The Most Dangerous Terrorist Organizations: ISIS

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS)

                 ISI was initially formed as the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) in 2006.  At that time, ISI was composed of Sunni rebels and members of the Baathist regime 1.  In 2013, they rebranded themselves as ISIS and joined the Syrian insurgents fighting the Assad government in Syria. ISIS quickly went rogue and created small states or caliphate in territory it controlled in Syria.  Similar to most jihadist groups, ISIS enforces the Sharia legal code and seeks to implement it throughout the Middle East with the intent to expand the caliphate entire world.  By 2015, it has been estimated that ISIS has as many as 40,000 troops in Syria and Iraq.

               ISIS currently occupies areas in Iraq and Syria, but its network affiliates have expanded to other countries.  They originated from Al-Qaeda but are no longer affiliated, having separated from Al-Qaeda formally in 2014 when it declared the caliphate 1.  ISIS and Al-Qaeda are in conflict over recruitment and financial resources. Other jihadist groups, such as Boko Haram, have formed affiliates of ISIS. 

               ISIS has claimed numerous international attacks such as downing a Russian civilian passenger plane, and an attack in Belgium in 2016.  ISIS tends to be brazen in its demonstrations of violence including releasing videos of beheading hostages.  They have killed numerous civilians in Iraq and Syria and often use suicide bombs. ISIS rose to prominence in 2014 after the capture of Mosul and releasing numerous videos of beheading hostages through social media. 

     Much of ISIS’s funding comes from oil, extortion, ale of antiques and ransom payments. Similar to AQAP, ISIS has a political/military organizational structure.  Abu Omar al-Baghdadi was ISI’s first leader but in 2010 security forces killed him.  Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi replaced him as head of ISIS and remains in that position today.  ISIS’s organizational structure includes a judicial authority (e.g., the Islamic courts), legislative authority (e.g., The Shura Council), and executive authority (e.g., military) 3. ISIS remains armed with guns, rockets, mortars, and tanks 3.  In 2015, ISIS claimed the lives of over 500 civilians outside of Syria or Iraq including Paris, Russia, Istanbul, and Beirut.

Current status of ISIS

               ISIS is the most social media savvy jihadist group in existence.  A report demonstrated positive feelings toward ISIS in one-seventh of British adults and one-twelfth of Scottish adults with similar trends throughout Europe 3.  Unlike more regionally contained groups like Boko Haram, ISIS’s reach appears limitless. It would take only a minute fraction of those who support them overseas to engage in acts of terror that could be devastating.  They commonly recruit women from abroad, most of whom cite religious beliefs as their reasons for becoming jihadists 2. The use of social media has also helped ISIS involve interested parties more intimately by allowing them to become part of the narrative on sites such as Twitter 2.  ISIS is more aggressively pursuing women jihadists than any group in history.  For these reasons, ISIS appears to be the single greatest jihadist threat.

                The United States trained troops in Iraq to combat ISIS. In 2014, Iraqi forces did not fare well against ISIS 5.  The U.S. and European forces have engaged in airstrikes against ISIS in Syria.  The U.S. has supported Kurdish forces to help in the fight against ISIS 5.  More recently, Iraqi forces have made more substantial progress against ISIS.  The U.S. and numerous European countries have allied and provided personnel to train those that fight against ISIS. In May 2016, Coalition operations against ISIS made significant progress destroying ISIS buildings and weapons caches 4.


1.       Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS, also IS or ISIL). (2015). Background Information Summaries, 1.

2.       Peresin, A. (2015). Fatal Attraction: Western Muslimas and ISIS. Perspectives On Terrorism, 9(3), 21-38.

3.       Shamieh, L., & Zoltán, S. (2015). The Rise of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). AARMS: Academic & Applied Research In Military & Public Management Science, 14(4), 363-178. 

4.       Tomlinson, L. (2016, June 01). US-backed forces launch operation to retake ISIS-held Syrian town near Turkish border | Fox News. Retrieved June 01, 2016, from

5.     Foreign Policy Spotlight. (2016). Political Intelligence Briefing, 7-13.