Wednesday, February 8th, 2023 16:13:47

The Root Causes Of The Rise Of The ISIS

Updated: December 13, 2014 10:15 am

At the top of the organisation was the self declared leader of the group, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, a radical Chief Executive of sorts, who handpicked many of his deputies from among the men he had met while a prisoner in United States custody at the Camp Bucca detention centre a decade ago. He had a preference for military men and so his leadership team included many officers from Saddam Hussain’s disbanded army

The latest development of Islamic fundamentalism took place in mid 2014 in Iraq, when a group of Sunni soldiers of the Iraqi army revolted and disarmed all their Shia soldiers, took them to a remote spot on the banks of the Tigris river, dug a mass grave for them and after lining them beside the grave opened fire on them killing about 400 odd personnel. As the hapless disarmed Shia soldiers were shot, they fell into the readymade mass grave. Luckily, one of the disarmed Shia soldiers, Ali Hussain Khadim was hit by a bullet, which did not kill him. He however fell into the mass grave dug for the Shia soldiers. Sensibly he kept his wits about him and lay wounded among the dead and dying Shia soldiers, but acted as if he was dead. After the horrifying mass murder of more than 400 Shia soldiers by their brother Sunni soldiers, the merciless murderers of their brother soldiers left the mass grave. After the murderous Sunni soldiers had left the area, and the coast was clear, Ali Hussain Khadim managed to crawl out of the mass grave and through a nullah reached the bank of the Tigris River nearby. From there he managed to drag himself to a Shia house some distance away and with their help managed to escape to a Shia dominated area and narrated his horrifying tale. Khadim was in Camp Speicher when the United States trained officers fled. He left the camp with about 200 Shia soldiers in civil dress. They had not gone far, when they ran into an ISIS convoy that rounded them up and took them to a camp in Tikrit, which became a killing ground.

This was the bloody mark of the birth of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Earlier the Sunni soldiers of the Iraqi army had revolted and captured tanks and light, medium and heavy weapons and formed a group calling themselves the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

At the top of the organisation was the self declared leader of the group, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, a radical Chief Executive of sorts, who handpicked many of his deputies from among the men he had met while a prisoner in United States custody at the Camp Bucca detention centre a decade ago. He had a preference for military men and so his leadership team included many officers from Saddam Hussain’s disbanded army. They included former Iraqi officers like Fadl al Hayali, the top deputy for Iraq who once served Saddam Hussain as a Lt. Col., who now heads the ISIS Military Council. Its leaders augment traditional military skills with terrorist techniques refined through years of fighting United States’ troops, while also having local knowledge and contacts. ISIS is in effect a hybrid of terrorists and an army. ISIS burst into local consciousness in June 2014, when its fighters seized Mosul. The Iraqi army melted away and Baghdadi declared a Caliphate or Islamic State that erased borders and imposed Taliban like rule over large territory.

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The roots of the evolution of the Islami State of Iraq and Syria

The ISIS with its small core of jihadists was able to seize so much non-jihadist Sunni territory in Syria and Iraq almost overnight, not because most Iraqi and Syrian Sunnis suddenly bought into the Islamist narrative of ISIS’s self appointed Caliph. Most Iraqi and Syrian Sunnis do not want to marry off their daughters to a bearded Chechen fanatic and more than a few of them pray five times a day and like to wash it down with a good scotch. They have embraced or resigned themselves to ISIS because they were systematically abused by the pro Shiite, pro Iranian regime of Bashar al Assad in Syria and Prime Minister Nuri Kamal-al Maliki in Iraq and because they see ISIS as a vehicle to revive Sunni nationalism and end Shiite oppression.

Al Qaeda’s “Resurgence” Focuses On Indian Subcontinent

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Thomas Joscelyn isn’t surprised that al Qaeda’s recently-launched English-language magazine focuses on the Indian subcontinent. If anything, the first edition of “Resurgence” is just the latest attempt to heat up Jihadist sentiments and activities across South Asia

On Oct. 19, al Qaeda finally released its new English-language, online magazine “Resurgence.” The organisation announced the forthcoming publication in March, but the first edition was not released until seven months later.

The reasons for the delay in its release are not publicly known. At 117 pages, the magazine covers a variety of jihadist topics. But the content of the magazine is heavily focused on recent events, especially al Qaeda’s activities in the Indian Subcontinent.

It was produced by As Sahab, al Qaeda’s propaganda arm. However, “(Subcontinent)”, has been appended to As Sahab’s name, suggesting that the media wing has rebranded at least part of its operation to focus on the region.

Al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri and other senior jihadists announced the creation of al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), al Qaeda’s newest regional branch, in early September. Much of “Resurgence” is devoted to AQIS propaganda.

The cover story is an article by al Qaeda spokesman Adam Gadahn titled, “Besiege Them!” Gadahn writes of the “practical steps” that must be taken to “liberate” Palestine and restore the Islamic caliphate. Gadahn’s suggestions range from boycotting Western business interests to establishing an al Qaeda-style Islamic economy that is independent from the global financial system.

References to the possibility of resurrecting the caliphate are sprinkled throughout the rest of the magazine. A piece by the magazine’s editor, identified as Hassaan Yusuf, argues that “the restoration of the Caliphate and the liberation of Al Aqsa is an increasingly plausible ideal.”

While such standard jihadist themes are explored, “Resurgence” returns to the Indian Subcontinent as its point of reference.

“This wave of Jihad that originated in Afghanistan and has spread to Iraq, the Levant and North Africa is also the ultimate hope of the Muslims of the Subcontinent,” Yusuf writes. “It was Jihad that brought Islam to the Indian Subcontinent, and it will be Jihad again that will overturn the legacy of imperialism from Pakistan to Bangladesh and beyond.”

Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent

Various pieces from other authors are dedicated to waging jihad in the Indian Subcontinent.

For instance, the magazine republishes a statement by AQIS spokesman Usama Mahmood, who has explained the rationale behind the group’s thwarted attack on the US Navy in September. Mahmood has previously released multiple statements concerning AQIS’ attempted hijackings of two Pakistani ships that were to be used in attacks on both American and Indian ships. [See LWJ report, Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent claims attacks on Pakistani ships were more audacious than reported .]

An “in focus” section gives a “roundup” of news from throughout the Indian Subcontinent. The content portrays Muslims as being under siege in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Burma.

Although some have claimed that the establishment of AQIS is merely a reaction to the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, al Qaeda has been attempting to woo Muslims across the Indian Subcontinent for years. Ayman al Zawahiri and other al Qaeda leaders have repeatedly tried to position the terrorist organization as the vanguard of Muslims throughout the region. They are attempting to incite the populace against their local governments, which are allegedly puppets of the West.

In September 2012, for example, Ustadh Ahmad Farooq issued a statement denouncing the alleged genocide being committed against Muslims in Burma and India. Farooq, who is the head of al Qaeda’s dawa and communications arm in Pakistan, has two articles in “Resurgence” trumpeting the jihad in South Asia. And, in January, Zawahiri issued a message focused on reported massacres in Bangladesh. Zawahiri also discussed Burma and called on Muslims to defend themselves against this “Crusader onslaught.” Other al Qaeda messages have been peppered with references to events throughout the region.

Thus, al Qaeda’s propaganda push in the Indian Subcontinent is not new. As can be seen in the banner to the right, “Resurgence” is yet another attempt by al Qaeda to exploit the violence in countries such as Burma.

An article by Aasim Umar, the emir of AQIS, is entitled, “The Future of Muslims in India.” Umar has directed messages to Indian Muslims on a number of occasions. In his latest piece, Umar argues that India is “a slave nation” that has committed “countless massacres of Muslims…for over sixty five years” under “Hindu rule.” Umar writes that Indian Muslims have “been fooled by the empty slogans” such as “‘Indian democracy’, ‘secular state’, ‘the land of Gandhi’, ‘peace’, and so on.”

“We have little doubt that, sooner or later, the Muslims of India too will come to the realization that their future is inextricably linked to the success of the Afghan Jihad,” Umar writes. “The Indian establishment, Brahman intellectuals, and political pundits fully appreciate this fact. They know that the victory of the Taliban in Afghanistan poses a significant threat to the future of Hindu political dominance in India.”

No explicit denunciation of the Islamic State“Resurgence” republishes a statement by Mullah Omar, the Taliban’s leader, from earlier this year. Omar says that all American and Western forces must be withdrawn from Afghanistan, and he calls on the entire Islamic world to denounce Israel for its supposedly “savage aggression” against “oppressed Palestinians.”

In “Resurgence,” as in other al Qaeda messages and statements, Omar is called “Amir ul Mominin,” or the Commander of the Faithful, a title that is usually reserved for the leader of an Islamic caliphate. Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the head of the Islamic State, has attempted to usurp this title for himself.

In its propaganda, al Qaeda has taken a subtle approach to responding to the Islamic State’s claims.

The group has pushed its allegiance to Omar, and his presumed role as the rightful caliph.

“Resurgence” does not include any specific denunciations of the Islamic State. But it does reproduce a quote from Zawahiri explaining how a proper jihadist caliphate will be built. After arguing that jihadists are an inseparable part of the ummah, or community of Muslims, Zawahiri writes, “The Islamic State will be established – by the help and will of Allah—at the hands of the free, sincere and honorable Mujahideen.

It will be established with their sacrifices, generosity, consent and collective choice.”

This could be read as a thinly-veiled critique of the Islamic State, as one of the pro-al Qaeda jihadists’ chief criticisms of Baghdadi is that he has tried to impose his caliphate on all other Muslims, eschewing the type of consensus that al Qaeda believes is necessary to form first. In the context of their rivalry with the Islamic State, senior al Qaeda leaders have reproduced similar quotes from Zawahiri throughout the year.

Another piece in “Resur-gence,” written by Zawahiri’s son-in-law, Muha-mmad bin Mahmoud Rabie al Bahtiyti (a.k.a. Abu Dujana al Basha), urges Muslims to support the mujahideen in Syria, but also says nothing about the Islamic State. Al Bahtiyti released an audio message warning against the Islamic State in late September. Even though al Bahtiyti clearly sought to unde-rmine Baghdadi’s group, he did not explicitly name the Islamic State in that message either.

“On Targeting the Achilles Heel of Western Economies”

One of the lengthier pieces in “Resurgence” is a detailed analysis by a jihadist known as Hamza Khalid, who writes that there is an “energy umbilical cord which [sic] sustains western economies” and “stretches across hundreds of miles of pipelines and sea lanes.” This “represents the Achilles heel not just of the energy market, but also of western economies dependent on oil from the Muslim world.”

Khalid argues that a strategy of “sustained disruption in this supply system would not only increase insurance costs for international shipping, but also affect the price of oil globally, making the theft of our petroleum resources an expensive venture for the West.” Khalid then delves into an in-depth assessment of various “choke points,” explaining the relative virtues of striking them.

“After this brief overview of the world’s most critical sea lanes,” Khalid writes, “one cannot fail to appreciate the strategic opportunity that geography presents for the Mujahideen.” But al Qaeda’s enemies know this, Khalid warns. The “US has established a network of bases that spans the Muslim world” to protect these interests.

Khalid then discusses America’s military bases, and concludes that the jihadists face “challenges” but also have “opportunities.” He concludes that the current environment “requires a multi-pronged strategy that focuses not only on attacking [the] American military presence in the Muslim world, but also targeting the super-extended energy supply line that fuels their economies and helps to sustain their military strength.”

Khalid believes that the time is coming for a sustained campaign of “economic warfare,” in which jihadists from around the world target key infrastructure points. Striking the US Navy is not a fantasy, Khalid claims.

“The recent attempt by a group of Mujahid officers of the Pakistan Navy to carry out a complex and coordinated attack on the American Navy in the Indian Ocean using warships of the Pakistan Navy aptly demonstrates this point,” Khalid writes.

The attempted attacks Khalid praises are the same ones carried out by AQIS in early September. The new al Qaeda branch’s terror plots tell us much about the organization’s approach to waging jihad. And so does al Qaeda’s “Resurgence” magazine.

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Looming Threat

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In the wake of Bardhaman blast in West Bengal that opened a “Pandora’s box” regarding terrorist modules operating in India, NSG director general JN Choudhury warned that terrorist organisations like Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Al-Qaeda and Indian Mujahideen (IM) might be joining together to lauch an attack on India. “Now that they (Al Qaeda) have declared their intention to attack India, they might combine with outfits like Lashkar-e-Taiba, ISIS and Indian Mujahideen,” said Choudhury, who heads the country’s topmost and elite counter-terror organisation. “If they do have combined operations, we have to prepare for multi-city and multiple terror attacks,” he added.

According to intelligence sources, the attackers might also incorporate terrorist organisations like Harkat-ul-Jihadi Islami (HuJI), Jaish-e Mohammed (JeM) and Jamat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB). The latter was involved in the blast in Bardhaman district of West Bengal, which killed 2 terrorists. The incident brought to fore the massiveness and depth of the terrorist modules and “sleeper-cell,” which are very much active in the country.

In a video released recently, the dreaded Al Qaeda leader Ayman-al-Zawahiri has announced the formation of an Indian wing of the terrorists to take forward the “jihad” in this part of the world. Zawahri announced the India wing for the Muslims of Burma, Bangladesh, Assam, Gujarat and Kashmir. He said the new wing will be in support of the Muslims facing oppression. “Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent would be a good news for Muslims in Burma, Bangladesh and in the Indian states of Assam, Gujarat and Jammu and Kashmir where they would be rescued from injustice and oppression,” Zawahiri was heard saying in Urdu and Arabic languages. In the 55- minute video message, Al-Qaeda supremo also lent his support to Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar. The Bardhaman blast proved that India will suffer if Zawahiri’s message is not taken seriously. India’s contemporary terrorist threat is a reflection of history repeating itself. In 1989, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence was triumphant after its victory in Afghanistan and eager to replicate guerrilla war in Kashmir. India was caught unprepared, and Kashmir plunged into militancy. After the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001, some militant groups left Kashmir to join Afghan jihad.

Since 2001, some forces in the Pakistan Army tried to shift the focus of terrorist groups from the Af-Pak region to India and were even linked to the commando-styled Mumbai attacks of 2008. America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan will render a generation of Af-Pak jihadists jobless, and many spare fighters will turn their attention to India. If local Kashmiris lend support to any of the overseas groups, the terrorist threat to India would increase manifold. With the rise of ISIS, there have been sporadic protest marches in urban Kashmir, where, Kashmiris have hit the streets, wielding the black ISIS banner. The influx of Wahhabi preachers in India since 2013 to radicalise the 7,000 registered madrasas in India, preparing these institutions as potential recruitment grounds for the likes of al-Qaeda, ISIS and Taliban is a big security threat. In a classified dossier, India’s Intelligence Bureau reported that 25,000 Wahhabi scholars from 20 countries visited eight Indian states—Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Bihar, Maharashtra and Jharkhand—and addressed 1.2 million, preaching conservative, hardline Islamic doctrine and implementation of Sharia law in its strictest form. India’s 139 million Muslims represent about 13.4 per cent of India’s population. Most of them adhere to the moderate Berlevi form of Islam, but in recent times reports suggest that as many as 20 per cent have been lured to Wahhabi ideology. This is a dangerous scenario for the country. India’s National Investigation Agency busted al Jihad’s activities in rural West Bengal recently and documents seized from there indicated that Indian Mujahideen terrorists mulled ties with Al-Qaeda and Taliban to attack India. Seized document also revealed about the mujahedeen intention to obtain a nuclear bomb from Pakistan to attack Surat, a city in Gujarat, sent shock waves throughout the country.

Some 25 Indian Muslim youths have already responded to ISIS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s call in Syria, and hundreds are on their way to join—any of whom could bring ideology back into India. The Modi government must adopt a two-prong policy to curb this menace. One, it should pre-empt and counter terrorists by profiling existing and potential militants, creating a dedicated national anti-terror workforce, integrating inputs from academic in policymaking and ensuring fair and fast judicial scrutiny. The other, it should work on social sites by checking Wahhabi indoctrination, removing Muslim ghettoisation, modernising madrasa education, and supporting small-scale entrepreneurship initiated by semi-skilled illiterate Muslims along with other Indian citizens.

By Nilabh Krishna

The Challenge the United States faces in Iraq is trying to defeat ISIS in tacit alliance with Syria and Iran, whose local Shiite allies are doing a lot of the fighting in Iraq and Syria. Iran is seen by many Syrian and Iraqi Sunnis as the colonial power dominating Iraq to keep it weak. Obsessed with jihadism and 9/11, are we now doing the bidding of Iran and Syria in Iraq? What would have happened had ISIS not engaged in barbarism and declared—” We are the Islamic State. We represent the interests of the Iraqi and Syrian Sunnis, who have been brutalised by Persian directed regimes of Damascus and Baghdad. Our goal is to secure the interests of Sunnis in Iraq and Syria. We want an autonomous Sunnistan in Iraq, just like the Kurds have a Kurdistan with our own cut of Iraq oil wealth.”

ISIS’s magazine, Dabiq recently published an article,-”Reflections on the final Crusade”, which argued that the United States’ war against ISIS only serves the interests of the enemies of the United States- Iran and Russia. It quotes strategists of the United States as a warning that Iran has created a Shia belt from Tehran through Baghdad to Beirut, a threat much greater than ISIS. Why did the ISIS then behead two western journalists? They did this because they want to draw the United States into another crusade against the Muslims. ISIS need to be contained before it destabilises islands of decency like Jordan, Kurdistan and Lebanon. But destroying it? That will be hard, because it is not just riding on some jihadist Caliphate fantasy, but on deep Sunni nationalist grievances. Separating the two is the best way to defeat the ISIS, but the only way to separate mainstream Sunnis from jihadists is for mainstream Sunnis and Shiites to share power, to build a healthy inter-dependency from what is now an unhealthy one. Are there any chances of that happening? Regrettably very low.


In the background of all the cruel killing and maiming people in the name of religion, and the harsh treatment of men and women in the name of religion, here is a refreshing interlude from the heart of Islamic country. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a modern country in the heart of the Islamic Middle East. This rich country has a modern outlook. It also has, as a result of its progressive outlook, a modern Air Force with the latest fighter aircraft. And surprise of surprises its Air Force have lady pilots flying these combat jet fighter planes. Major Mariam al Mansouri flew in the first wave of United States led attacks on targets of the ISIS in Syria! It is a striking image combining empowered Muslim Women, in an Arab fight back against jihadi extremism by the small but very modern Gulf State of the United Arab Emirates(UAE). Operating from the Al Dafrah air base in the desert south of Abu Dhabi, Major Mansur and other Emirate Air Force pilots have flown more combat sorties than any of the other Arab participants-Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain and Qatar in the United States’ campaign to destroy the ISIS.

The Emirates has woven itself into the fabric of the United States defence strategy. UAE forces serve in Afghanistan. In August, the United Arab Emirates aircraft based in Egypt bombed Islamist targets in Libya. It’s F-16 Desert Falcon aircraft are even more advanced than those in service with the United States.


Iraqi security forces, led by the United States Air power and hundreds of advisors are planning to mount a major spring offensive against the Islamic State fighters. The goal is to break the ISIS occupation in northern and western Iraq and reestablish the Iraqi Government’s control over Mosul and other population centres, as well as the country’s major roads and its border with Syria by the end of 2015.

Iraqi and Kurdish forces have made inroads in recent weeks in securing territory threatened or captured by the ISIS, including the Rabia border crossing with Syria, the oil refinery in Baiji, north of Baghdad, the northern town of Zumar and Jurf-al-Sakhar, south west of Baghdad. The major push which is being devised with the help of the United States military planners will require training three new Iraqi divisions, more than 20,000 troops over the coming months. The basic strategy calls for attacking fighters from the ISIS with a goal of isolating them in major strongholds like Mosul. That could enable Iraqi troops, Kurdish Peshmerga units and fighters who have been recruited from Sunni tribes to take on a weakened foe that has been cut off from its supply lines and reinforcements from Syria, subject to United States air strikes. A task force headed by a Lt. General will be based in Kuwait with a Major General in Baghdad that will supervise the hundreds of United States advisors and trainers working with the Iraqi forces. As the push to train Iraq’s military gathers momentum the United States footprint is likely to expand from Baghdad and Erbil to additional outposts including Al Assad Air base in Iraq’s embattled Anbar province in the west and possibly Taji, 20 miles north of Baghdad. The effort to rebuild Iraq’s fighting capabilities faces hurdles including the risk that the ISIS will use the intervening months to entrench in western Iraq and carry out more killings.

The extremists of the ISIS appeared unstoppable after their sudden blitz through Iraq this summer. Today roughly a third of Iraq is dotted by active battle fronts with instances of fighting and occasional IS victories. However the groups’ momentum appears to be stalling. The international airstrike campaign against the IS has clearly played a role in slowing its advance. The air strikes have been helpful, but several other factors are important. ISIS thrives in poor Sunni Arab areas. Neglect of Sunni areas in Iraq during the tenure of the Shia Prime Minister Nouri Kamal al Maliki gave them an opportunity for the jihadists. ISIS can only expand in areas where it can enter into partnerships with the local Sunni population. It is in Iraq when the local coalition forces began bombing in August that the IS had lost most ground in recent weeks. Iraqi government units, Kurdish Peshmerga forces, Shiite militias have taken back the area of Zumar in the north and Jurf-al Sakhar south of Baghdad. For the first time since the jihadists seized Mosul and much of North West Iraq in June, an Iraqi military vehicle can drive from Baghdad to Erbil in the north on the highway. Last month IS seized the town of Hit and has since been killing people of the Abu Nisar tribe, three hundred of whom were reportedly killed. The IS is still entrenched in Anbar province. Because of Iraq’s sectarian dynamics, the Government cannot send Shiite forces to fight in Anbar province. The result is that the IS is still entrenched there.


From the time the IS broke into the headlines of international news, and stories of horrifying beheadings and mass killings were the daily headlines from the Middle East, the situation has steadily improved in Iraq. Though the United States refused to send troops on the ground, its aerial strikes has made an impact and limited deployment of troops by the Iraqi army has controlled the situation and reversed the advance of the IS. The situation in Iraq is likely to be controlled soon.

The situation in Syria is a little different and there are more complicating factors that have to be diplomatically sorted out before the situation can be normalised.

By E N Rammohan

(The writer is former Director General, BSF)

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