Three Years Later, ISIS Evolving Beyond Iraq and Syria
(New York) – Several days after the June 29, 2014, declaration of a caliphate spanning large areas of eastern Syria and western Iraq, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi delivered his first sermon as “Caliph Ibrahim” from the pulpit of al-Nuri mosque in Mosul. Three years later, ISIS militants have destroyed the 800-year-old mosque as Iraqi forces continue to drive the terror group from Mosul. As ISIS continues to evolve, policymakers will need to consider how to address the changing threat.
ISIS-controlled territory in Iraq and Syria may be contracting, but the group is making inroads in other areas. Recent attacks have been carried out by ISIS affiliates and supporters in Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Sinai Peninsula, Yemen, Somalia, India, Bangladesh, and elsewhere. In late 2014, ISIS began encouraging followers, in part through social media platforms, to strike at home and make use of cars and trucks as weapons of terror. ISIS-inspired attacks have included: Nice, France truck attack, July 14, 2016 (86 killed); Berlin truck attack, December 19, 2016 (12 killed); March 22, Westminster Bridge vehicle attack (5 killed); April 7 Stockholm, Sweden, truck attack (4 killed); May 22 Manchester bombing (22 killed); and June 3, London Bridge vehicle attack (8 killed).
The origins of ISIS go back to al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), formed by sectarian extremist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. During the Iraq War and its aftermath, the group experienced a series of setbacks and restructurings, and at one point was called the Islamic State in Iraq (ISI). In his June 2014 speech, Baghdadi made clear that ISIS’s aspirations were not limited to any one region, and that the group sought to establish governance over all Muslims. Ultimately, ISIS seeks to unite the world under a single caliphate and has established satellite operations in nine countries.