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The evolution of ISIS, from al Qaeda to the Islamic State group

AFP/HO/WELAYAT SALAHUDDIN jihadist website propaganda photo

Originally a branch of al Qaeda active in Iraq, ISIS (or ISIL) joined the fight against the Syrian regime in spring 2013. But subsequent infighting with another al Qaeda group in Syria, al Nusra, saw ISIS break with the global terror network.


• The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) is also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (Arabic for the Levant) or simply as the Islamic State (IS) group.

• Known earlier as the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), which was an off-shoot of al Qaeda in Iraq, the group joined the fight against the regime in Syria in late spring 2013 under the leadership of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. The ISI was subsequently accused of kidnapping, torturing and killing Syrians – including children – from its stronghold in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, prompting an alliance of moderate Syrian rebel groups to declare a "second revolution" against the jihadists.

• ISI struggled for influence in Syria with another jihadist group affiliated with al Qaeda, al Nusra (Jabhat al Nusra or the Nusra Front), led by Abu Mohammed al Jawlani. ISI leader Baghdadi eventually sought to merge the rivals into a new group in April 2013 to be known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

• The merger idea was rejected both by al Nusra and by al Qaeda chief Ayman al Zawahiri, however. In June Zawahiri ordered ISIS to disband and for Baghdadi to go back to operating only in Iraq while al Nusra would remain al Qaeda’s main branch in Syria.

Baghdadi rejected the order and unilaterally tried to push ahead with the merger.

• Al Qaeda officially cut off ties with ISIS after it disobeyed Zawahiri’s orders.

• ISIS now operates as an umbrella organisation for jihadist groups in both Syria and Iraq.

• ISIS took control of the Iraqi city of Fallujah and part of Anbar’s provincial capital Ramadi in January 2014. Operations subsequently launched by the Iraqi army proved ineffective at ousting the Islamists.

• In a lightning early June offensive, the group seized Iraq's second-largest city of Mosul, forcing half a million people to flee the Islamist advance. Tikrit fell under the militants' control in the days following as they continued their march toward the capital Baghdad.

• Already known for its brutality, ISIS has lived up to its reputation in the areas it has seized. The group posted photos of more than a hundred massacred Iraqi soldiers, who appear to have been summarily executed. The group also claimed to have killed 1,700 soldiers in Tikrit.

• In June, the group declared the establishment of an Islamic caliphate straddling Iraq and Syria, with Baghdadi as caliph. The group has since renamed itself the Islamic State and urged the world's Muslims to relocate to territory under its control.


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