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The history of ISIS

In the past couple of years ISIS (Islamic state of Iraq and Syria) or ISIL (Islamic state of Iraq and the Levant) or simply IS, has been all over the news, yet the origins of the so-called Islamic State began over a quarter of a century ago.

The principle behind IS is to create a worldwide Caliphate that oversees the religious and political workings of all Muslims and, ultimately, initiate a new world order, but their modus operandi has been seriously called into question by those they seek to initiate; indeed, most Muslims regard IS as wholly un-Islamic and have unreservedly condemned their actions alongside the United Nations and over 60 countries who regard them a terrorist organisation.

From relatively humble beginnings as jama’at al-tawid wal-jihad in 1999, a Sunni Jihadist group in Iraq, later known as ‘Al Qaeda in Iraq’ (Tanzim Qaidat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn) grew in strength after pledging allegiance to Osama Bin Laden’s notorious organisation in 2004. By recruiting other Sunni Jihadists during the US led invasion of Iraq it wasn’t long before newly formed Mujahideen Shura Council were powerful enough to tentatively declare Iraq an Islamic State in in 2006, the same year Saddam Hussein was executed.

In 2011, in the midst of the Arab Spring, operatives from IS, known as the Al-Nusra Front

(Jabhat al-Nuṣrah li-Ahli ash-Shām) were sent to Syria to fight in the civil war with the aim of developing an Islamic State outside of Iraq. By 2013 they’d established themselves in large parts of Sunni-rich areas but an internal power struggle within Al Qaeda prevented IS from capitalising on their significant achievements in the region, a year later IS were independent and, with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as their Caliph, declared a Caliphate.

Free to act with impunity, IS took to social media in order to spread their message further afield, this was amplified by a succession of grisly videos that depicted the ritualised execution, normally by decapitation, of anyone unfortunate enough to be captured. It wasn’t just human life that was taken, IS began a campaign of destruction that saw ancient monuments and artefacts reduced to no more than rubble. Now, with the full attention of the world, they called on their supporters to join them in waging war against those that sought them harm, either by travelling to Syria to fight or to act independently in the land of their enemies.

In the past year a number of high-profile attacks by Jihadist operatives outside of Syria and Iraq have resulted in killings in Sousse in Tunisia and most recently, a second attack in Paris, France were the deadliest the country has seen since World War II. As both sides prepare to take the conflict further, the battle between Islamic State and the rest of the world doesn’t look like it’s going to end anytime soon.


  • 1999 Originated as jama’at al-tawid wal-jihad
  • 2003 Became actively involved in the Iraq insurgency
  • 2004 Pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda
  • 2006 Formed the Mujahideen Shura Council
    • First declaration of an Islamic state in Iraq
  • 2011 The Syrian Civil War begins
  • 2014 Separated from Al Qaeda
    • ​Declared a Caliphate
    • ​Began a public campaign of beheadings
    • Destroyed dozens of ancient architectural sites and historic artefacts
    • Claimed territory in Sinai Province in addition to previous holdings in the Levan
  • 2015 Claimed further territories in Afghanistan, Pakistan and parts of India and Nigeria

    • Began attacking ‘Western’ targets outside of IS controlled areas, notably in Tunisia and France