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"I'll see you guys in New York."
- Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, current leader of ISIS terrorist group, said to U.S. Army Reservists from Long Island on the day of his release from custody in 2009

 It's rare that you can accurately describe a group as "evil", but the  Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is one of those rare exceptions.
   Just do a search in YouTube.com of "ISIS atrocities" and you will see what I mean. Only do it on an empty stomach.

Dark Red - Territory Controlled by ISIS

  A lot of attention was given to the Boko Haram for kidnapping 200 Nigerian schoolchildren, but there was little attention to ISIS kidnapping 183 schoolchildren last month.

 Yet, with the kidnapping of the schoolgirls in Nigeria, the U.S. went as far as sending 80 soldiers to Chad to assist in searching for the children. Other nations helped the Nigerian government with satellite information. Until now, though, the U.S. has not acknowledged the Kurdish children’s’ kidnapping in Syria.
What happens to the children? Some get executed. Some of them might end up executing others.

  These are guys that like to cut off people's heads and use them as soccer balls.
   They hold public executions, complete with music and small children in attendance.
   They also like to hold public crucifixions for other rebel groups not in ISIS.

  I could go on, but I don't think its necessary. These guys are the worst of the worst. Saddam was civilized and reasonable compared to these monsters.

  So where did they come from? What do they want? And what makes them different?

History of ISIS

  ISIS has undergone several name changes.
Originally it was Jamāʻat al-Tawḥīd wa-al-Jihād, "The Organization of Monotheism and Jihad" (JTJ). It's roots can be traced back to early 2004, in the aftermath of Bush's disastrous invasion of Iraq. They made their name for such bombings as the one against the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

  It's early leader was someone you probably remember, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. While al-Zarqawi was a terrorist leader before 2004, the group's origination is traced back to when al-Zarqawi swore loyalty to Osama bin Laden. He was one of the early leaders in stirring up sectarian hate between the Sunnis and Shias. Al-Zarqawi personally beheaded Nick Berg.
   He met his end on June 7, 2006, when an F16 dropped two 500-pound bombs on his head.

  Shortly after al-Zarqawi's early death, the group changed tactics. They merged with other jihadist groups called the Mujahideen Shura Council and took the "oath of the scented ones". This oath included "to end the oppression to which the Sunnis are being subjected by the malicious Shi'ites and by the occupying Crusaders".

   The next day the Dawlat al-ʻIraq al-Islāmīyah, "Islamic State of Iraq" (ISI) was announced. Abu_Abdullah_al-Rashid_al-Baghdadi became its leader. This wasn't popular with everyone.
   al-Rashid al-Baghdadi was killed along with another ISI leader, Abu_Ayyub_al-Masri in a joint-U.S./Iraqi rocket attack in Tikrit on 18 April, 2010.

  This blow, combined with the withdraw of American forces, was critical. The Arab Awakening in Anbar province crippled the effectiveness of all the al-Qaeda forces in Iraq. It  should have been the end of ISI.

   But it wasn't.

 How Al-Baghdadi went from being a cleric with a PHD in Islamic studies, to being in custody of American troops is a unknown.
 The story of how Baghadadi ended up in U.S. custody in the first place and later came to be the leader of a violent terrorist group is the stuff of legend.
   It is said by some that al Baghadadi was in the wrong place at the wrong time when he was picked up by the U.S. military, a farmer who got caught up in a massive sweep. It was at Camp Bucca that he was radicalized and became a follower of Osama Bin Laden.
   Another version of the story is that al Baghadadi, who also goes by the alias of Abu Duaa, was an Islamic fundamentalist before the U.S. invaded Iraq and he became a leader in al Qaeda's network before he was arrested and detained by American forces in 2005.
   'Abu Duaa was connected to the intimidation, torture and murder of local civilians in Qaim,' according to a 2005 U.S. intelligence report.
   'He would kidnap individuals or entire families, accuse them, pronounce sentence and then publicly execute them.'
Either way, he spent nearly four years in prison. He wasn't considered the worst of the bad at the time. In fact, he was a rather ordinary prisoner.
   That's why his ominous promise of going to New York as he was being released in 2009 didn't catch anyone's attention.

  It didn't take him long after being released to get noticed. Within a year has was the leader of ISI. Between March and April 2011, the ISI claimed 23 attacks south of Baghdad.
   When Osama bin Laden was killed, al-Baghadadi increased the terror attacks.

  When Arab Spring in Syria changed from peaceful protests being brutalized by Assad's security forces, to all out civil war in 2012, ISI moved into the region, but was a minor player at this point.

   On 9 April 2013, the group adopted the name "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant", also known as "Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham". With this announcement, ISIL merged with Al-Nusra_Front, one of the most effective of the rebel/terrorist groups in Syria.
   With this merger, the group changed strategies from one-off terrorist bombings to actively looking to occupy territory and provide services like a real insurgency.

Al-Nusra "appears to be the only rebel group in Syria which has members inside a number of government institutions, including the government security apparatus and military units. Particularly in Damascus, spying systems are sophisticated."
 It was this merger that ultimately led to a rift between ISIL and al-Qaeda. The leader of Nusra Front leader Abu Mohammad al-Golani distanced himself from the merger, saying he was not consulted. Al-Golani appealed to al-Zawahiri, the remaining leader of al-Qaeda, who ordered the two groups to seperate.
"The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant will be abolished," al-Zawahri said, adding that Nusra Front will remain an independent branch of al-Qaida. Al-Baghdadi and al-Golani are to stay on as leaders of their respective branches for another year, after which the al-Qaida leadership will decide whether they will keep their posts or be replaced.
 Al-Baghdadi rejected the ruling and took 80% of al-Nusra's fighters.
    In February 2014, al-Qaeda disavowed any relations with ISIS. Isis was deemed too extreme for al-Qaida.
 Several of the letters found among the so-called Abbottabad papers (a stash of correspondence recovered from Bin Laden's Pakistani hideaway after his killing in 2011) question or criticise the group and warn that it might have a negative impact on al-Qaida's reputation.
 On 29 June 2014, the establishment of a new caliphate was announced, with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi named as caliph, and the group formally changed its name to "Islamic State".

  On December 31, 2013, ISIL and allied Sunni militias took control of Fallujah and parts of Ramadi and have held onto the areas despite seven months of seige and bombardment by the Iraqi army.

What ISIS believes

  The roots of the ideas of ISIS can be traced back to the Muslim Brotherhood. It follows an extreme anti-Western interpretation of Islam, promotes religious violence and regards those who do not agree with its interpretation as infidels and apostates.

  ISIS is more than just a bunch of murderers, but that only makes them more dangerous.

 In the areas of Syria it controls, Isis has set up courts, schools and other services, flying its black jihadi flag everywhere. In Raqqa, it even started a consumer protection authority for food standards.
Some in Sunni areas even say that security has improved since ISIS took over.
 The core fighters of ISIS only numbers in the range from 7,000 to 10,000, around a third of them being foreign fighters. Most of its military action comes in cooperation with other militias.

  ISIS managed to capture surface-to-air Stinger missles, howitzers, Blackhawk helicopters, anti-aircraft weapons, cargo planes, hundreds of armored Humvees, and a chemical weapons factory.

  The major donors of ISIS originate in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, although Obama's assistance to Syrian rebels has also aided ISIS.
   Even before their conquest of Mosul, ISIS had no problems with money.

 ISIS has secured massive cashflows from the oilfields of eastern Syria, which it had commandeered in late 2012, some of which it sold back to the Syrian regime. It has also made money from smuggling raw materials pillaged in Syria as well as priceless antiquities from archeological digs...
   Computer sticks taken from an Isis courier by Iraqi forces before the fall of the northern city of Mosul revealed that Isis – before the city's capture – had cash and assets worth $875m (£516m). After the fall of Mosul, Isis looted the banks and captured military supplies that have boosted the group's coffers to about $2bn, according to Iraqi officials.
 ISIS is far different from any other terrorist group in that it releases quarterly reports that would rival or surpass most corporations.
 So what's next?
  The fact that ISIS has been unable to take Samarra, the only major Shia city north of Baghdad, despite almost two months of attacks, shows the limits of how much ISIS can do in Iraq (short of a collapse of the Iraqi government). Baghdad is probably out of their reach.
   On the other hand, the fact that the Iraqi army has been unable take back Fallujah after a seven month seige, plus the Iraqi army's humiliating defeat last week in Tikrit, probably means that ISIS is here to stay.

  In Syria, ISIS's recent success against the Syrian army distracts from the fact that they are no foreseeable danger of taking Aleppo, much less Damascus.

  This doesn't mean that ISIS doesn't present a clear and present danger. They remain a destabilizing force in both Syria and Iraq, with little danger of being crushed any time soon, and the ability to export their insurgency/terrorism to other nations.

8:37 AM PT: link

 "One possibility is that these territories remain outside government control for a long period of time. That would lead to a sort of de facto partition," said Fanar Haddad, an academic and author on Iraq.

If it is to have any chance of turning the tide, the government must lure minority Sunnis away from the radicals now threatening to encircle Baghdad.

    The Islamic State, a relatively small vanguard, has exploited Sunni disgruntlement with Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to assert itself in the predominantly Sunni regions.

    Eight years ago when the U.S. army faced a similar challenge from the Islamic State in Iraq - an al Qaeda group from which the Islamic State emerged - it persuaded Sunni tribal leaders to switch sides, offering millions of dollars as incentive.

    This time, that's not an option. Maliki, who distrusted the Sunni paramilitary forces, halted their payments years ago, leaving them embittered and unlikely to fight a second time for the central government.

8:42 AM PT: a Sunni opinion

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