A state of terror, armed and determined to kill anyone they believe stands in their way, including civilians. The self-declared Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (or the Levant), ISIL or ISIS practices extreme violence. It aims to establish an independent country in the region, redrawing the map. Al Qaeda never controlled as much territory as ISIL. Today’s borders were laid out by the French and the British in 1916.
In using the term ‘the Levant’, ISIL means to include Lebanon and Jordan and Palestine to the fullest extent possible, stretching right down to the Sinai peninsula.
ISIL means to impose austere, severe Koranic Sharia law everywhere in its control. This Islamic state would be led by a supreme religious and political leader, known as a ‘caliph’.
He is Abou Bakr al-Baghdadi, ex-al-Qaeda, considered by the West among the world’s ten most dangerous terrorists. He was born in the Iraqi city of Samarra in 1971. He claims he is descended from the Prophet Mohammed.
Jihadist websites say he has a doctorate in Islamic studies from Baghdad University, and that after several years of fighting with groups linked to al Qaeda, he rose to head the ISIL in Iraq in 2010.
Analysts estimate the group has around 10,000 men. It does not appear to have the open support of any particular country. Most of its funding comes from individual donors, mostly in the Gulf states. ISIL also raises taxes among Iraq’s Sunnis. Then there is robbery, kidnapping ransom, drug trafficking receipts and extortion.
ISIL already controls the oil zone of Deir Ezzor in Syria. With the conquest of Mosul, the group has consolidated its war gains. It may have helped itself to 425 million dollars from the national bank there. It’s now on the verge of seizing the country’s biggest oil refinery, in Baiji, south of Mosul.
President Bashar al-Assad in Syria lets ISIL get away with a lot for tactical reasons. Majority Shiite Iraq is incapable of stopping the group. Iraqi Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is struggling with the hostility of the Sunni Arab minority, most of whom support ISIL.
In 2003, in the name of the war against terror, the United States invaded Iraq. Eleven years later, jihadists seem to have the upper hand there, the opposite of Washington’s intention. Meanwhile, Iraqis and Syrians are dying, and Europe is not at all beyond the reach of the threat either.