Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)

Alternative Names


Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant  (ISIL)

 Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)

Islamic State of Iraq 

Islamic State (IS)


Threat to Kyrgyzstan

The threat that ISIS pose to Kyrgyzstan is currently low, as although ISIS has a presence it is currently mostly for recruitment. However, if its presence in Afghanistan increases it would become a formidable threat to the region. Particularly Jihadists returning from Syria who pose a considerable threat particularly if they apply their experience and skills to other groups that are active within Central Asia. As ISIS comes under increasing pressure in Syria we are likely to see ISIS fighters moving to other areas of conflict to divide their enemies resources. This could be Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen or Libya.


Iraq and Syria. 

Affiliated groups:

Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Egypt (Sinai Peninsula), Algeria, Tunisia. Libya, Chechnya, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia. 

Reported but unverified: 

Central Asia


The current leader of ISIS is Ibrahim Awad al-Badri known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, he is the self-appointed caliph of ISIS making him the absolute political and religious leader. ISIS's leadership structure is rigid and made up of various leaders and councils that cover law, security, finance, military and the media. This approach is then copied at each lower regional level.

The leadership of ISIS is being targeted by foreign forces; Russia, US, Britain, France etc; with marginal success.

The original leader of the forerunner of ISIS was a Jordanian jihadist called Abu Musab al-Zarqawi who was killed by a US airstrike in 2006.


The exact population controlled by ISIS is unknown. Estimates in terms of strength have gone as high as 100,000 fighters however US intelligence and other more balanced sources have put the figure between 20,000-40,000.

ISIS recruitment is international from as many as 86 different countries. The number of international fighters that have travelled to Iraq and Syria between 2011 - March 2016 is approximately 27,000

Many of the recruits have come from nations with large Muslim populations (either majority or a minority) that feel disenfranchised by their governments. As a result, Central Asia is a perfect recruiting ground as many Muslims feel oppressed by the authoritarian regimes or by the majority ethnic groups in charge of the country.


ISIS's funding came originally from under the al-Qa’ida umbrella. However, since establishing itself in Syria and Iraq ISIS has acquired a significant amount of wealth. It is from multiple sources: Taxes and other fees, black market oil, selling antiquities, kidnap and extortion and foreign donations.

ISIS claims to be the wealthiest terrorist organisation in the world.

Ideology and Objective

ISIS is an extremist Sunni group; whose core belief is very similar to Wahhabism. It does not tolerate anyone who does not submit to its rules or follow its faith. The group is particularly violent against minority religious groups, the Shia community and Western culture and interests.

Its supposed overall objective is the creation of a Caliphate across all of Islam’s historic territory. To do this it is using the civil unrest in Syria and Iraq to cultivate support in both nations and to encourage foreign fighters to help enlarge its territorial authority.


ISIS exhibits strategy and tactics that other terror groups have rarely shown. This is because ISIS acts in a way similar to a state. For example, it has a strict defined command structure, it takes and holds territory and it establishes logistical and communication chains and centres.

ISIS also exhibits tactics that are associated with terrorist groups, although often in conjunction with more conventional military operations. 

The most frequently tactics used are :

Individual or vehicle born suicide attacks, small arms terror attacks and hostage taking.

ISIS have also used public executions to garner fear in its controlled populace but also as a recruitment tool online. ISIS fighters also are conducting slavery, particularly sexual slavery, on a massive scale.

Overall, despite forming from a conventional terrorist group. ISIS forces in Iraq and Syria are operating as an organised conventional militia,  while also using guerrilla and terrorist tactics.


*Due to the size of the organisation and its vast number of abuses, not all of its actions will be listed.

2003-2006 - Zarqawi sets up Tawhid wa al-Jihad group to fight US invasion of Iraq.

2003 - Several Car bombings at the UNHQ in Baghdad and the shrine of Imam Ali in Najaf; killing UN envoy SergioVieira de Mello and Shia ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim.

2006 - Zargawi killed in US airstrike.

2007-2010 - US ‘surge’ eliminates many insurgents and their leadership.

2010 - Ibrahim Awad al-Badri known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi takes charge.

2011 - Syrian Civil War begins, Baghdadi sends Abu Mohammed al-Julanito lead a group called al-Nusra Front

2013 - Baghdadi founds the group the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (Syria or the Levant). ISIS, or ISIL.

2013 - al-Nusra declares allegiance for al-Qa’ida not ISIS.

2013 - ISIS takeover Raqqa a provincial capital in Syria.

2014 - ISIS split from al-Qa’ida which disowns ISIS.

2014 - ISIS moves into Iraq and captures large swathes ofterritory and multiple cities.

2014 - Baghdadi declares the establishment of a caliphate, the Islamic State.

2014 2015 - Territorial expansion.

2015 - 2016 - Slow territorial loss to Syrian Rebels, Syrian Government, Kurdish forces and Iraq government controlled forces.

2014 - US coalition airstrikes begin.

2015 - Russian airstrikes begin.

2015  ISIS destroy Russian Passenger plane in Egypt.

2015 - ISIS affiliated gunmen and bombers inflict high casualties in Paris.

2016 - Multiple Bombers inflict high casualties in Brussels.


  • The group was first founded in 1999, called Jama’at al-Tawhidwal-Jihad, by the Jordanian jihadist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi who was a veteran of the Afghan-Soviet conflict.
  • The invasion of Afghanistan caused turmoil for various insurgent groups as they were forced to leave Afghanistan, which under Taliban rule had been a safe haven.
  • The 2003 invasion of Iraq created the perfect conditions to grow a terrorist group with the breakdown in order resentment and increase in sectarian violence.
  • The invasion caused a significant change in the structure of Iraqi government. As Sunni Muslims had ruled Iraq as a minority group the invasion and the subsequent new government reflected the Shia majority.
  • Saddam’s Baath Party regime has installed Sunnis in the key position both senior and junior in the military, intelligence and government ministries. The invasion dis-empowered the Sunni population and created huge resentment towards the US and the Shia government. The perfect recruitment ground.
  • These soldiers, bureaucrats and intelligence officials would become key members of various terrorist organisations and would provide IS with experienced leaders with the knowledge and logistical abilities to establish itself.
  • Zarqawi established himself in Iraq founding a new group called alled Tawhid waal-Jihad. He quickly recruited and formed alliances with the remnants of Saddam’s regime. Combining militant Jihadism with Iraq Sunni nationalism.
  • The group quickly took to conducting deadly attacks in 2003. Using Car bombs at the UN HQ in Baghdad and the shrine of Imam Ali in Najaf;killing UN envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello and Shia ayatollah Muhammad Baqiral-Hakim.
  • Zarqawi soon took an oath of loyalty to Bin Laden and became the official branch of al-Qaeda in Iraq.
  • However tensions between Zarqawi and the al-Qaeda leadership was already present. The latter was critical of Zarqawi attack on the Shia populace which led to increased sectarian violence. As well as his habit of publicising his graphic cruelty, as they were concerned that it would have an impact on Muslim opinion.
  • Zarqawi actions had made him a target and was killed by a US airstrike in 2006.
  • A few months after his death his groups predecessor was named as the Islamic State in Iraq (ISI). Which was an umbrella organisation bringing in various insurgent groups together under al-Qaeda.
  • The US ‘surge’ that started in 2007 pushed the insurgency to its lowest point killing or capturing many of the ISIS andal-Qaeda leadership. The insurgent groups were forces into the remote areas of Iraq.
  • In 2010 Ibrahim Awad al-Badri,better known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi took over.
  • Baghdadi’s background is difficult to verify. However,he was involved with a Sunni militant group and was detained by American troops in 2004 and sent to Camp Bucca.
  • Camp Bucca which housed around 20,000 inmates became known as a university for insurgents. As the prison not only introduced insurgents to like minded individuals, but also connected previously isolated regional groups into a larger network.
  • The prison allowed mot just for an exchange in contact information but tactics, ideologies and skill sets. All of which helped to create a well-established network.
  • Most importantly is gave an opportunity for Baghdadi to develop a relationship with the imprisoned ex-Baathist military commanders.
  • Baghdadi was released and quickly started climbing the insurgent hierarchy.
  • The civil war in Syria presented another opportunity for expansion, as the majority Sunni populace were in a revolt against President Bashar al-Assad whose government was formed from the Alawite minority, which is an offshoot of Shia Islam.
  • Baghdadi sent insurgents to fight against the regime. This group was called the al-Nusra Front and was led by a Syrian, Abu Mohammed al-Julani.
  • However al-Nusra had less extreme Salafist views compared to ISIS and quickly developed stronger links to al-Qaeda
  • With ties to al-Nusra becoming increasing strained Baghdadi announced in 2013 that al-Nusra was under the command of his new umbrella group Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (Syriaor the Levant). ISIS or ISIL.
  • However, al-Nusra ignored Baghdadi and renewed its oath of allegiance to the al-Qaeda leadership. With the leadership instructed Baghdadi to leave al-Nusra alone in Syria and to change the group’s name back to ISI.
  • Baghdadi ignored this and before 2013 ISIS was fighting al-Nusra and other Syrian rebel groups. It resulted in ISIS being expelled from the majority of north-west Syria.
  • Although ISIS had captured Raqqa, a provincial capital in the north-east and made it their capital.
  • ISIS’s penchant for brutal violence and its strict Islamic views attracted a lot of foreign jihadists many of whom had been members of al-Nusra.
  • The dispute between the two groups resulted in al-Qaeda formally disowning ISIS in 2014.
  • The US withdrawal in 2011 and the subsequent Sunni unrest caused by the sectarian polices of the Iraqi Shia Prime Minister, Nouri Maliki, created the perfect conditions for ISIS expansion.
  • ISIS started to expand into Iraq in 2014. The nepotistic and sectarian polices of the Iraqi government had fundamentally weakened the countries security apparatus which allowed ISIS to expand with little to know resistance.
  • The rapid advance fuelled by anti-Shia resentment and supported by Salafist jihadist and ex-Baathist cells allowed vast swaths of territory to be captured. Culminating in the capture of Mosul.
  • ISIS had turned from a terrorist organisation into a jihadist army.
  • In mid-2014 Baghdadi declared himself Caliph of a newly formed Islamic State (IS)
  • The call of a caliphate and the wide spread international media coverage made IS notorious, and helped cultivate an image that still attracts large numbers of foreign fighters to its ranks.
  • This was followed a few months later by a steady stream of extremist groups in various different nations pledging allegiance to IS. First in Libya and in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Then in 2015 by Boko Haram in Nigeria. Within a year of the proclamation by Baghdadi IS had affiliates in 11 countries. Although it only held territory in five, and the territory held was limited.
  • Once control was established over its territory, IS started implementing its extrem a version of Islamic Law.
  • Minority groups were targeted: Shia, Christians, Homosexuals, Yazidis. Many of the men were executed and the women are often sold into sex slavery to IS fighters.
  • Foreigners have been captured alongside Iraqi and Syrian government forces and publically executed.
  • IS has attacked historic cultural sites with the destruction of Shia shrines, Christian monasteries and ancient archaeological heritage sites such as in Palmyra, Hatra and Nimrud.
  • The punishments and executions are carried out publicly and filmed to a professional level to be used as recruitment tools and to spread fear through the population.
  • In terms of funding ISIS used tax and levies on its populace, black market oil deals, kidnapping and selling of cultural artefacts
  • IS has permeated every level of civilian life using a well-developed security apparatus, which it was able to construct due to its ex-Baathist support.
  • Is has developed a state infrastructure incorporating Islamic courts, the economy, the healthcare system, education, agriculture and utilities.
  • IS is indoctrinating the youth it controls to create the next generation of terrorists.
  • The attacks on the Kurdish north and the real threat of genocide against the Yazidi community led to the start of US airstrikes that have helped slow and stop the IS advance
  • Since 2014 fourteen other nations have joined the airstrike campaign against IS
  • IS responded to the airstrikes with the public brutal executions of foreign nationals.
  • From the start of the caliphate to 2016 there has been a reported 70 terrorist attacks around the world in 20 countries that have led to an estimated 1,200 deaths, all of which have been conducted or inspired by IS.
  • The various attacks and international affiliates has made IS difficult to attack as it distracts attention away from its base in Syria and Iraq.
  • Some of its largest attacks with the most affect have been the Paris and Brussels attacks and the destruction of the Russian passenger plane in Egypt.
  • In late 2015 and 2016 Kurdish forces, Syrian Rebels, the Syrian government and Iraqi government forces have been taking back territory from IS with the aid of airstrikes from the US coalition and Russia.
  • However IS still is able to recruit large numbers from foreign fighters. Increasing its recruitment from other Arab nations, the west and Central Asia.
  • The group has increased its presence in other conflict ridden nations. Most notably Libya, Afghanistan and Yemen.

Designed by Oliver McGough
Using Format