Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant

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Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
الدولة الإسلامية في العراق والشام (Arabic)
Participant in the Iraq War, the Global War on Terrorism, the Iraqi insurgency, and the Syrian Civil War
Syria and Iraq 2014-onward War map.png
Current military situation (20 October 2014)
  Controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
  Controlled by other Syrian rebels
  Controlled by Syrian government
  Controlled by Iraqi government
  Controlled by Syrian Kurds
  Controlled by Iraqi Kurds
Active 8 April 2013–present[1][2]
Ideology Anti-Shiaism,[3]
Salafist Jihadism
Area of
Strength 80,000–100,000 (up to 50,000 in Syria and 30,000 in Iraq) (SOHR est.)[7][8]
20,000–31,500 (12 Sep. CIA est.)[9]
Part of al-Qaeda (Oct. 2004[10]–Feb. 2014)[11]
Originated as Jamāʻat al-Tawḥīd wa-al-Jihād (1999)
and wars
List of wars and battles

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL /ˈsəl/) also translated as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS /ˈsɪs/; ad-Dawlah al-Islāmīyah fīl-ʻIraq wa ash-Shām), also known by the Arabic acronym Daʿesh[a] and self-described as the Islamic State (IS), is a Sunni, extremist, Jihadist, self-proclaimed Caliphate, Unrecognized state in Iraq and Syria in the Middle East.

The group originated as Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad in 1999. This group was the forerunner of Tanzim Qaidat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn, commonly known as Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). AQI took part in the Iraqi insurgency against US-led forces and their Iraqi allies following the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In 2006, it joined other Sunni insurgent groups to form the Mujahideen Shura Council, which consolidated further into the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) shortly afterwards. At its height, the ISI enjoyed a significant presence in Al Anbar, Nineveh, Kirkuk and other areas, but in around 2008 its violent methods led to a backlash against it and a temporary decline.[b]

In April 2013, the group changed its name to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. It grew significantly under the leadership of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, gaining support in Iraq as a result of perceived economic and political discrimination against Iraqi Sunnis.[13] After entering the Syrian Civil War, it established a large presence in the Syrian governorates of Ar-Raqqah, Idlib, Deir ez-Zor and Aleppo.[14] In June 2014, it had at least 4,000 fighters in its ranks in Iraq,[15] and the CIA estimated in September 2014 that it had 20,000–31,500 fighters in Iraq and Syria.[9] It had close links to al-Qaeda until February 2014 when, after an eight-month power struggle, al-Qaeda cut all ties with the group, reportedly for its brutality and "notorious intractability".[16][17]

The group's original aim was to establish an Islamic state in the Sunni-majority regions of Iraq. Following its involvement in the Syrian Civil War, this expanded to include controlling Sunni-majority areas of Syria.[18] It proclaimed a worldwide caliphate on 29 June 2014, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi—known by his supporters as Amir al-Mu'minin, Caliph Ibrahim—was named as its caliph, and the group was renamed the Islamic State.[19] In its self-proclaimed status as a caliphate, it claims religious authority over all Muslims worldwide, and aims to bring most Muslim-inhabited regions of the world under its political control, beginning with the Levant region, which approximately covers Syria, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Cyprus, and part of southern Turkey.[20][21][22]

Muslims have criticized ISIL’s actions, authority and theological interpretations, and some Islamic scholars have declared ISIS to be Khawarij.[23][24] The group has been designated as a terrorist organization by the United Nations, the European Union, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Israel, Turkey, Indonesia, and Saudi Arabia. The United Nations and Amnesty International have accused the group of grave human rights abuses and Amnesty International has found it guilty of ethnic cleansing on a "historic scale".


The group has had a number of different names since it was formed, including some names that other groups use for it.[1]

Index of names

Links are to names in "History of names".

  • al-Dawlah ("the State")
  • al-Dawlah al-Islāmīyah ("the Islamic State")
  • AQI: Al-Qaeda in Iraq: Tanẓīm Qāʻidat al-Jihād fī Bilād al-Rāfidayn
  • Daʿesh, Da-ish, Dāʻish, Daesh, Daish, Daash, Da'ash, Daas, Da'ish, Dā'ash, Daiish: various latinisations of the (داعش) acronym formed from al-Dawlah al-Islāmīyah fī al-ʻIrāq wa-al-Shām
  • IS: Islamic State: al-Dawlah al-Islāmīyah
  • ISI: Islamic State of Iraq: Dawlat al-ʻIraq al-Islāmīyah
  • ISIL: Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant: al-Dawlah al-Islāmīyah fī al-ʻIrāq wa-al-Shām
  • ISIS: Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (or Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham): al-Dawlah al-Islāmīyah fī al-ʻIrāq wa-al-Shām
  • JTJ: Jamāʻat al-Tawḥīd wa-al-Jihād
  • Mujahideen Shura Council
  • QSIS: al-Qaeda Separatists in Iraq and Syria

History of names

  • The group was founded in 1999 by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi under the name Jamāʻat al-Tawḥīd wa-al-Jihād, "The Organization of Monotheism and Jihad" (JTJ).[25]
  • In October 2004, al-Zarqawi swore loyalty to Osama bin Laden and changed the name of the group to Tanẓīm Qāʻidat al-Jihād fī Bilād al-Rāfidayn, "The Organization of Jihad's Base in the Country of the Two Rivers" or "The Organization of Jihad's Base in Mesopotamia", more commonly known as Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).[1][26]
  • Although the group has never called itself "Al-Qaeda in Iraq", this name has frequently been used for it through its various incarnations, as Jamāʻat al-Tawḥīd wa-al-Jihād, Tanẓīm Qāʻidat al-Jihād fī Bilād al-Rāfidayn and—see below—the Mujahideen Shura Council, the Islamic State of Iraq, and ISIL/ISIS/Daʿesh.[27]
  • In January 2006, AQI merged with several other Iraqi insurgent groups to form the Mujahideen Shura Council.[28] Al-Zarqawi was killed in June 2006, after which the group's direction shifted again.
  • On 12 October 2006, the Mujahideen Shura Council merged with several more insurgent factions, and on 13 October the establishment of the Dawlat al-ʻIraq al-Islāmīyah, Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) was announced.[1][29] A cabinet was formed and Abu Abdullah al-Rashid al-Baghdadi became ISI's figurehead emir, with the real power residing with the Egyptian Abu Ayyub al-Masri.[30] Al-Baghdadi and al-Masri were both killed in a US–Iraqi operation in April 2010; they were succeeded by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the current leader of ISIL.
  • On 8 April 2013, having expanded into Syria, the group adopted the name Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, also known as Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham.[31][32][33] These names are translations of the Arabic name al-Dawlah al-Islāmīyah fī al-ʻIrāq wa-al-Shām, with the final word al-Shām providing a description of the Levant or Greater Syria.[34][35] The translated names are frequently abbreviated as ISIL/Isil or as ISIS/Isis. The group has also used the names al-Dawlah ("the State") and al-Dawlah al-Islāmīyah ("the Islamic State"). These are short-forms of the Arabic name al-Dawlah al-Islāmīyah fī al-ʻIrāq wa-al-Shām.[36]
  • 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.[37] The debate over which of these acronyms should be used to designate the group, ISIL or ISIS, has been discussed by several commentators.[35][36] The Washington Post concluded: "In the larger battlefield of copy style controversies, the distinction between ISIS or ISIL is not so great."[36]
  • The name Daʿesh—pronounced /ˈdaːʕiʃ/ and transliterated as "Dāʻesh", "Da-esh", "Dāʻish", or "Da-ish"—is used particularly by ISIL's detractors, such as those in Syria. It is based on the Arabic letters dāl, alif, ʻayn, and shīn, which form the acronym (داعش) of ISIL/ISIS's Arabic name al-Dawlah al-Islamīyah fī al-ʻIrāq wa-al-Shām.[37][38] There are many different spellings of this acronym. ISIL considers the term "Dāʻish" derogatory and reportedly punishes with flogging those who use it in ISIL-controlled areas.[39][40]
  • On 29 June 2014, the group renamed itself as the Islamic State (IS) and claimed to be a caliphate (type of government).[19][41][42][c]
  • 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".[44][45]


Foundation of the group (1999–2006)

A screenshot from the 2004 hostage video, where Nick Berg was beheaded by al-Zarqawi's group.

Following the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, the Jordanian Salafi Jihadist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his militant group Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, founded in 1999, achieved notoriety in the early stages of the Iraq insurgency, by not only carrying out attacks on coalition forces but conducting suicide attacks on civilian targets and beheading hostages.[25][46]

Al-Zarqawi’s group grew in strength and attracted more fighters, and in October 2004 it officially pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network, changing its name to Tanzim Qaidat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn (تنظيم قاعدة الجهاد في بلاد الرافدين, "Organization of Jihad's Base in Mesopotamia"), also known as Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).[10][47][48] Attacks by the group on civilians, the Iraqi Government and security forces continued to increase over the next two years—see list of major resistance attacks in Iraq.[49] In a letter to al-Zarqawi in July 2005, al-Qaeda's deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri outlined a four-stage plan to expand the Iraq War, which included expelling US forces from Iraq, establishing an Islamic authority—a caliphate—spreading the conflict to Iraq's secular neighbors, and engaging in the Arab–Israeli conflict.[50]

In January 2006, AQI merged with several smaller Iraqi insurgent groups under an umbrella organization called the Mujahideen Shura Council (MSC). This was claimed by Brian Fishman in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science to be 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, notably the 2005 bombings by AQI of three hotels in Amman.[51] On 7 June, al-Zarqawi was killed in a US airstrike and was succeeded as leader of the group by the Egyptian militant Abu Ayyub al-Masri.[52][53]

On 12 October 2006, the Mujahideen Shura Council joined four more insurgent factions and the representatives of a number of Iraqi Arab tribes, and together they swore the traditional Arab oath of allegiance known as Ḥilf al-Muṭayyabīn ("Oath of the Scented Ones").[d][54][55] During the ceremony, the participants swore to free Iraq's Sunnis from what they described as Shia and foreign oppression, and to further the name of Allah and restore Islam to glory.[e][54]

On 13 October 2006, the Mujahideen Shura Council declared the establishment of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), comprising Iraq's six mostly Sunni Arab governorates, with Abu Omar al-Baghdadi being announced as the self-proclaimed state's Emir.[29][49] Al-Masri was given the title of Minister of War within the ISI's ten-member cabinet.[56] The declaration of statehood was met with hostile criticism, not only from ISI's jihadist rivals in Iraq, but from leading jihadist ideologues outside the country.[57]

As Islamic State of Iraq (2006–2013)

Main article: Islamic State of Iraq
A joint US–Iraqi training exercise near Ramadi in November 2009. The Islamic State of Iraq had declared the city to be its capital.

According to a study compiled by US intelligence agencies in early 2007, the ISI—also known as AQI—planned to seize power in the central and western areas of the country and turn it into a Sunni Islamic state.[58] The group built in strength and at its height enjoyed a significant presence in the Iraqi governorates of Al Anbar, Nineveh, Kirkuk, most of Salah ad Din, parts of Babil, Diyala and Baghdad, and claimed Baqubah as a capital city.[59][60][61][62]

However, by late 2007, violent and indiscriminate attacks directed by rogue AQI elements against Iraqi civilians had severely damaged the group's image and caused a loss of support among the population, thus isolating it. In a major blow to AQI, many former Sunni militants who had previously fought alongside the group started to work with the US armed forces. The US troops surge supplied the military with more manpower for operations targeting the group, resulting in dozens of high-level AQI members being captured or killed.[63]

Al-Qaeda seemed to have lost its foothold in Iraq and appeared to be severely crippled.[64] During 2008, a series of US and Iraqi offensives managed to drive out the AQI-aligned insurgents from their former safe havens, such as the Diyala and Al Anbar governorates and the embattled capital of Baghdad, to the area of the northern city of Mosul, the latest of the Iraq War's major battlegrounds.[65] By 2008, the ISI was describing itself as being in a state of "extraordinary crisis".[66] Its violent attempts to govern its territory led to a backlash from Sunni Iraqis and other insurgent groups and a temporary decline in the group, which was attributable to a number of factors,[67] notably the Anbar Awakening.

In late 2009, the commander of the 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".[68] 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.[69] 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, and that improved intelligence had enabled the successful mission in April that led to the killing of al-Masri and al-Baghdadi; in addition, the number of attacks and casualty figures in Iraq for the first five months of 2010 were the lowest since 2003.[70][71][72]

On 16 May 2010, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was appointed the new leader of the Islamic State of Iraq.[73][74] 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 the Saddam Hussein regime. 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.[75][76]

In July 2012, al-Baghdadi released an audio statement online announcing that the group was returning to the former strongholds from which US troops and their Sunni allies had driven them prior to the withdrawal of US troops.[77] He also declared the start of a new offensive in Iraq called Breaking the Walls, which was aimed at freeing members of the group held in Iraqi prisons.[77] Violence in Iraq began to escalate that month, and by July 2013 monthly fatalities had exceeded 1,000 for the first time since April 2008.[78] The Breaking the Walls campaign culminated in July 2013, with the group carrying out simultaneous raids on Taji and Abu Ghraib prison, freeing more than 500 prisoners, many of them veterans of the Iraqi insurgency.[78][79]

As Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (2013~)

Declaration and dispute with al-Nusra Front

Pair of armed anti-American insurgents from northern Iraq

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.[80] In August 2011, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi began sending Syrian and Iraqi ISI members experienced in guerilla warfare across the border into Syria in order to establish an organization inside the country. Led by a Syrian known as Abu Muhammad al-Jawlani, this group began to recruit fighters and establish cells throughout the country.[81][82] On 23 January 2012, the group announced its formation as Jabhat al-Nusra li Ahl as-ShamJabhat 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 regime.[81]

In 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[83] and that the two groups were merging under the name "Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham".[31] Al-Jawlani issued a statement denying the merger and complaining that neither he nor anyone else in al-Nusra's leadership had been consulted about it.[84] 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.[85] In the same month, al-Baghdadi released an audio message rejecting al-Zawahiri's ruling and declaring that the merger was going ahead.[86] In October 2013, al-Zawahiri ordered the disbanding of ISIL, putting al-Nusra Front in charge of jihadist efforts in Syria,[87] but al-Baghdadi contested al-Zawahiri's ruling on the basis of Islamic jurisprudence,[86] and his group continued to operate in Syria. In February 2014, after an eight-month power struggle, al-Qaeda disavowed any relations with ISIL.[16]

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.[88] It has a strong presence in central and northern Syria, where it has instituted sharia in a number of towns.[88] 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.[88] Foreign fighters in Syria include Russian-speaking jihadists who were part of Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar (JMA).[89] In November 2013, the JMA's Chechen leader Abu Omar al-Shishani swore an oath of allegiance to al-Baghdadi;[90] 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.[91]

In May 2014, Ayman al-Zawahiri ordered al-Nusra Front to stop attacks on its rival ISIL.[92] 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.[93][94]

Conflicts with other groups

In January 2014, rebels affiliated with the Islamic Front and the US-trained Free Syrian Army[95] launched an offensive against ISIL militants in and around the city of Aleppo in Syria.[96][97]

Alleged relations with the Syrian government

In January 2014, The Daily Telegraph said that Western intelligence sources believed that the Syrian government had made secret oil deals with ISIL and al-Nusra Front, and that the militants were funding their campaign by selling crude oil to the Assad regime from the oilfields which they had captured.[98] However, such allegations, that the Syrian government has actively colluded with ISIS, have also been described as "conspiracy theories" and dismissed as being untrue.[99]

As Islamic State (2014–present)

The Islamic State
الدولة الإسلامية (Arabic)
ad-Dawlah al-Islāmīyah
Rāyat al-ʻUqab, the "Eagle Banner"; also called the black flag of jihad
Flag Coat of arms
Motto: باقية وتتمدد (Arabic)
"Bāqiyah wa-Tatamaddad" (transliteration)
"Remaining and Expanding"
     Areas controlled  (20 October 2014)      Territories claimed  (2006)      Rest of Iraq and Syria Note: map includes uninhabited areas.
     Areas controlled  (20 October 2014)

     Territories claimed  (2006)      Rest of Iraq and Syria

Note: map includes uninhabited areas.
Status Unrecognized state
Capital Ar-Raqqah, Syria [102][103]
35°57′N 39°1′E / 35.950°N 39.017°E / 35.950; 39.017
Government Unitary, single-party, Islamic state, self-declared as caliphate
 -  self-declared caliph[19] Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, "Caliph Ibrahim"[104]
 -  Field Commander Abu Omar al-Shishani [91][105]
 -  Spokesman Abu Mohammad al-Adnani [106] [107]
 -  Islamic state declared in Fallujah 3 January 2014[108][109] 
 -  Caliphate declared 29 June 2014 
Time zone Arabia Standard Time (UTC+3)

On 29 June 2014, ISIL removed "Iraq and the Levant" from its name and began to refer to itself as the "Islamic State", simultaneously giving itself the governmental status of caliphate and naming Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as caliph.[19] The declaration of a caliphate has been criticized and ridiculed by Muslim scholars and rival Islamists inside and outside the occupied territory.[110][111][112][113][114][115]

Analysts observed that dropping the reference to region in its new name widened the group's scope, and terrorism analyst Laith Alkhouri concluded that after capturing many areas in Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State felt that this was a suitable opportunity to take control of the global jihadist movement;[116]

A week before it changed its name to the "Islamic State", ISIL captured the Trabil crossing on the Jordan–Iraq border,[117] the only border crossing between the two countries.[118] ISIL has received some public support in Jordan, albeit limited, partly owing to state repression there,[119] but has undertaken a recruitment drive in Saudi Arabia,[120] where tribes in the north are linked to those in western Iraq and eastern Syria.[121]

In June and July 2014, Jordan and Saudi Arabia had moved troops to their borders with Iraq, after Iraq lost control of, or withdrew from, strategic crossing points that had then come under the control of the Islamic State.[118][122] There was speculation that 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".[121]

In July 2014, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau declared support for the new caliphate and Caliph Ibrahim.[123] In August, Shekau announced that Boko Haram had captured the Nigerian town of Gwoza. Shekau announced: "Thanks be to God who gave victory to our brethren in Gwoza and made it a state among the Islamic states".[124][125] Boko Haram launched an offensive in Adamawa and Borno States in northeastern Nigeria in September, following the example of the Islamic State.[126]

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claimed that the Islamic State had recruited more than 6,300 fighters in July 2014 alone, some of them coming from the Free Syrian Army.[127]

In August 2014, the Islamic State captured Kurdish-controlled territory[128] and massacred a large number of Yazidis.[129] In response, the US launched an aerial bombing campaign against the Islamic State and a humanitarian mission to aid the Yazidis.[130]

There have been many complaints of the Islamic State's use of death threats, torture and mutilation to compel conversion to Islam,[131][132] executions of clerics who refused to pledge allegiance to the Islamic State,[133] mass executions of prisoners of war[134] and civilians,[135][136][137] and sexual enslavement of Iraqi women and girls, predominantly from the minority Christian communities.[138]

Raghad Hussein, the daughter of Saddam Hussein, now living in opulent asylum in Jordan, has publicly expressed support for the advance of the Islamic State in Iraq, reflecting the Ba'athist alliance of convenience with ISIL and its goal of return to power in Bagdad.[139]

Notable members

Mugshot of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi by US armed forces while in detention at Camp Bucca in 2004
Current known personnel (all use assumed names)
Former leaders
Other former personnel

Designation as a terrorist organization

Organization Date Authority References
United Nations United Nations 18 October 2004 United Nations Security Council [143]
European Union European Union EU Council by adopting the UN Terrorist List [144]
Country Date Authority References
United States United States 17 December 2004 United States Department of State [145]
Australia Australia 2 March 2005 Attorney-General for Australia [146]
Canada Canada 20 August 2012 Parliament of Canada [147]
Turkey Turkey 30 October 2013 Grand National Assembly of Turkey [148][149]
Saudi Arabia Saudi Arabia 7 March 2014 Royal decree of the King of Saudi Arabia [150]
United Kingdom United Kingdom 20 June 2014 Home Secretary of the Home Office [151]
Indonesia Indonesia 1 August 2014 National Counter-terrorism Agency (BNPT (id)) [152]
Israel Israel 3 September 2014 Ministry of Defense, Israel [153][154][155]

Many world leaders and government spokespeople have called ISIL terrorists without their countries having undergone the formal designation process undertaken by the countries listed. Media sources worldwide have also called ISIL a terrorist organization.[131][156][157][158][159]

The United Nations Security Council in its Resolution 1267 (1999) designated al-Qaeda as a terrorist organization[160] and established the al-Qaida Sanctions List, to which it added Al-Qaeda in Iraq—now known as ISIL in UN documents—on 18 October 2004 (amended on 2 Dec. 2004, 5 Mar. 2009, 13 Dec. 2011, 30 May 2013, 13 May 2014 and 2 Jun. 2014).[161] The UN Security Council also includes various ISIL leaders on its list.[143] The European Union adopted the UN terrorist list[when?] and regularly updates its own list to match it.[144]


Foreign fighters

There are many foreign fighters in ISIL's ranks. In June 2014, The Economist reported that "ISIS may have up to 6,000 fighters in Iraq and 3,000–5,000 in Syria, including perhaps 3,000 foreigners; nearly a thousand are reported to hail from Chechnya and perhaps 500 or so more from France, Britain and elsewhere in Europe".[162] Chechen leader Abu Omar al-Shishani, for example, was made commander of the northern sector of ISIL in Syria in 2013.[163][164] According to The New York Times, in September 2014 there were more than 2,000 Europeans and 100 Americans among ISIL's foreign fighters.[165] Tunisia has sent 2,400-3,000 foreign fighters to the Islamic State, more than any other nation.[166] Foreign recruits are treated with less respect than Arabic-speaking Muslims by ISIL commanders, and if they lack otherwise useful skills, they are placed in suicide units.[167]



Opposition within Iraq, Lebanon and Syria

Multinational coalition opposition

Military operations in or over Iraq and/or Syria – (US-led)—

NATO members:

CCASG members:

  •  Bahrain
  •  Jordan (pending GCC member)[200]
  •  Qatar
  •  Saudi Arabia[122]
  •  UAE


Supplying military equipment to opposition forces within Iraq, Syria or Lebanon – (EU and/or NATO and partners)

Other state opponents



Other non-state opponents

The Arab League issued a statement on ISIL in September 2014.[212] al-Qaeda was originally the parent organization of ISIL, though they split in 2014.[213] The leader of the al-Nusra Front, Abu Mohammad al-Julani, has been critical of ISIL.[214] Ansar al-Islam announced in a statement released on 18 September 2013 that ISIL forced Ansar al-Islam to "respond to their aggression."[215] The Kurdistan Workers Party has aided and fighters from the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran have fought against ISIL.[216]

*Note: The opponents list is restricted to: (a) States and non-State actors with military operations past, present or pending against ISIL in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon; (b) States directly supplying weapons to ground forces fighting ISIL; or (c) transnational organizations coordinating or supporting such States.


After significant setbacks for the group during the latter stages of the coalition forces' presence in Iraq, by late 2012 it was thought[by whom?] to have renewed its strength and to have more than doubled the number of its members to about 2,500,[217][not in citation given] and since its formation in April 2013, ISIL grew rapidly in strength and influence in Iraq and Syria. Analysts[which?] have underlined the deliberate inflammation of sectarian conflict between Iraqi Shias and Sunnis during the Iraq War by various Sunni and Shia players as the root cause of ISIL's rise. The post-invasion policies of the international coalition forces have also been cited as a factor, with Fanar Haddad, a research fellow at the National University of Singapore's Middle East Institute, blaming the coalition forces during the Iraq War for "enshrining identity politics as the key marker of Iraqi politics".[218]

By 2014, ISIL was increasingly being viewed as a militia rather than as a terrorist group.[219] As major Iraqi cities fell to al-Baghdadi's cohorts in June 2014, Jessica Lewis, a former US 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."[219]

According to the Institute for the Study of War, ISIL's 2013 annual report reveals a metrics-driven military command, which is "a strong indication of a unified, coherent leadership structure that commands from the top down".[220] Middle East Forum's Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi said, "They are highly skilled in urban guerrilla warfare while the new Iraqi Army simply lacks tactical competence."[219] Seasoned observers[who?] point to systemic corruption within the Iraq Army, seeing it as little more than a system of patronage, and have attributed to this its spectacular collapse as ISIL and its allies took over large swaths of Iraq in June 2014.[221]

While officials[which?] fear that ISIL may either inspire attacks in the United States by sympathizers or by those returning after joining ISIL, US intelligence agencies find there is no immediate threat or specific plots. US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel sees an "imminent threat to every interest we have", but former top counterterrorism adviser Daniel Benjamin has derided such alarmist talk as a "farce" that panics the public.[222]

Hillary Clinton has stated: "The failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad—there were Islamists, there were secularists, there was everything in the middle—the failure to do that left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled."[223]

Some news commentators such as the international newspaper columnist Gwynne Dyer[224] and the results of a recent sampling of public opinion by NPR[225] have advocated a strong but measured response to ISIL's recent provocative acts.

Conspiracy theories

Conspiracy theorists in the Arab world have advanced rumors that the US is secretly behind the existence and emboldening of ISIL, as part of an attempt to further destabilize the Middle East. After such rumors became widespread, the US embassy in Lebanon issued an official statement denying the allegations, calling them a complete fabrication.[226] Others[which?] are convinced that ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is an Israeli Mossad agent and actor called "Simon Elliot". The rumors claim that NSA documents leaked by Edward Snowden reveal this connection. Snowden's lawyer has called the story "a hoax".[227][228][229]

Ideology and beliefs

ISIL is a Sunni extremist group. It follows an extreme interpretation of Islam, promotes religious violence and regards those who do not agree with its interpretations as infidels or apostates. ISIL's aim is to establish a Salafist-oriented Islamist state in Iraq, Syria and other parts of the Levant.[230]

ISIL's ideology originates in the branch of modern Islam that aims to return to the early days of Islam, rejecting later "innovations" in the religion which it believes corrupt its original spirit. It condemns later caliphates and the Ottoman Empire for deviating from what it calls pure Islam and hence has been attempting to establish its own caliphate.[231] The use of violence to purify the community of unbelievers comes from the Wahhabi tradition. While ISIL is widely denounced by a broad range of Islamic clerics, it took political pressure to persuade Saudi clerics to issue a formal condemnation. Al-Qaeda-oriented clerics were much quicker to condemn the group.[232][233]

ISIL's philosophy is well represented in the symbolism of its black flag, which first appeared as the flag of its former parent organization, al-Qaeda. The flag shows the seal of the Prophet Muhammad within a white circle, with the phrase above it, "There is no God but Allah", depicted on a black flag, the legendary battle flag of the Prophet Muhammad.[234] Such symbolism has been said to point to ISIL's belief that it represents no less than the restoration of the caliphate of early Islam, with all of the political, religious and eschatological ramifications that this would necessarily imply.[235]

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.[236] It adheres to global jihadist principles and follows the hard-line ideology of al-Qaeda and many other modern-day jihadist groups.[230][237]

Other sources trace the group's roots not to the Islamism of the Muslim Brotherhood and the more mainstream jihadism of al-Qaeda, but to Wahhabism. The New York Times wrote:

For their guiding principles, the leaders of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, 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.[232]

Bernard Haykel, describes Baghdadi's creed as "a kind of untamed Wahhabism," stating "For Al Qaeda, violence is a means to an ends; for ISIS, it is an end in itself."[232] 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 denouncing it for its beheading of journalists and aid workers.[232]

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". The destruction by ISIL in July 2014 of the tomb and shrine of the prophet YunusJonah in Christianity—the 13th century mosque of Imam Yahya Abu al-Qassimin, the 14th century shrine of prophet Jerjis—St George to Christians—and attempted destruction of the Hadba minaret at the 12th century Great Mosque of Al-Nuri have been called "an unchecked outburst of extreme Wahhabism".[238]

Other Saudi practices followed by the group include the establishment of a "religious police" to root out "vice" and enforce attendance at salat prayers, the widespread use of capital punishment, and the destruction of or conversion to other uses of all churches and non-Sunni mosques.[239]

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, when it comes to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, since ISIL regards the Palestinian Sunni group Hamas as apostates who have no legitimate authority to lead jihad, it regards fighting Hamas as the first step toward confrontation with Israel.[232][240][241]

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.[242][243][244][245] 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 for driving a wedge between Muslims.[245]


Since 2004, the group's goal has been the foundation of an Islamic state in the Levant.[246][247] Specifically, ISIL has sought the establishment of a caliphate, a type of Islamic state led by a group of religious authorities under a supreme leader—caliph—who is believed to be the successor to Muhammad.[248]

In June 2014, ISIL published a document in which it claimed to have traced the lineage of its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi back to Muhammad.[248] That same month, ISIL removed "Iraq and the Levant" from its name and began to refer to itself as the Islamic State, declaring the territory that it occupied in Iraq and Syria a new caliphate and naming al-Baghdadi as its caliph.[19] By declaring a caliphate, al-Baghdadi was demanding the allegiance of all devout Muslims according to Islamic jurisprudence—fiqh.[249]

Shaykh Abu Muhammad al-Adnani al-Shami, spokesperson for ISIL, described the establishment of the caliphate as "a dream that lives in the depths of every Muslim believer" and "the abandoned obligation of the era",[250][251] while ISIL stated: "The legality of all emirates, groups, states and organizations becomes null by the expansion of the khilafah's [caliphate's] authority and arrival of its troops to their areas."[248] ISIL thus rejects the political divisions established by Western powers at the end of World War I in the Sykes–Picot Agreement as it absorbs territory in Syria and Iraq.[252][253][254]

ISIL's current goal is to consolidate the territorial gains it has made, to establish an Islamic state, and to expand its caliphate throughout the Levant region.

Territorial claims

     Areas controlled  (20 October 2014)      Territories claimed  (2006)      Rest of Iraq and Syria Note: map includes uninhabited areas.

When the group announced the establishment of the Islamic State of Iraq in 2006, it claimed authority over the Iraqi governorates of Baghdad, Al Anbar, Diyala, Kirkuk, Salah al-Din, Nineveh, and parts of Babil.[29] Following the expansion of the group into Syria in 2013 and the announcement of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the number of wilayah—provinces—which it claimed increased to 16. In addition to the seven Iraqi wilayah, the Syrian divisions, largely lying along existing provincial boundaries, are Al Barakah, Al Kheir, Ar-Raqqah, Al Badiya, Halab, Idlib, Hama, Damascus, and the Coast.[255] After taking control of both sides of the border in mid-2014, ISIL created a new province incorporating Syrian territory around Albu Kamal and Iraqi territory around Qaim. This new wilayah was named al-Furat—"Euphrates" province.[256][257] In Syria, ISIL's seat of power is in the Ar-Raqqah Governorate. Top ISIL leaders, including Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, are known to have visited its provincial capital, Ar-Raqqah.[255]

A video released on 21 October 2014 featured an Australian teenager who had joined ISIL stating "We will not put down our weapons until we reach your lands ... until the black flag is flying high in every single land."[258]


The group is headed and run by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, called caliph, with a cabinet of advisers. There are two deputy leaders, Abu Muslim al-Turkmani for Iraq and Abu Ali al-Anbari for Syria, and 12 local governors in Iraq and Syria. Beneath the governors are local 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.[259]

Ar-Raqqah in Syria is the de facto capital of the Islamic State and is said to be a test case of ISIL governance.[260] 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 regime maintain their jobs after pledging allegiance to ISIL. Institutions, restored and restructured, are providing 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 program in the areas under its control in Iraq and Syria, which includes social services, religious lectures and da'wah—proselytizing—to local populations. It also performs public services such as repairing roads and maintaining the electricity supply.[261]

Exporting oil from oilfields captured by ISIL brings in tens of millions of dollars.[262][263] One US Treasury official has estimated that ISIL earns US$1 million a day from the export of oil. Much of the oil is sold illegally in Turkey.[264] Dubai-based energy analysts have put the combined oil revenue from ISIL's Iraqi-Syrian production as high as US$3 million per day.[265] ISIL also extracts wealth through taxation and extortion.[264]

British security expert Frank Gardner has concluded that ISIL's prospects of maintaining control and rule are greater in 2014 than they were in 2006. Despite being as brutal as before, ISIL has become "well entrenched" among the population and is 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.[262][266] 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.[267]

Diktats, influences and pressures

In Mosul, ISIL has implemented a sharia school curriculum which bans teaching in 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.[268][269][270][271] Iraqi parents have largely boycotted schools in which the new curriculum has been introduced.[272]

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.[273] The group also uses its two battalions of female fighters in Ar-Raqqah to enforce it's strict laws of individual conduct on women.[274] A cleric told Reuters in Mosul that ISIL gunmen had ordered him to read out the warning in his mosque when worshippers gathered. ISIL also ordered the faces of both male and female mannequins to be covered in an order that also banned the use of naked mannequins.[275] ISIL released 16 notes labeled "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.[261][276] In addition to banning the sale and use of alcohol—which is customary in Muslim culture—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”.[277]

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.[278] ISIL had already set similar rules for Christians in Ar-Raqqah, once one of Syria's more liberal cities.[279][280]

Human rights abuses

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 the ISIL on "an unimaginable scale". Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein of Jordan, who has taken over Navi Pillay's post as the 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.[281]

War crimes accusations and findings

In July 2014, the BBC reported the United Nations' chief investigator as stating: "Fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis) may be added to a list of war crimes suspects in Syria."[282]

By June 2014, according to United Nations reports, ISIL had executed hundreds of prisoners of war[134] and killed over 1,000 civilians.[135][136][137]

In August 2014, the United Nations accused ISIL of committing "mass atrocities" and war crimes,[283][284] including the mass execution of up to 250 Syrian Army soldiers near Tabqa Air base.[134] Other known executions of military prisoners took place in Camp Speicher (1,095–1,700 Iraqi soldiers shot and "thousands" more "missing")[285][286] and the Shaer gas field (200 Syrian soldiers shot).[287]

Religious and minority group persecution

ISIL compels people in the areas it controls, under the penalty of death, torture or mutilation, to declare Islamic creed, and live according to its interpretation of Sunni Islam and sharia law.[131][132] It directs violence against Shia Muslims, indigenous Assyrian, Chaldean, Syriac and Armenian Christians, Yazidis, Druze, Shabaks and Mandeans in particular.[288]

Amnesty International has found ISIL guilty of the ethnic cleansing of ethnic and religious minority groups in northern Iraq "on a historic scale". In a special report, 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 are now under ISIL's control.[289][290]

Among the known massacres of religious and minority group civilians perpetrated by ISIL, there are those committed in the villages Quiniyeh (70–90 Yazidis killed), Hardan (60 Yazidis killed), Sinjar (200–500 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)[291] and Beshir (700 Shia Turkmen killed)[292] and others committed near Mosul (670 Shia inmates of the Badush prison killed),[292] in Tal Afar prison, Iraq (200 Yazidis killed for refusing conversion)[291] and in the town of Ghraneij, Abu Haman and Kashkiyeh (700 members of the Al Sheitaat tribe in Syria killed for refusing to swear allegiance to ISIL).[293][294] 5,000 Yazidis are estimated by the UN to have been murdered.[295]

Treatment of civilians

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 one UN report of ISIL militants murdering Iraqi Army soldiers and 17 civilians in a single street in Mosul. The United Nations 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.[135][136][137] After ISIL released photographs of its fighters shooting scores of young men, the United Nations declared that cold-blooded "executions" by militants in northern Iraq almost certainly amounted to war crimes.[296]

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.[297] A hospital in the area confirmed that it had received 15 bodies on the same day.[298] 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.[299]

ISIL has recruited to its ranks Iraqi children, who can be seen with masks on their faces and guns in their hands patrolling the streets of Mosul.[300]

Sexual violence and slavery allegations

According to one report, ISIL's capture of Iraqi cities in June 2014 was accompanied by an upsurge in crimes against women, including kidnap and rape.[301][302][303] The Guardian reported that ISIL's extremist agenda extended to women's bodies and that women living under their control were being captured and raped.[304] Fighters are told that they are free to have sex and rape non-Muslim captive women.[167] Hannaa Edwar, a leading women’s rights advocate in Baghdad who runs an NGO called Iraqi Al-Amal Association (IAA),[305] said that none of her contacts in Mosul were able to confirm any cases of rape.[306] However, another Baghdad-based women's rights activist, Basma al-Khateeb, said that a culture of violence existed in Iraq against women generally and felt sure that sexual violence against women was happening in Mosul involving not only ISIL but all armed groups.[306]

During a meeting with Nouri al-Maliki, British Foreign Minister William Hague said with regard to ISIL: "Anyone glorifying, supporting or joining it should understand that they would be assisting a group responsible for kidnapping, torture, executions, rape and many other hideous crimes".[307] 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".[308]

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."[309] Yazidi girls in Iraq allegedly raped by ISIL fighters have committed suicide by jumping to their death from Mount Sinjar, as described in a witness statement.[310]

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".[138] In mid-October, the UN confirmed that 5,000–7,000 Yazidi women and children had been abducted by ISIL and sold into slavery.[311][312]

In the digital magazine Dabiq ISIL explicitly claimed religious justification for enslaving Yazidi women.[313][314][315][316][317]


The group has attracted widespread criticism internationally for its extremism, from governments, from Muslim communities, scholars and theologians, and from the United Nations and Amnesty International.

In late September 2014, 126 Islamic scholars from around the Muslim world signed an open letter to the Islamic State's leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, explicitly rejecting and refuting his group's interpretations of the Qur'an and hadith to justify its actions.[318][319] The letter rebukes the Islamic State for its execution of prisoners, describing the killings as "heinous war crimes" and its persecution of the Yazidis of Iraq as "abominable". 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.[320] Referring to "the self-declared 'Islamic State'", the scholars say that its "sacrifice" without legitimate cause, goals and intention "is not jihad at all, but rather, warmongering and criminality".[321] Other scholars describe the group as Khawarij.[23]

The group's declaration of a caliphate has been criticized and its legitimacy disputed by Middle Eastern governments, other jihadist groups,[322] 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.[323]

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 lead 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".[324][325] 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.[324]

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.[326] One parody, by a Palestinian TV satire show, portrays the Islamic State as "buffoon-like hypocrites" and has had more than half a million views.[326][327]

Criticism of the name "Islamic State"

No nation recognizes[citation needed] the group by the name "Islamic State", owing to the far-reaching political and religious authority which that name implies. The United Nations Security Council,[328] the United States,[329][330] Canada,[331] Turkey,[332] Australia,[333] Russia,[334] United Kingdom[335] and other powers generally call the group "ISIL", while much of the Arab world and France use the Arabic acronym "Dāʻish".[336]

When addressing the United Nations Security Council in September 2014, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott summarized these widespread objections 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".[337] 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.[338]

As of mid-September 2014,[citation needed] prominent English-language news agencies, such as Reuters and the Associated Press, and media groups, including the BBC, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, began to adopt the name "Islamic State", which is the name predominantly used.[339][340]

Propaganda and social media

The logo of al-Hayat Media Center

ISIL is known for its effective use of propaganda.[341] Its creation of a flag and coat of arms that have symbolic meaning for the Muslim world was clearly done with care.[342]

In November 2006, shortly after the group's rebranding as the "Islamic State of Iraq", the group established the al-Furqan Institute for Media Production, which produces CDs, DVDs, posters, pamphlets, and web-related propaganda products.[343] ISIL's main media outlet is the I'tisaam Media Foundation,[344] which was formed in March 2013 and distributes through the Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF).[345] In 2014, ISIL established the al-Hayat Media Center, which targets a Western audience and produces material in English, German, Russian and French.[346][347] In the same year it launched the Ajnad Media Foundation, which releases jihadist audio chants.[348]

In July 2014, ISIL 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.[349] Harleen K. Gambhir of the Institute for the Study of War considered that while al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's magazine Inspire focuses on encouraging its readers to carry out lone-wolf attacks on the West, Dabiq is more concerned with establishing the religious legitimacy of ISIL and its self-proclaimed caliphate, and encouraging Muslims to emigrate there.[350]

ISIL's use of social media has been described by one expert as "probably more sophisticated than [that of] most US companies".[351][352] It regularly takes advantage of social media, particularly Twitter, to distribute its message by organizing hashtag campaigns, encouraging Tweets on popular hashtags, and utilizing software applications that enable ISIL propaganda to be distributed to its supporters' accounts.[353] Another comment is that "ISIS puts more emphasis on social media than other jihadi groups. ... They have a very coordinated social media presence."[354] In August 2014, Twitter administrators shut down a number of accounts associated with ISIL. ISIL recreated and publicized new accounts the next day, which were also shut down by Twitter administrators.[355] 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.[356]

On 19 August 2014, a propaganda video showing the beheading of US photojournalist James Foley was posted on the Internet. ISIL claimed that the killing had been carried out in revenge for the US bombing of ISIL targets. The video promised that a second captured US journalist Steven Sotloff would be killed next if the airstrikes continued.[357] On 2 September 2014, ISIL released a video purportedly showing their beheading of Sotloff.[358] In the video the executioner says, "I'm back, Obama, and I'm back because of your arrogant foreign policy towards the Islamic State, because of your insistence on continuing your bombings and on Mosul Dam, despite our serious warnings. So just as your missiles continue to strike our people, our knife will continue to strike the necks of your people." [359] The next scene shows the same executioner holding the orange jumpsuit of another prisoner and saying, "We take this opportunity to warn those governments that enter this evil alliance of America against the Islamic State to back off and leave our people alone."[359][360] On 13 September 2014, ISIL released a similar video purportedly showing the beheading of David Cawthorne Haines, a British aid worker whom they had been holding hostage.[361]

In a switch from its former practices, ISIL's media arm imposed a social media blackout on 27 September 2014, fearing that tweets and posts would give away military positions.[362] 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 its most recent "Cantlie presentation", various current and former US officials were quoted, such as US President Barack Obama and former CIA station chief Michael Scheuer.[363]


A study of 200 documents—personal letters, expense reports and membership rosters—captured from Al-Qaeda in Iraq and the Islamic State of Iraq was carried out by the RAND Corporation in 2014.[364] It found that from 2005 until 2010, outside donations amounted to only 5% of the group’s operating budgets, with the rest being raised within Iraq.[364] 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 that were in difficulties or needed money to conduct attacks.[364] The records show that the Islamic State of Iraq was dependent on members from Mosul for cash, which the leadership used to provide additional funds to struggling militants in Diyala, Salahuddin and Baghdad.[364]

In mid-2014, Iraqi intelligence extracted information from an ISIL operative which revealed that the organization had assets worth US$2 billion,[365] making it the richest jihadist group in the world.[366] 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.[367][368] However, doubt was later cast on whether ISIL was able to retrieve anywhere near that sum from the central bank,[369] and even on whether the bank robberies had actually occurred.[370]

Pictures show damage to the Gbiebe oil refinery in Syria following air strikes by US and coalition forces.

ISIL has routinely practised 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.[156] The group is widely reported as receiving funding from private donors in the Gulf states,[371][372] and both Iran and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have accused Saudi Arabia and Qatar of funding ISIL,[373][374][375][376] although there is reportedly no evidence that this is the case.[120][376][377][378] This is while John McCain praised Bandar bin Sultan, for supporting forces fighting Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. “Thank God for the Saudis and Prince Bandar,” John McCain said to CNN’s Candy Crowley. According to Steve Clemons in The Atlantic, ISIS, in fact, may have been a major part of Bandar’s covert-ops strategy in Syria.[379]

However, in October 2014, The Daily Telegraph reported that new documents released by the US Treasury disclose that 49-year-old Qatari Central Bank employee Khalifa Muhammad Turki al-Subaiy, known for his role in funding Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks, and for bankrolling an al-Qaeda offshoot which plotted to blow up airliners using toothpaste tube bombs, is once again raising money for ISIL. The Qatari authorities jailed al-Subaiy for terrorist offences in 2008, but freed him after only six months. A new report to be published next month by a US security think tank is understood to have identified 20 Qataris as senior terrorist financiers and facilitators. Ten of those Qataris are already designated as terrorists on official US and UN blacklists.[380]

The group is also believed to receive considerable funds from its operations in Eastern Syria, where it has commandeered oilfields and engages in smuggling out raw materials and archaeological artifacts.[381][382] ISIL also generates revenue from producing crude oil from captured oilfields and selling electric power from captured power plants in northern Syria. Some of this electricity is reportedly sold back to the Syrian government.[383] ISIL also generates revenue from producing crude oil and selling electric power in northern Syria. Some of this electricity is reportedly sold back to the Syrian government.[383] ISIL has been selling smuggled Syrian oil in Turkey.[384]

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.[351][385]

Military and arms

Main article: Military wing of ISIL

The most common weapons used against US and other coalition forces during the Iraq insurgency were those taken from Saddam Hussein's weapon stockpiles around the country, these included AKM variant assault rifles, PK machine guns and RPG-7s.[386] ISIL has been able to strengthen its military capability by capturing large quantities and varieties of weaponry during the Syrian Civil War and Post-US Iraqi insurgency. These weapons seizures have improved the group's capacity to carry out successful subsequent operations and obtain more equipment.[387] Weaponry that ISIL has reportedly captured and employed include SA-7[388] and Stinger[389] surface-to-air missiles, M79 Osa, HJ-8[390] and AT-4 Spigot[388] anti-tank weapons, Type 59 field guns[390] and M198 howitzers,[391] Humvees, T-54/55, T-72, and M1 Abrams[392] main battle tanks,[390] M1117 armoured cars,[393] truck-mounted DShK guns,[388] ZU-23-2 anti-aircraft guns,[394][395] BM-21 Grad multiple rocket launchers[387] and at least one Scud missile.[396]

When ISIL captured Mosul Airport in June 2014, it seized a number of UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters and cargo planes that were stationed there.[397][398] According to Peter Beaumont of The Guardian, it seemed unlikely that ISIL would be able to deploy them.[399] However, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported in October 2014 that former Iraqi pilots were training IS militants to fly captured Syrian jets. Witnesses reported that MiG-21 and MiG-23 jets were flying over al-Jarrah military airport, but the US Central Command said it was not aware of flights by Islamic State-operated aircraft in Syria or elsewhere.[400] Two of the jets were destroyed during landing by Syrian Air Force aircraft on October 21.[401]

ISIL captured nuclear materials from Mosul University in July 2014. In a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Iraq's UN Ambassador Mohamed Ali Alhakim said that the materials had been kept at the university and "can be used in manufacturing weapons of mass destruction". Nuclear experts regarded the threat as insignificant. International Atomic Energy Agency spokeswoman Gill Tudor said that the seized materials were "low grade and would not present a significant safety, security or nuclear proliferation risk".[402][403]

Timeline of events

Some of the most recent events in the timeline are shown below:

September 2014

  • 1 September: The Iraqi Army recaptured the town of Suleiman Bek and killed 23 Chechen ISIL militants.[404][405] The German government's Cabinet decision to arm the Kurdish Peshmerga was ratified in the Bundestag by a "vast majority" of votes, after an emotional debate.[406] The Yazidi villages of Kotan, Hareko and Kharag Shafrsky were set on fire by ISIL.[407]
  • 2 September: ISIL released a video showing the beheading of American journalist Steven Sotloff.[408][409] Kurdish Peshmerga recaptured from ISIL the town of Zumar. A hundred of relatives of the cadets and soldiers massacred at Camp Speicher in June broke into the Iraqi Parliament to ask for explanations.[410]
  • 4 September: A member of ISIL issued a threat to President Vladimir Putin, vowing to oust him over his support of Bashar al-Assad's regime.[411][412] A ISIL self-appointed court sentenced to death and executed 14 men.[407] Sheik Maisar Farman el-Waka, a candidate of the April general election was publicly executed by ISIL in al-Houd village along with his two brothers.[407] Another candidate of the parliamentary elections, Zaina Nouri Mullah Abdallah el-Ansi, was murdered in Mosul.[413]
  • 5 September: The German Bundeswehr dispatched the first of a series of cargo planes to Iraq, loaded with helmets, vests, radios, and infrared night-vision rifle scopes. After a stopover in Baghdad for inspection, the aircraft will deliver the equipment to the Kurdish fighters.[414] Qassem Soleimani, Commander of the elite Iranian Revolutionary Guard Quds Force, has been to the Iraqi city of Amirli, to work with the United States in pushing back ISIL.[415][416][417]
  • 7 September: the governor of Anbar province, Ahmad Khalaf al-Dulaimi, was seriously wounded by mortar fire in the newly retaken town of Barwana.[418][419][420] ISIL executed 40 people in Mosul after trial by a self-appointed court.[407]
  • 8 September: ISIL carried out a double suicide attack in a town north of Baghdad, killing nine people and wounding 70 others.[421] An ISIL attack against the town of Duloeliyah killed at least 20 civilians and wounded 120 more.[407] Nouri Al-Maliki was succeeded by Haider Al-Abadi as Prime Minister of Iraq.
  • 9 September: Peshmerga fighters discovered a mass grave containing the bodies of 14 executed civilians, presumably Yazidis.[407] Another Imam was executed in Mosul for refusing to declare his fealty to ISIL.[407]
  • 10 September: After ISIL outraged American opinion by beheading two American journalists and seized control of large portions of Syria and Iraq, President Obama decided on a new objective for a rollback policy in the Middle East. He announced: "America will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat. We will ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy."[422]
  • 13 September: UK humanitarian aid worker David Cawthorne Haines, whose life had been threatened by Jihadi John in the Steven Sotloff video, was purportedly beheaded in a video.[423]
  • 14 September: A number of Algerian commanders of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb broke allegiance with al-Qaeda, swore loyalty to ISIL and created the group Jund al-Khilafah.
  • 15 September: The Battle of Suq al Ghazi ended with a US–Iraqi win.[424]
  • 17 September: ISIL launched a major offensive to capture the YPG-controlled city of Kobanê/Ayn al-Arab.[425][426]
  • 18 September: The Australian Federal Police, Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, Queensland Police and New South Wales Police launched the largest counterterrorism operation in Australian history. The targets were ISIL-linked networks thought to be planning to launch mass-casualty attacks in populated areas. Fifteen people were arrested in the raids with one being charged with terrorism offenses.[427][428]
  • 20 September: The hostages from the Turkish consulate in Mosul who had been captured on 11 June 2014 were released.[429]
  • 21 September: ISIL forces overran the Iraqi military base of Saqlawiyah and captured the towns of Saqlawiyah and Sicher;[430] 155–370 or more Iraqi soldiers were killed in the attack, with 68– 400 being captured.[431]
  • 21 September: Official spokesman Abu Mohammad al-Adnani released a speech encouraging Muslims around the world to kill non-Muslims.[432][433][434]
  • 23 September: Aerial operations began over Syria. Cruise missiles and precision-guided bombs struck ISIL targets in Syria,[435] and military aircraft from Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates participated in the airstrikes against ISIL.[436] The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimated that about 400 ISIL fighters died in the airstrikes.[437]
  • 24 September: Jund al-Khilafah, an Algerian group affiliated to ISIL, beheaded French tourist Hervé Goudel, who had been kidnapped on 21 September, as a reprisal for French intervention against ISIL.[438]
  • 25 September: Two weeks after her abduction, Iraqi human rights activist Samira Salih al-Nuaimi was publicly executed by ISIL.[439]
  • 29 September: ISIL released a third video showing journalist John Cantlie. As in previous videos, Cantlie appears alone, wearing an orange prison uniform. The scripted video criticizes US president Barack Obama’s strategy of using airstrikes to defeat ISIL.[440]
  • According to the UN, more than 1,100 people died from "acts of violence" in Iraq during September.[441]

October 2014

  • 1 October: The town of Taza Kharmatho was retaken by Peshmerga and Iraqi Army forces, but remained uninhabitable due to the booby traps that had been left by the Islamic State.[442]
  • 2 October: The Turkish Parliament voted 298:98 to authorize anti-ISIL operations, following concerns over ISIL advances close to Turkey's borders. Turkey will allow foreign anti-ISIL military operations to be launched from within its borders and gave authorization for Turkey's military to be sent into Syria.[443]
  • 3 October: Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced that Australia would contribute eight F/A-18F Super Hornets to aid the war effort against Islamic extremists in Iraq. The aircraft join a KC-30A Tanker and an E-7A Wedgetail AEW&C aircraft already deployed.[444]
  • 3 October: ISIL released a video showing the beheading of British aid worker Alan Henning and threatened American aid worker Peter Kassig.[445]
  • 4 October: ISIL captured the Iraqi city of Kabisa.[446] Two bombs killed seven people and wounded 18 in the towns of Tarmiyah and Husseiniya.[446] An Iraqi officer and seven soldiers were killed in two ambushes in Diyala province in Iraq.[446]
  • 5 October: A joint ISIL–al-Nusra invasion of Lebanon was beaten back by Hezbollah.[447]
  • 7 October: The House of Commons of the Parliament of Canada voted 157:134 to authorize the Royal Canadian Air Force to conduct airstrikes against ISIL in Iraq.[448]
  • 8 October: Terrorists claiming to be "Islamic State in Gaza" took responsibility for an explosion and fire in the French Cultural Center in Gaza City.[449][450] However, hours later, a group by the same name denied responsibility for the blast.[450] The blast did not result in casualties. The incident was downplayed by Hamas as likely being a generator malfunction.[451]
  • 10 October: Spanish Defence Minister Pedro Morenés announces that Spain will send 300 troops to Iraq in non-combat roles.[452]
  • 11 October: Car bombings killed at least 38 people in Baghdad.[453]
  • 12 October: Two improvised explosive devices killed General Ahmad Sadak al Dulaymi, chief of police of the Al Anbar province, and three others.[454]
  • 13 October: US airplanes launched 21 strikes against ISIL forces, near the besieged town of Kobane in northern Syria, on the border with Turkey.[455]
  • 14 October: ISIL forces captured the Iraqi city of Hīt, after the 300-strong Iraqi Army garrison abandoned its local base, and about 180,000 civilians fled the area.[456][457] Taliban leaders in Pakistan swore loyalty to ISIL, after fundamentalists in Egypt and Libya had done the same several days earlier.[458] A suicide car bombing killed 25 people in Baghdad, including Iraqi Parliament member and deputy leader of the Badr Organization Ahmed al-Khafaji; three others were killed by a roadside bomb.[459] Reports spread about the formation of small Syrian armed groups which target and kill ISIL members in ISIL-controlled territory.[460]
  • Between 7 and 14 October, 42 people were killed in Turkey in clashes between Kurdish fighters and ISIL supporters, 12 of them in Diyarbakir.[461]
  • 15 October: The US anti-ISIL operation was named "Operation Inherent Resolve".[462] The US launched 18 airstrikes against ISIL forces in Kobane.[463] Forty-six people were executed by ISIL in Mosul.[464]
  • 16 October: By this date, ISIL had been driven out of most of Kobane, except for two pockets of resistance in the east of the town.[465] Four car bombings killed 36 people and wounded 98 in Baghdad[466] Italian Defence Minister Roberto Pinotti announced that Italy would send 280 soldiers to train Kurdish fighters, along with two Predator drones and a KC-767 refuelling plane.[467]
  • 17 October: Iraqi Army troops and police stormed an ISIL camp in Jaberiya, killing 60 ISIL militants; other senior ISIL figures were killed in another attack near Ramadi[468] Residents of Aleppo area reported that three MiG-21 or MiG-23 fighters were being flown by ISIL militants who were undergoing training by former Iraqi Ba'ath officers at Al Jarrah air base.[469] Yemen leaders of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula urged all jihadists to "forget their differences" and join ISIL in the fight against Western "crusaders".[470][471]
  • 17–18 October: The US launched 25 airstrikes against ISIL in Syria and Iraq.[472]
  • 18 October: Car bombings killed 30 people in Baghdad.[473][474]
  • 19 October: A suicide bomber killed 19 people and wounded 28 others outside a Shia mosque in Baghdad.[475][476]
  • 20 October: Airstrikes killed 60 ISIL militants in Anbar province.[477] Suicide bombers and car bombings killed 43 people and wounded 85 others in Baghdad and Karbala.[478][479] After preventing Kurdish reinforcements from reaching Kobane for a number weeks, Turkey finally agreed to let Peshmerga reinforcements pass through Turkish territory to reach Kobane. The US Air Force started dropping weapons and supplies to the Kurds keeping up resistance in the town.[480] ISIL members wounded and tried to kidnap leader of the rebel group Liwa Thuwwar al-Raqqa Abu Nissa in the Turkish town of Urfa[6][481] The remaining 2,000 Yazidis in the Sinjar area—mainly volunteer fighters but also hundreds of civilians—were forced by ISIL to abandon Dhoula and Bork, the last villages in their control, and retreat to the Sinjar mountains.[482]
  • 21 October: A series of bombings killed at least 30 people and wounded 57 others in Baghdad, while mortar shells fell inside the Green Zone.[483] A suicide attack killed 15 Peshmerga fighters and wounded 20 near Mosul Dam.[484] According to the SOHR, 40 fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra, including an emir who had retired from fighting in al-Nusra, joined the Islamic State.[485] It was also reported that the US had accidentally airdropped weapons to the Islamic State.[486][487]
  • 22 October: Car bombings killed 37 people and wounded 66 in Baghdad.[488] Syrian Air Force destroyed two fighter jets previously captured by Islamic State in Jarrah air base.[489]
  • 23 October:Islamic State Recaptures Hill Near Kobani.[490]

See also


  1. ^ The group is widely known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), alternately called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham[12] (referring to Greater Syria; Arabic: الدولة الاسلامية في العراق والشامad-Dawlah al-Islāmīyah fīl-ʻIrāq wa ash-Shām). The group is also known by the Arabic acronym DAʿESH (Arabic: داعشDāʻish).
  2. ^ See Anbar Awakening
  3. ^ "Accordingly, the "Iraq and Shām" in the name of the Islamic State is henceforth removed from all official deliberations and communications, and the official name is the Islamic State from the date of this declaration."[43]
  4. ^ According to classical Islamic sources, Ḥilf al-Muṭayyabīn was an oath of allegiance taken in pre-Islamic times by several clans of the Quraysh tribe, in which they undertook to protect the oppressed and the wronged. The name "oath of the scented ones" apparently derives from the fact that the participants sealed the oath by dipping their hands in perfume and then rubbing them over the Kaʻbah. This practice was later adopted by the Islamic prophet Muhammad and incorporated into Islam.[54]
  5. ^ During this ceremony, the participants declared: "We swear by Allah...that we will strive to free the prisoners of their shackles, to end the oppression to which the Sunnis are being subjected by the malicious Shi'ites and by the occupying Crusaders, to assist the oppressed and restore their 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..."[54]


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External links