IS in­fa­mous for bru­tal­ity, 1 year on


In the year since it de­clared its “caliphate,” the Is­lamic State group has be­come the world’s most in­fa­mous ji­hadist or­ga­ni­za­tion, at­tract­ing in­ter­na­tional fran­chises and spread­ing fear with acts of ex­treme vi­o­lence.

IS pro­claimed its self-de­scribed caliphate on June 29, 2014, urg­ing Mus­lims world­wide to pledge al­le­giance to its Iraqi leader Abu Bakr al-Bagh­dadi, re­named Caliph Ibrahim.

Vow­ing to make “the West and the East ... sub­mit,” IS has ex­panded its ter­ri­tory through­out north­ern and western Iraq and eastern and north­ern Syria.

It now con­trols some 300,000 square kilo­me­ters (115,000 square miles), ter­ri­fy­ing res­i­dents with a grue­some bru­tal­ity that an­a­lysts say has be­come cen­tral to its ex­is­tence.

“By not shrink­ing from ex­treme vi­o­lence ... Daesh is im­ple­ment­ing a tech­nique in which the psy­cho­log­i­cal im­pact is more im­por­tant than the acts them­selves,” said Karim Bi­tar of the Paris-based In­sti­tute for In­ter­na­tional and Strate­gic Stud­ies, us­ing the Ara­bic acro­nym for IS.

“More than any­thing, it’s this psy­cho­log­i­cal war­fare that has al­lowed Daesh to es­tab­lish it­self in the eyes of the West as the in­car­na­tion of the ab­so­lute threat.”

IS emerged from a one-time Iraqi af­fil­i­ate of al-Qaida known as the Is­lamic State in Iraq.

Mur­der, Tor­ture, Slav­ery

The group ex­panded into Syria with the coun­try’s de­scent into wartime chaos and, af­ter a failed bid to merge with al-Qaida’s Syr­ian af­fil­i­ate, be­gan gob­bling up ter­ri­tory on both sides of the bor­der.

It grabbed head­lines in mid-2014 with a sweep­ing ad­vance in Iraq, seiz­ing the city of Mo­sul and swathes of Nin­eveh, Kirkuk, Sala­hed­din, An­bar and Diyala prov­inces.

In Syria the group con­trols nearly all of Raqa province and most of the eastern Deir Ez­zor province, with its rich oil re­sources.

In May alone, IS seized the Iraqi city of Ra­madi in An­bar province and also the famed an­cient city of Palmyra in Syria.

But it has also suf­fered set­backs, los­ing the Iraqi city of Tikrit and the Syr­ian bor­der town of Tal Abyad to lo­cal ground forces fight­ing the ji­hadist group, backed by a U.S.-led coali­tion car­ry­ing out air strikes.

Where the “caliphate” has ex­panded, it has caused mass dis­place­ments, with peo­ple flee­ing its fear­some rep­u­ta­tion for mur­der, tor­ture, forced con­ver­sion and even slav­ery.

Mass slaugh­ter has be­come one of its hall­marks, doc­u­mented in photos and videos shared glee­fully by its sup­port­ers.

In June 2014, its fight­ers cap­tured and ex­e­cuted as many as 1,700 young, mostly Shi­ite re­cruits from the Spe­icher mil­i­tary base near Tikrit.

In Syria, the group has car­ried out sim­i­lar ret­ri­bu­tion against op­po­nents in­clud­ing the Sunni Shai­tat tribe, mur­der­ing an es­ti­mated 700 of its mem­bers af­ter they rose up.

It also car­ried out mass ex­e­cu­tions of Syr­ian sol­diers af­ter cap­tur­ing a base in Raqa and has be­come in­fa­mous for pun­ish­ments in­clud­ing ston­ing women for “adul­tery” and throw­ing al­leged ho­mo­sex­u­als from build­ing tops.

The bru­tal­ity is broad­cast in slickly pro­duced videos show­ing the be­head­ing of for­eign aid work­ers and jour­nal­ists and the burn­ing alive of a cap­tured Jor­da­nian pi­lot.

‘Porno­graphic vi­o­lence’

Peter Har­ling of the In­ter­na­tional Cri­sis Group think tank said IS was har­ness­ing “a kind of rit­u­al­iza­tion of vi­o­lence, even a porno­graphic vi­o­lence” to gain in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion. But he added that the group had shown an abil­ity to be “prag­matic,” not­ing that for ex­am­ple it had not de­stroyed the ru­ins at Palmyra de­spite bull­doz­ing an­tiq­ui­ties in Iraq. IS un­der­stood that Palmyra “is a town on the UNESCO World Her­itage list and de­stroy­ing it would be the best way to turn the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion against it,” he said. In the year since it pro­claimed the caliphate, IS’ call for al­le­giance has been an­swered by groups in Libya, Egypt, Saudi Ara­bia, Tu­nisia, Ye­men and Pak­istan. It has also threat­ened at­tacks in the West, and claimed credit for an at­tempted shoot­ing in the U.S. state of Texas in May.

While ex­perts said that bid was likely inspired rather than di­rected by IS, the group has at­tracted a steady flow of for­eign fight­ers, with men and women ar­riv­ing in its ter­ri­tory in un­prece­dented num­bers from across the world.

Yezid Sayigh, a se­nior as­so­ciate at the Carnegie Mid­dle East Cen­tre think tank, said af­fil­i­ates were an as­set for IS, help­ing it “find re­cruits and pres­sure gov­ern­ments.”

But he said IS’ fo­cus, for now, re­mains con­sol­i­da­tion in Iraq and Syria.

The group has suc­ceeded best in pre­dom­i­nantly Sunni ar­eas “which have suf­fered from ne­glect and marginal­iza­tion.”

It has fo­cused on “pro­vid­ing civil­ian ad­min­is­tra­tion, as well as ser­vices and goods, fight­ing cor­rup­tion and pro­vid­ing jus­tice in per­sonal and busi­ness af­fairs.”

“They want to say: We are a real state and an al­ter­na­tive,” Sayigh said.

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