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11 Things You Must Know About the Islamic State

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11 Things You Must Know About the Islamic State

After suddenly emerging in 2014, the Islamic State quickly demonstrated that it is in a class of its own among terror groups. The organization appears to be here to stay.

Learn the why behind the headlines.

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Did June 29, 2014, mark the birth of the world’s newest country—the Islamic State? Should the tally of 196 nations be updated? Not since South Sudan in July 2011 has a new nation-state been born.

There are some differences though. While the international community quickly recognized the African nation, the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS or IS) is more problematic. No nation would jump to recognize the formation of a brutal, self-declared Islamic caliphate.

At first, the proclamation of a re-established caliphate by its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi seemed audacious. But as more is learned about IS, this announcement is increasingly being taken seriously.

Far from a ragtag band of medieval, unsophisticated marauders, IS is wealthy, tightly organized, and highly motivated—and their goal is global domination.

The rapid expansion of ISIS caught the world completely by surprise. In 2014, the little-known terrorist organization swept across huge sections of Syria and Iraq, establishing a capital in Raqqa, Syria. This relatively new group rose to power with stunning speed and efficiency. The following quote from the BBC summarizes the history of the Islamic State. Its inception sprang from disagreements within al-Qaida.

“IS can trace its roots back to the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi…A year after the US-led invasion of Iraq, Zarqawi pledged allegiance to Osama Bin Laden and formed al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), which became a major force in the insurgency.

“After Zarqawi’s death in 2006, AQI created an umbrella organisation, Islamic State in Iraq (ISI). ISI was steadily weakened by the US troop surge...After becoming leader in 2010, Baghdadi rebuilt ISI’s capabilities. By 2013, it was once again carrying out dozens of attacks a month in Iraq. It had also joined the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, setting up the al-Nusra Front. In April 2013, Baghdadi announced the merger of his forces in Iraq and Syria and the creation of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis). The leaders of al-Nusra and al-Qaeda rejected the move, but fighters loyal to Baghdadi split from al-Nusra and helped Isis remain in Syria.”

The Islamic State is made up of radical Sunni Muslims (the majority of Muslims worldwide are Sunni, not Shia). Shias are seen by IS as heretics and are slaughtered alongside Christians. ISIS extremists view themselves as “pure” Muslims—ones who will usher in a new era of Islamic rule.

Islamic Sharia law is enforced by ISIS by the edge of the sword or the barrel of a gun. Sharia is a code of conduct based on the strictest interpretation of the Muslim holy book, the Koran. Citizens live in constant fear of arrest or whippings for acts like public smoking, drinking alcohol, or swearing. Thieves’ hands are chopped off. The penalty for drug abuse is death. Murderers are crucified. Severed heads are mounted in public squares in Raqqa and other captured cities to send a message to all. Captured women are sold as sex slaves in marketplaces. One IS fighter slaughtered 150 women, some of whom were pregnant, simply because they refused to become sex slaves. Even little boys and girls labeled “infidel children” are being beheaded.

After horrific videos were released in late summer of the beheadings of Western journalists, world leaders took note of and strongly condemned IS: “President Obama called the murder of [a British aid worker] ‘barbaric’…The commander-in-chief pledged again to ‘degrade and destroy’ the terrorist organization. Australian officials, responding to a request by the U.S., said…they will send 600 troops…to a global coalition fighting ISIS…Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott said it was Haines’ beheading that compelled Australia to act. British Prime Minister David Cameron has also promised to ‘hunt down those responsible and bring them to justice no matter how long it takes’” (MSNBC).

The first Western journalist granted unprecedented access to ISIS returned with the following observations including a warning not to underestimate their capability: “‘I think the Islamic State is a lot more dangerous than Western leaders realize. They believe in what they are fighting for and are preparing the largest religious cleansing campaign the world has ever seen.’

“He told CNN: ‘These are not stupid people. One of the people we met had just finished his law degree. He had great job offers, but he turned them down to go and fight…We met fighters from Europe and the United States…’” (Newsweek).

Most watching can hardly believe what they are seeing. But the full picture is even worse than most realize. The following are 11 things the reader must know about the Islamic State.

(1) It Controls Vast Territory

The Islamic State controls a huge territory across eastern Syria and northern Iraq—up to 35,000 square miles! The following quote from The Atlantic shows the many ways to look at the area under IS control: “ISIS territory in Iraq and Syria tends to be described as ‘swaths.’ The estimated size of these swaths…varies widely in reports, from 12,000 square miles—‘an area the size of Belgium,’ per The Wall Street Journal—to 35,000 square miles, or ‘an area the size of Jordan,’ as George Packer wrote…in The New Yorker. Whatever else the caliphate is, by these estimates of territorial size at least, it’s starting to look more and more like a state.

“Packer continued: ‘The self-proclaimed caliphate stretches from the newly conquered towns along the Syrian-Turkish border, through its de-facto capital of Raqqa, in northern Syria, across the obliterated Iraqi border into Mosul, Tikrit, and Falluja, down to the farming towns south of Baghdad—roughly a third of the territory of both [Iraq and Syria].’”

ISIS has even made their presence felt in villages and towns not directly within their reach, according to the article.

“Bill Roggio of The Long War Journal, which is also tracking the spread of ISIS, writes in an email that ISIS influence can be felt even in [the] deserts…‘Iraqis in the small hamlets and villages not directly under Islamic State control know who are truly in control,’ he says. ‘Think of it like this: Americans living in the remotest areas of Alaska often see little to no government involvement, but ultimately they know the U.S. government can assert itself if it needed to.’”

(2) It Is Organized Like a Fortune 500 Company

Most do not realize that ISIS is run like a corporation. Computer equipment confiscated in 2007 revealed that their internal management was highly structured, even at that early time.

“It may sound bizarre for a group calling itself a caliphate, but the foundation of its management model, as identified by experts, is more akin to that of General Motors than it is to a religious dynasty from the Dark Ages,” a comprehensive Businessweek article described. “After decades, we may have arrived at the ultimate professionalization of terror…”

“…During a routine January 2007 patrol in Anbar province…a unit of U.S. Marines stumbled on a cache of nine documents in a roadside ditch. They included financial records, payrolls, supply purchase records, administrative records, and other details of fund flows into and out of a single local cell in Anbar of a group then calling itself the ‘Islamic State of Iraq’…

“Taken together, the Anbar records allowed for a forensic reconstruction of the back-office operations of a terrorist insurgency from its local level up to its divisional headquarters. The data were handed over to the National Defense Research Institute of Rand Corp., a U.S. Department of Defense-funded think tank based in Santa Monica, Calif…What they concluded in a 2010 report, written for then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates, should be familiar to students of business management: The group was decentralized, organized, and run on what’s called the ‘multidivisional-hierarchy form’ of management, or M-form for short…It’s the structure that started taking root in the corporate world in the 1920s, thanks to Alfred Sloan’s decision to reorganize General Motors…”

According to experts studying the inner-workings of the terrorist organization, the “Islamic State of Iraq was set up along the lines of the best multinationals…” (ibid.).

(3) It Is Run by Experienced Military Commanders

Businessweek also revealed that al-Baghdadi spent a significant amount of time filling the ranks with top military commanders—intelligent, experienced, strategic thinkers.

Photo: Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images
Destruction: Smoke rises during an attack by Islamic State militants on the Syrian city of Kobane (Nov. 6, 2014).

“Well before [al-Baghdadi] started his march across the region over the summer [2014], he spent an entire year gathering hundreds of experienced personnel, including veteran leaders. Mostly, he broke them out of cell blocks in prisons across Iraq. Many were on death row.”

“In September 2012, an Islamic State suicide car bomber struck the front gate of Tasfirat Prison in Tikrit, the hometown of Saddam Hussein…About 100 inmates were freed, including senior members of the organization, according to press reports at the time.

“It was the first major operation in what al-Baghdadi publicly unveiled in July 2012 as the ‘Destroying the Walls’ campaign. His aim was to spend a year freeing the group’s leaders and fighters from Iraq’s prisons to ‘refuel’ operations; many of those he would free had been imprisoned by U.S. forces during the occupation of Iraq.”

Two more major prison breaks took place on July 21, 2013, at Baghdad’s Taji and Abu Ghraib prisons. Around 1,000 inmates were freed, many of whom ended up in senior IS positions: “It’s hard to know exactly which former inmates ended up in what positions, but Iraqi officials and supporters of Islamic State alike said at the time that senior leaders and regional commanders were among those sprung. Supporters took to social media to declare it the most important jihadi operation since Sept. 11, given the personnel who escaped” (ibid.).

Mr. Baghdadi’s “Destroying the Walls” campaign appeared to just be Phase 1 of his overall plan. Once Phase 1 was complete, IS swept across huge sections of Iraq and Syria, winning battles in cities no one expected them to take. These territorial gains brought with them captured military hardware. In August 2014, Reuters reported that IS “captured an enormous amount of U.S. weaponry, originally intended for the rebuilt Iraqi Army…including M1 Abrams tanks (about $6 million each), 52 M198 Howitzer cannons ($527,337), and MRAPs [vehicles designed to withstand explosive devices] (about $1 million)…”

Although estimates of the Islamic State’s army vary widely, one top official stated that the number of men could be well into six-figures, The Independent reported: “The Islamic State (Isis) has recruited an army hundreds of thousands strong, far larger than previous estimates by the CIA, according to a senior Kurdish leader. He said the ability of Isis to attack on many widely separated fronts in Iraq and Syria at the same time shows that the number of militant fighters is at least 200,000, seven or eight times bigger than foreign in intelligence estimates of up to 31,500 men.

“Fuad Hussein, the chief of staff of the Kurdish President Massoud Barzani said in an exclusive interview with The Independent on Sunday that ‘I am talking about hundreds of thousands of fighters because they are able to mobilise Arab young men in the territory they have taken.’

“He estimates that Isis rules a third of Iraq and a third of Syria with a population of between 10 and 12 million living in an area of 250,000 square kilometres, the same size as Great Britain. This gives the jihadis a large pool of potential recruits.”

(4) It Is Rich

IS is the wealthiest terrorist organization in history. Even before seizing Mosul, IS quietly built up a sophisticated economy of plunder and smuggling—pulling in an estimated $12 million per month.

But this was just the start. In mid-2014, when the Islamic State captured Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, they raided banks, stealing $425 million from the city’s central bank.

Al Arabiya News reported that vast quantities of money and gold were plundered: “Atheel al-Nujaifi, mayor of Mosul and governor of Nineveh province, said at the time that ISIS had also stolen millions from numerous banks across the city, as well as large quantities of gold bullion.”

The Islamic State also captured main highways, waterways, dams, and most important, oil fields. As of this writing, the group is making over $3 million per day selling oil on the black market, extorting money from people and peddling stolen goods such as vehicles, tractors and even humans (many times as sex slaves). The group is also reportedly harvesting and selling human organs from those they capture.

All of this cash is maintained according to strict financial principles. During one of the raids described in the Businessweek article, a “seized hard drive containing 1,200 files was especially valuable. It appeared to belong to the man who was akin to Islamic State of Iraq’s divisional auditor. The group maintained strict accounting procedures…”

The Islamic State is so far not in danger of running out of cash any time soon. Their net worth is said to be $2 billion.

(5) It Thinks Long-term

After IS captured Mosul, many feared they would expand south to Baghdad. Yet they stopped short.

Why? It could be because of their patience and careful, step-by-step implementation of a long-term strategy. The Islamic State may not want to expand too quickly. They seem to be employing principles to avoid the fate of companies that go bankrupt after growing too fast, or countries that lose wars because of fighting on too many fronts.

Another example of this patient mentality is Mr. Baghdadi’s year-long campaign to swell its ranks with released prisoners. Once enough fighters and leaders were in place, they were able to rapidly capture giant sections of Iraq and Syria.

IS appears to be regrouping and solidifying its reign of terror, ensuring it has a firm grip on its current resource-rich territory before it starts to expand once again. But how soon before they attack Baghdad? And if they do, will the world intervene in a larger way?

(6) It Portrays Itself as a Benefit to Society

What is life like for those in this new “country”? ISIS rules by fear, but they are also establishing themselves as a government that “cares for the people.” Unmarked aid stolen from relief organizations is distributed under the “generous” banner of IS. Social welfare programs exist in IS-controlled cities, including the redistribution of wealth. Money from wealthy citizens is divvied among the poor. Crumbling infrastructure, such as bridges and roads, is being repaired. Consumer protection agencies are even being set up. Fair trade and price controls at marketplaces are enforced by patrolling officers known as the Hisbah, who also police people’s diets, dress and conduct—all according to strict Sharia. They even have a court system, of course based on Islamic law. All of this serves to reinforce the belief in its citizenry that ISIS is “for the people.”

The Islamic State uses slick propaganda, showing happy Muslim families in captured cities, supposedly living the “dream life” in a caliphate. Muslim preachers travel through IS-controlled territory, handing out pamphlets to indoctrinate children and young men about the caliphate.

A documentary produced by Vice News—one of the only media outlets to feature on-the-ground reporting about ISIS—interviewed one man who described part of the terror group’s strategy: “We established a nursery to teach the Quran and religion to young children. To teach them how to become, one day, leaders who rule the world and lead Muslims on the path of Sharia…”

The group is also skilled in the use of social media—posting videos and photographs of massacres and beheadings on Twitter and Facebook. The infamous beheadings of two American journalists and a British aid worker were produced in high-definition video. This social media campaign is not just designed to strike fear into the world. It is meant to inspire Muslims around the world to join their ranks.

So far, this tactic appears to be working.

(7) Its Ideology Attracts Thousands of Foreign Recruits

The Islamic State believes in their cause. They feel led by a “higher purpose.” This cult-like mindset has inspired thousands of Muslims around the world to join under their banner. Their religious fervor has been a rallying cry that has become contagious, infecting people around the world.

A report from CNN showed that young men, disillusioned with Western society, are flocking to the extremist organization: “For a group of radical anti-Western militants, ISIS is pretty good at luring Westerners to its ranks. The latest is an American teen from suburban Chicago who was allegedly on his way to join ISIS. Mohammed Hamzah Khan was stopped just before he was supposed to board a plane to Turkey, authorities said. But he’s far from alone…”

“About 2,000 Westerners have gone to fight in Syria, though it was not clear how many joined ISIS…and how many joined moderate opposition groups battling the Syrian government, a CIA source told CNN last month. But it’s the extremist groups like ISIS that attract the most foreign fighters, [Richard Barrett of the strategic security intelligence company The Soufan Group] wrote.

“‘They tend to be more inclusive, better organized and better financed than their more moderate counterparts,’ he said. ‘They also tend to be more assertive and have more of an impact on the battlefield, and so enjoy greater local standing, which makes them still more attractive to foreign fighters looking to make their own impact.’

“UK authorities believe at least 500 British citizens have gone to Iraq and Syria, many of them to fight with ISIS and other Islamist groups. French authorities estimate more than 700 people have traveled from France to fight in Syria, according to Barrett.”

Tragically, these fresh new Western recruits are many times used in deadly missions since they otherwise bring little value to IS. They usually do not speak the language and have very little military training. The twisted leaders of IS often use these “soldiers” for suicide bombings.

The success of ISIS has not just led to individuals joining them, but entire terrorist groups in Syria, Iraq and Egypt have folded under this new “caliphate.” They are also working hand-in-hand with some elements of al-Qaida in Syria.

Other “recruits” may not even have direct contact with the Islamic State. Attracted to the group’s radical ideology, they are inspired to commit deadly terror attacks in their home countries. Such acts include the October 2014 attack at the Canadian Parliament building and, most notably, the January 2015 wave of violence in Paris, France.

(8) Its Enemies Have Struggled to Find a Unified Strategy

The rise of IS caught the world completely off guard. It watched helplessly as the militant group swept across Iraq and Syria. Only when starving Yazidis (a small Christian sect) were stranded on a mountaintop after fleeing IS fighters did anyone intervene. The U.S. began putting together a coalition of nations to stop the spread of ISIS. About three years after America left Iraq, it found itself again launching airstrikes and dropping humanitarian aid on Iraqi soil.

The anti-ISIS coalition is now made up of 60 countries, but they are struggling to come up with a clear strategy. So far, they have done little to destroy ISIS aside from carrying out airstrikes and condemning their brutality.

In early December 2014, the coalition held its first meeting in Brussels: “The U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State group also known as ISIS has inflicted significant damage on the militant organization’s capabilities, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said…Kerry specifically pointed to the 1,000 airstrikes carried out by the coalition so far in Iraq and Syria as contributing to the effort to weaken the group’s leadership, according to Reuters.

“The U.S. began launching airstrikes against ISIS in August following a massive territorial advance by the group in Iraq. While anti-ISIS forces in Iraq, including the country’s military, Kurdish forces and Sunni tribal fighters, have made some gains in heading off the group, Kerry said that the fight ‘will be measured most likely in years,’ Reuters reported.

“Kerry’s comments came at the start of an anti-ISIS coalition meeting, which included Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and several foreign ministers from European and Arab countries, according to Gulf Today. It was the first high-level diplomatic meeting of the 60-member coalition. The group convened at NATO headquarters in Brussels, though Kerry emphasized that the meeting wasn’t a NATO event” (International Business Times).

Many countries signed on but some have conflicting priorities. For instance, Newsweek reported that Turkey’s motives for finally joining the group of nations fighting ISIS differ from what is being expected of them: “After a long period of hesitation, a bit of American arm-twisting and a fierce war fast closing in on its borders with Syria and Iraq, Turkey has finally joined the U.S.-led coalition against the extremists of the Islamic State, commonly known as ISIS.

“Or has it?

“Turkey’s goals in joining the fight differ from what American officials say they are. In some cases, the Turkish aims may even create friction with other essential components of the coalition, pushing the U.S. to finesse those differences or make stark choices.”

Another example of the disjointed nature of the coalition is Shia Iran, an enemy of ISIS. Iran was not invited to the international coalition and said they would not attend even if invited. Nevertheless, they carried out surprise airstrikes against ISIS in late November. China reportedly might be the next country to join the coalition.

At best, the coalition is a cobbled together group of countries who vaguely agree on the goal but cannot decide on tactics.

(9) It Is Difficult to Uproot

Once a virus infects a computer, it is extremely hard to remove it. ISIS is much the same. Despite persistent airstrikes, IS remains entrenched in Iraq and Syria. A number of headlines show this point in living color: “Syrian Kurds say air strikes against Isis are not working…” (The Guardian)—“Months of Bombing Makes Small Impact on ISIS’ Military” (NBC News)—“US Struggles to Turn the Tide in War Against ISIS” (Agence France-Presse).

New York Post reported that American military officials have stated that no amount of airstrikes will completely destroy IS and that ground troops will be required: “As the massive US-led air campaign plows ahead, the nation’s top military chief says it will take 15,000 ground troops to wipe out ISIS in Syria. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made the statement at a…briefing as Britain, Belgium and Denmark joined the bombing campaign to wipe out the terror group in Iraq.

“‘The answer is yes. There has to be a ground component in the campaign,’ Dempsey said, appearing alongside Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. ‘We need 12,000 to 15,000 to reclaim lost territory,’ he said, referring to the huge swath ISIS carved out from Iraq and Syria.”

(10) It Is Not Just Another Terrorist Group

The Islamic State is not just another modern terrorist group. It is rich and its revenue streams are not slowing down. It has a highly structured management team, including training programs to keep new recruits on the path to top leadership. It is willing to use any means necessary to keep its power. It is filled with experienced military officials and is skilled in social media campaigns and propaganda. Multiple terrorist groups are coming under the black flag of ISIS.

A U.S. State Department official stated that IS is worse than al-Qaida: “Top officials crisscrossed the Capitol…giving urgent warnings that ISIS represented a threat ‘worse than Al Qaeda,’ in the words of one State Department official, with the capability to create a sanctuary for global jihadists working to threaten American interests.

“The self-declared Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is no longer merely a terrorist organization, a top State Department official told House and Senate lawmakers, but ‘a full-blown army seeking to establish a self-governing state through the Tigris and Euphrates Valley in what is now Syria and Iraq’” (The Daily Beast).

The previously mentioned Vice News documentary summarized the situation this way: “While no one knows exactly how to deal with the escalating crisis, the fighters of the Islamic State grow bolder.”

(11) Its Goal Is Global Domination

Many wonder what IS’s ultimate goal is. All one must do is simply take them at their word. Their stated goal could be summarized in the following way: unification of all Muslims and destruction of the West en route to global domination.

The goal of unifying Muslims and taking power can be seen in the approach IS has taken to Shia and even Sunni tribes. Islamic State butchers have executed thousands of “apostate” Muslims, burying them in mass graves and brazenly filming the atrocities and posting them online. IS even blew up a Sunni mosque in Mosul that supposedly housed the biblical prophet Jonah’s tomb. They also have made it clear they want to take over Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan, to name just a few of their target countries.

Attacking and destroying Western civilization, including Christianity, seems to be the next step in their plans. In the eyes of ISIS fighters, Christian “infidels” must be killed or subjugated.

IS adherents talk about “destroying the cross by the sword.” These words are being backed by actions.

Before the fall of Mosul, 30,000 Christians fled. When IS fighters entered the city, they destroyed Christian churches. The Armenian Catholic Church of the Martyrs in Raqqa was converted into an Islamic center.

An IS Press Officer in Raqqa told a Vice News journalist: “I say to America that the Islamic State has been established. And we will not stop. Don’t be cowards and attack us with drones. Instead send your soldiers, the ones we humiliated in Iraq. We will humiliate them everywhere, God willing, and we will raise the flag of Allah in the White House…”

This dire warning portends a potential showdown between the unstoppable force (IS) and the immoveable object (Christianity and the West).

“Perilous Times”

The rise of ISIS is like nothing the world has ever seen. Their appearance has left the world community scrambling to combat them. Yet no country, other than a war-weary America, has even discussed taking a serious approach to uprooting them. Seeing the sobering and increasing levels of unrest in the Middle East, many are afraid of what ISIS means for the future of this region.

These dangerous times have caused millions of people, Christians and non-Christians alike, to wonder if mankind has reached the “end-times.” Others believe without doubt that we are living in the “end of days.”

Can this question be answered—with proof?

The answer begins with Jesus Christ’s words in John 16. Most do not realize the Bible speaks of our time.

Jesus Christ spoke of a period just before His Second Coming when people would kill and think that they were serving God. Notice: “…the time comes, that whosoever kills you will think that he does God service” (vs. 2).

Christ was talking to His disciples at the time, but His next statements recorded in verses 3 and 4 show He was primarily addressing His followers who would come later: “And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor Me. But these things have I told you, that when the time shall come, you may remember that I told you of them…”

Most do not realize that Bible prophecy is being fulfilled in our time—and can be seen in today’s headlines. This modern dangerous world was foretold.

Notice what God inspired the apostle Paul to record in II Timothy 3: “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away” (vs. 1-5).

Perilous times. Boasters. Proud. Blasphemers. Fierce! Sound familiar?

Even more, Thayer’s New Testament Greek Lexicon defines the word “perilous” as “savage.” Without a doubt, the actions of ISIS are just that—savage.

In Jesus’ famous Olivet prophecy, He stated that the end times would begin with “wars and rumors of wars: see that you be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom…in [various] places. All these are the beginning of sorrows” (Matt. 24:6-8).

The rise of the Islamic State undoubtedly becomes another element of proof that humanity has reached the end times. To learn about the other proofs—straight from your Bible!—request the free booklet Are These the Last Days?

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