ISIS: How long is their reach?

Terrorist menace seeks Islamic State in Iraq and Syria


(Roy Gutman/MCT) used with permission

Kurdish refugees arrive in Yumurtalik, Turkey, fleeing the advances of Islamic State extremists on the north Syrian city of Kobani, on Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014. (Roy Gutman/MCT)

Disha Bhavsar, Staff Writer

ISIS is an extremist Sunni Islamist movement with a disciplined command that has operated effectively for at least two years. The current leader is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He is believed to be about age 43 and a native of Iraq. Although this group is called by many names: Islamic State (IS), Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and the Islamic state of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), it really comes down to the translation of the names from Arabic to English. There is a debate over the translation of the word al-Sham (Syria), therefore the name would remain the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham, or simply ISIS.

The rapid growth of this group is surprising

— Disha Bhavsar

How Did They Start? The group was originally founded by a protégé of Osama Bin Laden, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, in 1999 as Jamaat al-Tawhid wa-l-Jihad (JTWJ). Then, for a brief time between 2004 and 2006, Zarqawi’s JTWJ was joined to Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda and the group became known as al-Qaeda in the Land of Two Rivers, or more popularly known as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). But, in 2006, the groups split primarily because of ideological differences in overall strategy and doctrine. Zarqawi believed in enforcement of sharia law whereas al-Qaeda believed that Muslims were not the problem but only the “apostate” institutions. As a result, al-Qaeda began distancing themselves from his group.

In 2006, Zarqawi took his followers and established a separate faction under AQI, the Majlis Shura al-Mujahedin (MSM). Later that same year, after Zarqawi was killed by a targeted US air strike, Muharib al-Juburi (a leading follower of Zarqawi) announced the establishment of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) and Zarqawi’s replacement. Abu Hamza al-Muhajir pledged allegiance to the newly appointed leader of ISI, Abu Omar al-Qurashi al-Baghdadi. In 2013, the name was changed to ISIS when the new leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, announced the territorial expansion of the Islamic State into Syria.

What do they want? The mission of ISIS is to create an Islamic state, called a caliphate, across areas in Iraq and Syria. Caliphate is an Islamic state where sharia law is strictly enforced and led by a single supreme religious and political leader called a caliph. Sharia law is based on certain teachings of the Quran and requires all people under the caliphate’s jurisdiction to abide by the law. Punishments such as flogging, stoning, hanging, beheading, crucifixion, and amputation are administered to those who don’t strictly follow the law.

What are they doing to people? ISIS has been persecuting and committing genocide against minor religious groups. Approximately 10,000 innocent civilians have died from beheadings, crucifixions, and been held at gunpoint at the hands of ISIS in the first eight months of 2014.

Are they a threat? So far ISISs has been seen as a major threat across the world. The rapid growth of this group is surprising and many foreign fighters are supporting them. According to the BBC, “Islamic state stands with Al-Qaeda as one dangerous Jihadist groups, after its gains in Syria and Iraq.”