Territory of the Islamic State

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Islamic State

الدولة الإسلامية
ad-Dawlah al-Islāmiyah
Seal of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
Motto: لا إله إلا الله، محمد رسول الله
"Lā ʾilāha ʾillā llāh, Muhammadun rasūlu llāh"
"There is no god but Allah; Muhammad is the messenger of Allah"[1]
دولة الإسلام باقية وتتمدد
Dawlat al Islam Baqiyah wa Tatamaddad
"The Islamic State remains and expands"[1]
خلافة على منهاج النبوة
Khilafah ala Minhaj an-Nubuwwah
"Caliphate Upon the Prophetic Methodology"[2][3]
Maximum extent of ISIL's territorial control in Syria and Iraq on 21 May 2015.[5]
Maximum extent of ISIL's territorial control in Syria and Iraq on 21 May 2015.[5]
StatusUnrecognized proto-state
Designated as a terrorist organization
CapitalRaqqa (2013–2017)[1]
Mayadin (2017)[6]
Hajin (2017–18)[7]
Official languagesArabic
Sunni Islam
GovernmentUnitary Islamic theocratic totalitarian caliphate
• Self-proclaimed caliph
Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi
• Head of the Shura Council
Abu Arkan al-Ameri
War on Terror
• Established under the name of Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad
• Joined al-Qaeda
October 2004
• Declaration of an Islamic State in Iraq
13 October 2006
• Claim of territory in the Levant
8 April 2013
• Separated from al-Qaeda
3 February 2014
• Declaration of caliphate
29 June 2014
10 July 2017
19 March 2019
27 October 2019
Time zoneUTC+2 and +3 (EET and AST)
• Summer (DST)
Driving sideright
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Syrian Arab Republic
Syrian Arab Republic
Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria
Northern Syria Security Belt

The core of the territory of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant was in Iraq (until 2017) and Syria (until 2019) where the proto-state controlled significant swathes of urban, rural, and desert territory.[9] The Islamic State also controls territory in Afghanistan as well as Nigeria, possibly holds areas in Somalia,[10] Mozambique,[11] and the Democratic Republic of the Congo,[12] and used to control land in Libya, the Philippines,[13] Egypt,[14] and Yemen. The group also has insurgent cells in India, Algeria, Iraq, Tunisia, the Caucasus, and Saudi Arabia that do not control territory.[9][15] By late March 2019, ISIL territory in Syria was reduced to only the besieged 4,000 km2 (1,550 sq mi) Syrian Desert pocket.[16] The enclave was surrounded by Syrian government forces and its allies.[17][18][16] The Syrian military conducted combing operations and airstrikes against the pocket, but with limited success.[19][20]

In early 2017, ISIL controlled approximately 45,377 square kilometers (17,520 square miles) of territory in Iraq and Syria and 7,323 km2 of territory elsewhere, for a total of 52,700 square kilometres (20,300 sq mi).[9] This represents a substantial decline from the group's territorial peak in late 2014, when it controlled between 100,000 square kilometres (39,000 sq mi)[9] and 110,000 square kilometres (42,000 sq mi)[21] of territory in total.[9][22] ISIL's territory has declined substantially in almost every country since 2014, a result of the group's unpopularity and the military action taken against it.[9] ISIL propaganda claims a peak territorial extent of 282,485 km2.[23]

The majority of ISIL-controlled territory, though much-diminished, continues to be in the desert in eastern Syria, in addition to isolated pockets elsewhere in the country.[9] The majority of the Caliphate's territory, population, revenue, and prestige came from the territory it once held in Iraq and Syria.[9] In Afghanistan, ISIL mostly controls territory near the Pakistan border and has lost 87% of its territory since spring 2015.[9] In Libya, the group operates mostly as a moving insurgent force, occupying places before abandoning them again.[24] In Egypt, the group controls 910 km2 of land centered around the village of Sheikh Zuweid, which represents less than 1% of Egypt's territory.[9] In Nigeria, Boko Haram (at the time an ISIL affiliate) controlled 6,041 km2 of territory at its maximum extent in 2014, though most of this area was lost amid military reversals and a split within Boko Haram between pro- and anti-ISIL factions.[9] By late 2019, however, ISIL's African forces had once again seized large areas in Nigeria.[25]


The fifth edition of the Islamic State's Dabiq magazine explained the group's process for establishing new provinces. Jihadist groups in a given area must consolidate into a unified body and publicly declare their allegiance to the caliph. The group must nominate a Wāli (Governor), a Shura Council (religious leadership), and formulate a military strategy to consolidate territorial control and implement ISIL's version of Sharia law. Once formally accepted, ISIL considers the group to be one of its provinces and gives it support.[26] Dabiq has acknowledged support in regions including East Turkestan (Xinjiang), Indonesia and the Philippines, and claimed that ISIL would eventually establish wilayat in these areas after forming direct relationships with its supporters there.[26]


ISIL spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani said "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."[27] ISIL thus rejects the political divisions established by Western powers during World War I in the Sykes–Picot Agreement as it absorbs territory in Syria and Iraq.[28][29][30] The Long War Journal writes that the logical implication is that the group will consider preexisting militant groups like Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) illegitimate if they do not nullify themselves and submit to ISIL's authority.[31]

While branches in Libya and Egypt have been very active and attempted to exercise territorial control, branches in other countries like Algeria and Saudi Arabia have been less active and do not seem to have a strong presence.[32][33]

Since June 2015, there have been no further provinces officially announced by ISIL. This is despite the group receiving public pledges of allegiance from militants in countries like Somalia, Bangladesh and the Philippines, and subsequently releasing statements and videos from those regions through its official media channels.[34][35][36] Analyst Charlie Winter speculates that this is due to the lackluster performance of many of ISIL's existing provinces, and that ISIL's leadership seems to be identifying new affiliates as simply "soldiers of the caliphate".[37]

Loss of "caliphate" territory led ISIL to conduct more terrorist attacks abroad.[38]

Specific territorial claims[edit]

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is an active extremist Islamist rebel group and self-declared Caliphate in the Middle East that claims to be a sovereign state, and as such has made announcements of territorial control and aspirations of control. No other nation recognizes ISIL as a state. Its goal is the foundation of an Islamic state and a worldwide caliphate, in accordance with Salafi Islam, by the means of military jihad.

ISIL primarily claimed territory in Syria and Iraq, subdividing each country into multiple wilayah (provinces), largely based on preexisting governance boundaries.[39][40] The first territorial claims by the group outside of Syria and Iraq were announced by its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, on 13 November 2014, when he announced new wilayats, or provinces, in Libya (Wilayah Barqah, Wilayah Tarabulus, and Wilayah Fizan), Algeria (Wilayah al-Jazair), Egypt (Wilayah Sinai), Yemen (Wilayah al-Yaman), and Saudi Arabia (Wilayah al-Haramayn).[41][42] In 2015, new provinces were also announced in the AfghanistanPakistan border (Wilayah Khorasan),[32] Northern Nigeria (Wilayah Gharb Afrīqiyyah),[43] and the North Caucasus (Wilayah al-Qawqaz).[44]

Iraq and Syria[edit]

ISIL's territory, in grey, at the time of its greatest territorial extent in May 2015

When the Iraq-based insurgent group Mujahideen Shura Council announced it was establishing an Islamic State of Iraq in October 2006, it claimed authority over seven Iraqi provinces: Baghdad, Al Anbar, Diyala, Kirkuk, Saladin, Nineveh, and parts of Babil.[45]

When the group changed its name to Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and expanded into Syria in April 2013, it claimed nine Syrian provinces, covering most of the country and lying largely along existing provincial boundaries: Al Barakah (al-Hasakah Governorate), Al Khayr (Deir ez-Zor Governorate), Raqqa, Homs, Halab, Idlib, Hamah, Damascus, and Latakia.[46] It later subdivided the territory under its control to create the new provinces of al-Furat,[40][47][48] Fallujah, Dijla, and al-Jazeera.[49][50] On December 9, 2017 Iraqi military forces announced the war against ISIL in Iraq had been won and that they no longer controlled territory in Iraq. In June 2017 IS affiliate Khalid ibn al-Walid Army Started referring to themselves as "Wilayat Horan", one month later IS media started referring to all its claims in Syria as "Wilayat al-Sham".[51]

Since mid-2018 ISIL has referred to its territory in the Levant simply as Wilayat al-Sham and has done the same with Iraq calling it Wilayat al-Iraq, but still continues to acknowledge and use references to specific regions in those territories, this has also been done with its claims in Libya.[52]


Military situation in Libya in early 2016:
Location dot grey.svg Ansar al-Sharia Location dot black.svg Islamic State

ISIL divides Libya into three historical provinces, claiming authority over Cyrenaica in the east, Fezzan in the desert south, and Tripolitania in the west, around the capital.[53][54]

In 2014, a number of leading ISIL commanders arrived in the city of Derna, which had been a major source of fighters in the Syrian Civil War and Iraq Insurgency. Over a number of months, they united many local militant factions under their leadership and declared war on anyone who opposed them, killing judges, civic leaders, local militants who rejected their authority, and other opponents. On 5 October 2014, the militants, who by then controlled part of the city, gathered to pledge allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.[55][56] In February 2015, ISIL forces took over parts of the Libyan city of Sirte. In the following months, they used it as a base to capture neighbouring towns including Harawa,[57] and Nofaliya.[58] ISIL began governing Sirte and treating it as the capital of their territory.[59][60]

ISIL suffered reversals from mid-2015 when they were expelled from much of Derna following clashes with rival militants,[61] following months of intermittent fighting, ISIL eventually redeployed to other parts of Libya.[62] Its leader Abu Nabil al Anbari was killed in a U.S. air strike in November 2015.[63] Libya's Interim Government launched a major offensive against ISIL territory around Sirte in May 2016,[64][65] capturing the city by December 2016.[66]

Egypt (Sinai)[edit]

Sinai province logo

The Egyptian militant group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis swore allegiance to ISIL in November 2014. After al-Baghdadi's speech on 13 November, the group changed its name to Sinai Province on the Twitter feed claiming to represent the group.[42] The group has carried out attacks in Sinai.

Saudi Arabia[edit]

Al-Baghdadi announced a Wilayah in Saudi Arabia in November 2014, calling for the overthrow of the Saudi Royal Family and criticizing the Kingdom's participation in the US-led coalition against ISIL.[42] The group has carried out attacks in the country under the names of Najd Province and Hejaz Province.[67]


ISIL established a Yemeni Wilayah in November 2014.[41][32] The branch's first attack occurred in March 2015, when it carried out suicide bombings on two Shia Mosques in the Yemeni capital.[68] At least seven ISIL Wilayat, named after existing provincial boundaries in Yemen, have claimed responsibility for attacks, including Hadhramaut Province, Shabwah Province and Sana'a Province.[43] Following the outbreak of the Yemeni Civil War in 2015, ISIL struggled to establish much of a presence in the country in the face of competition from the larger and more established Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) militant group. Many of ISIL's regional cells in Yemen have not been visibly active since their establishment and the group has not been able to seize control of territory the way they have done in Iraq and Syria.[69] The group has also experienced leadership turmoil and defections from its rank and file.[70]


Members of a militant group named Jund al-Khilafah swore allegiance to ISIL in September 2014.[71] ISIL in Algeria gained notoriety when it beheaded French tourist Hervé Gourdel in September 2014.[32] On 13 November 2014, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced that the group had changed its name to "Wilayah al-Jazair" in accordance to the structure of the rest of groups aligned with ISIL.[41][42] Algerian security forces killed the group's leader, Khalid Abu-Sulayman, in December 2014, and five of its six commanders in a May 2015 raid. Since then, the group has not claimed any significant attacks and has largely been silent.[72]


On 29 January 2015, Hafiz Saeed Khan, Abdul Rauf and other militants in the region swore an oath of allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Khan was subsequently named as the Wāli (Governor) of a new branch in Afghanistan and Pakistan called Khorasan Province, named after the historical Khorasan region.[73][74][75]

ISIL attempted to establish themselves in Southern Afghanistan, especially in Kandahar and Helmand provinces, but were resisted by Taliban forces.[76][77][78] They were able to establish a foothold in parts of Nangarhar, and recruited disaffected members of the Taliban.[79] In August 2015, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan leader, Usman Ghazi, swore allegiance to ISIL and announced that the group should be considered part of Wilayah Khorasan.[80]

The group suffered reversals in 2016, losing control of some territory in the wake of attacks from US Forces, the Afghan Government[81] and the Taliban.[82] Hafiz Saeed Khan was reportedly killed in a US drone strike in eastern Afghanistan on 25 July 2016.[83]


On 7 March 2015, Boko Haram's leader Abubakar Shekau pledged allegiance to ISIL via an audio message posted on the organisation's Twitter account.[84][85] Abu Mohammad al-Adnani welcomed the pledge of allegiance, and described it as an expansion of the group's caliphate to West Africa.[86] ISIL publications from late March 2015 began referring to members of Boko Haram as part of Wilayat Gharb Afriqiya (West Africa Province).[43] Boko Haram suffered significant reversals in the year following the pledge of allegiance, with an offensive by the Nigerian military, assisted by neighboring powers, driving them from much of the territory they had seized in North East Nigeria.[87] Boko Haram suffered a split in 2016, with ISIL appointing 'Abu Musab al-Barnawi' as the group's new leader, due to disagreements with Abubakar Shekau's leadership. This was rejected by Shekau and his supporters, who continued to operate independently.[88][89]

North Caucasus[edit]

ISIL militants in Syria issued a threat to Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2014: "we will liberate Chechnya and the entire Caucasus, God willing. Your throne has already teetered, it is under threat and will fall when we come to you because Allah is truly on our side."[90] In early 2015, commanders of the militant Caucasus Emirate group in Chechnya and Dagestan announced their defection and pledge of allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.[91][92] In a June 2015 audio statement posted online, ISIL spokesman Abu Mohammad al-Adnani accepted the pledges of allegiance and appointed Abu Muhammad al-Qadari (Rustam Asildarov) as ISIL Governor of a new Caucasus Province. He called on other militants in the region to join with and follow al-Qadari.[44][93] The group has carried out occasional, low-level attacks since then.[94] Russian security services killed Rustam Asildarov in December 2016.[95]


In February 2014, the Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem declared its support for ISIL.[96] On 2 April 2015, elements of this group, along with members of the Army of Islam and the Gaza faction of Ansar Bait al-Maqdis,[97][98] formed the Sheikh Omar Hadid Brigade, also known as Islamic State in Gaza,[99] as it predominantly operates in the Gaza Strip.


The Islamic State in Somalia (ISS) is active since 2015, and though it remains a small militia of around 300 fighters, it has been considered possible by experts that ISS controls a number of villages in Puntland's hinterland.[10] Furthermore, the group managed to capture and hold the town of Qandala for over a month in late 2016. Despite this, ISS has not been acknowledged as an official province by the ISIL central leadership.[100]


A building in Marawi set ablaze after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the Philippine Air Force to conduct airstrikes against the ISIL insurgents in the city during the Battle of Marawi

Abu Sayyaf is ISIL's most powerful affiliate in the Philippines; another ISIL-affiliated group is the Maute group. Both groups worked together with other ISIL affiliates to seize parts of Marawi City on 23 May 2017, starting the Battle of Marawi.

On 16 October, ISIL's Emir of Southeast Asia Isnilon Hapilon, along with the Maute group's remaining leader Omar Maute was killed by the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Previously, the Maute group's co-leader and Omar's brother Abdullah Maute, as well as their other five male siblings, have been neutralized by the ongoing counter-offensives. Two days after the leaders' death, the Armed Forces of the Philippines said Malaysian terrorist and senior commander Mahmud Ahmad is also presumed killed in another operation.

The Battle of Marawi was declared over by 23 October by the government, at which point all participating militants have been successfully neutralized, effectively blocking ISIL's Asian expansion. The government wiped out the Maute group after the battle.

In December 2017, remnants of the Maute group started recruiting new members to form a new group called "Turaifie Group" whose leader, Abu Turaifie, claimed himself to be a successor of former leader Abu Sayyaf Isnilon Hapilon.[101]

Democratic Republic of the Congo[edit]

In October 2017, a video emerged on pro-ISIL channels that showed a small number of militants in the Democratic Republic of the Congo who declared to be part of the "City of Monotheism and Monotheists" (MTM) group. The leader of the group went on to say that "this is Dar al-Islam of the Islamic State in Central Africa" and called upon other like-minded individuals to travel to MTM territory in order to join the war against the government. The Long War Journal noted that though this pro-ISIL group in Congo appeared to be very small, its emergence had gained a notable amount of attention from ISIL sympathizers.[12] On 24 July 2019, a video was released referring to ISIL's presence in the country as the Central African Wilayat showing fighters pledging allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.[102]


After taking control of the Mozambican town of Mocímboa da Praia during an offensive in August 2020, local ISIL insurgents declared it the capital of their province. The militants consequently expanded further by capturing several islands in the Indian Ocean, with Vamizi Island being the most prominent.[11]

Bangladesh and India[edit]

ISIL has declared Wilayat al-Hind on 11 May 2019 upon clashes in Kashmir.[103] On 30 April, it appointed its emir in Bangladesh.[104]


On 2 July 2019, as part of a series of videos showing supporters and fighters of ISIL around the world renewing their pledge of allegiance to ISIL's leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a video was published from Azerbaijan featuring three fighters armed with Kalashnikov style rifles pledging their allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The video was formally released by ISIL declaring it the Azerbaijan Wilayat.[105]


Wilayat Turkey was formally declared in July 2019 when a video was published by ISIL featuring Turkish jihadists giving their bay'ah to the group's leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Reference was also made to the Wilayat prior to its formal introduction, in April 2019 in a video featuring the group's leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in his second ever video appearance, and first appearance in five years, he was seen holding dossiers from various Wilayats the group claims one of which was labeled as Wilayat Turkey, which was the first known such usage as a reference to the Turkish Wilayat.[106][107][108]


  1. ^ In October 2015, a film was released showing how the Gold Dinar would be introduced as the sole official currency of the proto-state. De facto, however, other currencies were used, with the gold dinar seeing limited circulation.[8]
  2. ^ a b De facto currency.
  3. ^ Used outside of the main controlled territory.


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Works cited[edit]

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