The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is a jihadist group active in Iraq and Syria.
ISIS was formed in April 2013 and grew out of al-Qaeda in Iraq. It has since been disavowed by al-Qaeda, but become one of the main jihadist groups fighting government forces in Syria and is making military gains in Iraq. Unlike other rebel groups in Syria, ISIS is seen to be working towards an Islamic emirate that straddles Syria and Iraq.
Its precise size is unclear but it is thought to include thousands of fighters, including many foreign jihadists. Correspondents say it appears to be surpassing al-Qaeda as the world’s most dangerous jihadist group.
The organization is led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Baghdadi is regarded as a battlefield commander and tactician, which analysts say makes ISIS more attractive to young jihadists than al-Qaeda, which is led by Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Islamic theologian.
The group has seen considerable military success. In March 2013, it took over the Syrian city of Raqqa—the first provincial capital to fall under rebel control. In January 2014, it capitalised on growing tension between Iraq’s Sunni minority and Shia-led government by taking control of the predominantly Sunni city of Fallujah, in the western province of Anbar.
The group has gained a reputation for brutal rule in the areas that it controls. However, it was its conquest of Mosul in June that sent shockwaves around the world. The US said the fall of Iraq’s second city to ISIS posed a threat to the entire region. It may also have made ISIS the most cash-rich militant group in the world.
To read complete articles from the Summer 2014 issue, you must subscribe to our eReader edition.