A Dummies Guide To ISIS

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You've probably seen plenty of news coverage around ISIS over the last couple of months, with little explanation to who they are. This is your one-stop read to everything you need to know about the militant extremist group

ISIS Feature Image

Check out our updated Dummies Guide to ISIS here

The recent beheadings of two US journalists by the militant group, ISIS, has brought much needed attention to the crisis-taking place in Iraq and Syria. Labelled as the most “dangerous threat the West has faced in years”, I think it’s fair to say a little background is needed.


Islamic State or ISIS, or ISIL, or IS.

Yeah, if you’ve struggled to decide what name they should be called, don’t stress; you’re not the only one. The point is that everyone is confused with what to call them, but basically, they’re a militant Islamist extremist group.

According to most reports, ISIS was formerly formed in 2010. Since it has been under the leadership of Abu-al Baghdadi the group has definitely made greater strides. Previously ISI, the group became ISIS after going into Syria to fight against the Assad regime in 2011. They rose to international prominence this June after a blitz takeover of Northern Iraq.

Should We Be Scared?

The Soufan Group who provides strategic security advice to governments, said: “ISIS has become indisputably the most effective and ruthless terrorist organisation in the world.” So how ruthless are they? Well, in 2014, Al-Qaeda distanced themselves from the group because they were too brutal – now you know you’re pretty badass if even al-Qaeda calls you out on brutality.  Saying that, there have been some false reports on social media warning against terror attacks (one showed a threat on the tube) so don’t believe everything you read!

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What Do They Want?

According to The Independent, the Islamic State’s main aim is to continue their takeover of Iraq and further establish the caliphate. A caliphate is basically an Islamic state ruled by one supreme leader. In a VICE News documentary, one IS fighter says: “We will not stop … we will raise the flag of Allah in the White House.” Although currently limited to Iraq and Syria, ISIS has promised to break down borders of Jordan and Lebanon and to “free Palestine.”

What Have They Done?

So, exactly what is going on over there? It was the humanitarian threat to the Yazidi population that garnered an international response. Thousands of non-Muslims fled to the top of Mount Sinjar where they were stranded without food or water. Some Yazidis stranded were able to collect water and food, dropped overnight by US planes, before heading northwest on a 12-mile walk across mountains and desert to the Syrian border.

Who Are The Yazidis?

The Yazidi are the oldest minority religious group in Northern Iraq. Predominately Kurdish, ISIS militants see the Yazidi as anti-Islam and “devil worshipers”.

Wait, Are These The Same Guys Who Beheaded Those Journalists?

Yes. In August this year ISIS released a video. The footage showed a masked militant (believed to be a British national) beheading American journalist, James Foley.  The killer warned the US that if they continued the airstrikes they would kill another American. Last week Steven Sotloff, another US journalist, was beheaded.

Where Does ISIS Have Control Now?

It varies, but most commentators agree that they control:

-       Syrian-Turkish border

-       Raqqa (the caliphates de-facto capital)

-       Mosul

-       Tikrit

-       Fallujah

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Do They Have Facebook?

Well, not quite. But ISIS has used social media and other online platforms effectively to recruit members and to get their message heard across the world. The most interesting and worrying point is that many ISIS fighters are actually Western nationals.

How To Defeat?

Pssh, who knows?! The Obama administration will attempt to implement their long-term plan. However, for a President who campaigned on getting troops out of Iraq, this will be a huge step backwards. Surely the last thing the US and its allies want to get caught up in is another long-term war in the country? Many commentators do not see a straightforward way to end ISIS. The group is growing daily and is fuelled by the rise in Islamist radicalisation. The conflict between Shia and Shiite Muslims has raged for centuries and like many other tensions in the Middle East, does not seem to be extinguishing anytime soon.

President Obama has come under a lot of scrutiny for his response to ISIS. “We don’t have a strategy yet”, is what the US President said last week – and to be fair, who could blame him?


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