OSINT – IS

Also Known As: Islamic State; Islamic State in Iraq; Islamic State in Iraq and Syria; Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham; ISIS; ISIL; Daesh

Formerly Known As: al-Qa’ida Group of Jihad in Iraq; al-Qa’ida Group of Jihad in the Land of the Two Rivers; al-Qa’ida in Mesopotamia; al-Qa’ida in the Land of the Two Rivers; al-Qa’ida of Jihad in Iraq; al-Qa’ida of Jihad Organization in the Land of the Two Rivers; al-Qa’ida of the Jihad in the Land of the Two Rivers; al-Tawhid; Jam’at al-Tawhid Wa’al-Jihad; Tanzeem Qa’idat al Jihad/Bilad al Raafidaini; Tanzim Qa’idat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn; The Monotheism and Jihad Group; The Organization Base of Jihad/Country of the Two Rivers; The Organization Base of Jihad/Mesopotamia; The Organization of al-Jihad’s Base in Iraq; The Organization of al-Jihad’s Base in the Land of the Two Rivers; The Organization of al-Jihad’s Base of Operations in Iraq; The Organization of al-Jihad’s Base of Operations in the Land of the Two Rivers; The Organization of Jihad’s Base in the Country of the Two Rivers; al-Zarqawi Network; AQI

Description:  The United States designated AQI as a FTO on December 17, 2004. AQI/ISI/ISIS/IS follows a Sunni Islamic extremist ideology, and is trying to legitimize its territorial holdings and governance in Syria and in Iraq as a caliphate for all true Muslims.

Targets: Key targets of IS include Iraqi Security Forces, Assad Regime Forces, Syrian Free Army troops, and anti-ISIS coalition members.

Activities: Abu Bakr al Baghdadi had pursued an expansive strategy for IS. He pushed a strategy of “Breaking Down the Walls” in 2012, in which ISI troops freed prisoners in Iraq and compelled the men to join his organization. He then led “A Soldier’s Harvest,” an assassination program against Iraqi Security Forces in 2013. In January 2014, ISIS troops exploited the chaos of the Syrian Civil War, and security Raqqa, which became the capital of the Islamic State. ISIS then attacked from Syria into Northern and Western Iraq, and took over Mosul and Ramadi, and left Baghdad in a vulnerable position. The next flashpoint became Kobani in October 2014, as IS troops fought Kurdish militias, such as the YPG, PKK, and the peshmerga, supported by American airstrikes.

Diplomacy: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi merged his insurgent group in Iraq with Al-Qaeda in late 2004, forming Al-Qaeda in Iraq. After Zarqawi’s death in 2006, his successors, Abu Omar Baghdad and Abu Ayyub al-Masri, remained the organization as the Islamic State in Iraqi, giving the group grassroots legitimacy in Iraq. American airstrikes killed Abu Omar Baghdad and Ayyub al-Masri, leading to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi taking over ISI in 2010. Baghdadi attempted to merge ISI and the Nusra Front as ISIS in April 2013, which the Syrian affiliated AQ group acrimoniously rebuffed. In February 2014, AQ Central cut ties with ISIS because of the group’s sheer brutality. After ISIS conquered Mosul in June 2014, the group rebranded itself as IS. IS had been known to attack Syrian regime forces, Kurdish militias, and FSA troops. IS has been known to work pragmatically with the Nusra Front, especially after American airstrikes against both groups in Syria in September 2014.

IS's diplomacy, courtesy of START

IS’s diplomacy, courtesy of START

Leadership: IS is currently led by Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, also known as Caliph Ibrahim. Most of his key lieutenants were either detained with Baghdadi in Camp Bucca or former Saddam-era Baathist military personnel.

IS Leadership, courtesy of PBS

IS Leadership, courtesy of PBS

Propaganda: IS’s psychological operations wing is “Al-Hayat.” IS’s is also feared for its public beheadings of Western prisoners (Foley, Sotloff, Haines, Henning, and Kassig). IS’s has also used social media, such as its “Glad Tidings of Dawn” app for Twitter and Facebook pages to recruit foreign fighters, disseminate information, and even raise funds.

Strength:  Estimated to be around 20,000 – 31,500 personnel. Moreover, there are approximately 15,000 foreign fighters in the Syrian Civil War for the various factions.

AO: Syria and Iraq, with regional actors in Egypt (Ansar Beit al-Maqdis), Libya (Barqa), and Algeria (Jund al-Khilafah).

Funding and External Aid:  IS uses TNOC, such as oil smuggling, kidnapping for ransom, extortion (such as the robbery of the Bank of Mosul), and commodities smuggling to fund its operations, generating $1-$2 million in revenue per day.

ISIS's AO, courtesy of the NYT

ISIS’s AO, courtesy of the NYT

Local Media:

Aswat al-Iraq. ISIS.” Accessed January 4, 2015.

Azzaman. Islamic State.” Accessed January 4, 2015.

Hurriyet. ISIS.” Accessed January 4, 2015.

Iraqi News. ISIS.” Accessed January 4, 2015.

National Iraqi News Agency. ISIS.” Accessed January 4, 2015.

Rojava Report. ISIS.” Accessed January 4, 2015.

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. “ISIS.” Accessed January 4, 2015.

Syrian Times. ISIS.” Accessed January 4, 2015.

Zaman. ISIS.” Accessed January 4, 2015.

Global Media:

Al Jazeera. ISIS.” Accessed January 4, 2015.

BBC. What is Islamic State.” September 26, 2014. Accessed January 4, 2015.

CNN. ISIS.” Accessed January 4, 2015.

Foreign Affairs. “ISIS.” Accessed January 4, 2015.

Foreign Policy. “ISIS.” Accessed January 4, 2015.

The Guardian. “ISIS.” Accessed January 4, 2015.

NPR. ISIS.” Accessed January 4, 2015.

NYT. “ISIS.” Accessed January 4, 2015.

PBS. ISIS.” Accessed January 4, 2015.

Reuters. Islamic State.” Accessed January 4, 2015.

VICE News. “ISIS.” Accessed January 4, 2015.

VOA. Islamic State.” Accessed January 4, 2015.

WaPo. “ISIS.” Accessed January 4, 2015.

Think Tanks / Academic:

AEI. “Islamic State.” Accessed January 4, 2015.

Brookings. “Islamic State.” Accessed January 4, 2015.

CFR. “Islamic State.” Accessed January 4, 2015.

CFR. “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.” August 8, 2014. Accessed January 4, 2015.

CRS. “Al Qaeda-Affiliated Groups: Middle East and Africa.” October 10, 2014. Accessed December 26, 2014.

CRS. “Al Qaeda and Affiliates: Historical Perspective, Global Presence, and Implications for U.S. Policy.” Accessed December 26, 2014.

CRS. “American Foreign Fighters and the Islamic State: Broad Challenges for Federal Law Enforcement.” September 19, 2014. Accessed January 4, 2015.

CRS. “Considerations for Possible Authorization for Use of Military Force Against the Islamic State.” September 16, 2014. Accessed January 4, 2015.

CRS. “Iraq: Politics, Governance, and Human Rights.” October 29, 2014. Accessed January 4, 2015.

CRS. “The “Islamic State” Crisis and U.S. Policy.” December 8, 2014. Accessed January 4, 2015.

CRS. “The Islamic State in Egypt: Implications for U.S.-Egyptian Relations.” December 18, 2014. Accessed January 4, 2015.

CRS. “The Islamic State in Syria and Iraq: A Possible Threat to Jordan?” August 28, 2014. Accessed January 4, 2015.

CRS. “Turkey-U.S. Cooperation Against the “Islamic State”: A Unique Dynamic?” October 21, 2014. Accessed January 4, 2015.

CRS. “U.S. Citizens Kidnapped by the Islamic State.” October 17, 2014. Accessed January 4, 2015.

CRS. “U.S. Military Action Against the Islamic State: Answers to Frequently Asked Legal Questions.” September 9, 2014. Accessed January 4, 2015.

CSIS. “Islamic State.” Accessed January 4, 2015.

CTC. “Islamic State.” Accessed January 4, 2015.

ICG. “Islamic State.” Accessed January 4, 2015.

ISW. “Islamic State.” Accessed January 4, 2015.

Jihadology. “Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham.” Accessed January 4, 2015.

SITE. “ISIS.” Accessed January 4, 2015.

The Soufan Group. “Foreign Fighters in Syria.” June 2, 2014. Accessed January 4, 2015.

The Soufan Group. “The Islamic State.” October 28, 2014. Accessed January 4, 2015.

Stanford University. “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.” Mapping Militant Organizations. November 4, 2014.  Accessed January 4, 2015.

START. “The Evolution of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL): Relationships 2004-2014.” June 2014. Accessed January 5, 2014.

TRAC. “ISIS.” Accessed January 4, 2015.

Government:

Defense Department. “OPERATION INHERENT RESOLVE.” Accessed January 4, 2015.

DIA. “Annual Threat Assessment.” February 11, 2014.

NCTC. “Al-Qa‘ida in Iraq (AQI).” Accessed January 4, 2015.

State Department. “Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL.” Accessed January 4, 2015.

State Department. “Al-QA’IDA IN IRAQ.” Chapter 6: Foreign Terrorist Organizations. Country Reports on Terrorism 2013.

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