eastern Syria, and the Iraq border have fallen to ISIS.
July 3, 2014 – The Syrian oil fields at al-Omar, which produce 75,000 barrels of oil per day, are over taken by ISIS.
July 17, 2014 – 270 people are killed after ISIS storms and seizes control of the Shaer gas fields, in Syria’s centrally located Homs province.
July 24, 2014 – Completely disregarding holy sites, ISIS militants blow up Jonah’s tomb in Mosul.
August 8, 2014 – Two United States Air Force F-18 fighter jets bomb Sunni Islamic extremist artillery in Iraq. President Obama announces the authorization of ‘targeted airstrikes’ to protect both U.S. personnel from ISIS militants, and to prevent the barbaric genocide of minority groups in the area.
August 19, 2014 – U.S. journalist James Foley, who had been missing in Syria since 2012, is brutally beheaded in a video posted on YouTube, that soon goes viral on international media. The life of fellow captured journalist Steven Sotloff’s threatened as well.
September 2, 2014 – ISIS executes journalist Steven Sotloff. In the video of his gruesome beheading, the executioner speaks in the same British accent as the man who killed Foley. Speculation runs rampant as he is believed to be a member of a three member cell of U.K.-born ISIS militants operating in the region, known as ‘The Beatles.’
September 11, 2014 – The CIA announces that their initial estimates of the number of fighters within ISIS was incorrect, and the terrorist group may now be able to muster up to 31,500 fighters across Iraq and Syria.
September 13, 2014 – British aid worker David Haines is executed in a video posted on an ISIS associated website. British Prime Minister David Cameron is singled out by the extremist group in the video, and threatened with more destruction if the U.K. continues its “evil alliance with America.” Once again, the executioner appears to be the same member of ‘The Beatles.’
September 21, 2014 – ISIS releases a 42-minute propaganda audio recording that urges followers to kill Canadians, Americans, and any other citizens of countries that oppose the terrorist group. Spokesperson Abu Muhammad al-Adnani encourages Islamic State followers to kill any “disbelievers”, be they civilians or part of the military.
“If you can kill a disbelieving American or European – especially the spiteful and filthy French – or an Australian or a Canadian, or any other disbeliever from the disbelievers waging war, including the citizens of the countries that entered into a coalition against the Islamic State … kill him in any manner or way however it may be,” the translation reads.
September 24, 2014 – More than 120 Islamic scholars from around the Muslim world signed an open letter to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, explicitly rejecting and refuting his group’s interpretations of the Qur’an and hadith to justify their actions.
A translated 24-point summary of the letter includes the following: “It is forbidden in Islam to torture”; “It is forbidden in Islam to attribute evil acts to God”; and “It is forbidden in Islam to declare people non-Muslims until he (or she) openly declares disbelief.”
September 30, 2014 – After two previous videos are released earlier in the month, British journalist John Cantlie appears in a third film, once again reciting a prepared script criticizing U.S. airstrikes. He had previously noted that he was making the films under duress.
Later that same day, two British RAF Tornado GR4 bombers conducted airstrikes against ISIS heavy weapon positions, after U.K. Parliament authorized military action on Friday.
A decision whether Canada will enter the conflict and commit CF-18 fighters, surveillance aircraft and personnel to the military campaign is expected within days, after a flurry of closed-door meetings and debate in the House of Commons.
“If there is a combat mission of any kind, including an air combat mission, there will be a debate and vote in this House,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper reiterated on Tuesday.
Feature Image: ISIS via Shutterstock