An Overview of the Islamic State (Formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS))
With the authorization of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq, Abu Muhammed Al-Golani crossed the Iraqi border to Syria to found what would b known as “Jabhat Al-Nusra”, the official affiliate of Al-Qaeda in the country that was in the throes of widespread protests against the Assad dynasty rule, tasked with toppling the regime to set up an Islamic state. Al-Golani met with 6 other sleeper-cells in Syrian and eventually founded “Jabhat al-Nusra l’Ahl as-Sham”, which was declared disbanded by Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi on 09/04/2013, to be replaced by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
The Islamic State’s Emirs (or leaders):
The Central Command:
1- Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi- General Commander:
The Emir, or leader, of ISIS, infamous for his nom-de-guerre, though his real name is “Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Awwad Abdul Mou’men Ali Al-Badri”, also known as Abu Dua’a. He was the Imam of Ahmad bin Hanbal mosque in Samarra during Saddam Hussein’s rule in Iraq, in addition to occupying the post of Imam in Al-Kubeissi mosque in the Touweiji district of Baghdad and one of Al-Fallujah’s mosques in 2003. He received a phD in Islamic Sciences and was a professor in Tikrit university. He was arrested by the allied forces on 04/01/2004, and was later released in Decebmber 2006. He founded a group called Ahl Al-Sunnah Army and became a member in the Shoura Council of the Islamic State of Iraq in 2005. His wife was killed by Fallujah’s Boufarraj tribes. He became the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq on 16/05/2010. Following the death of its leader, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, as the “right hand” of Abu Omar al-Baghdadi was the third in command in the organization, and he was the head of the States and the supervisor of operations management in the organization in 2008.
He worked as a member of the judicial Emir of Anbar, the Emir of Fallujah, the Emir of Diyala, then the state of the northern sector of Baghdad, Judicial Emir of Samarra, gaining essential experience, having worked in most of western and central Iraq.
2 – Abu Abdul Rahman Al-Bilawy
Whose real name is Adnan Ismail Najm, and goes by the nom-de-guerre Abu Abdul Rahman Al-Bilawy, head of the military council and a member of the Shoura Council.
Born in 1971 also goes by the nom-de-guerre Aba Osama Al-Bilawy, was arrested on 27/01/2005 and was detained in Bucca prison, where al-Baghdadi was also confined.
He is currently the Chairman of the State Council, and a member of the Military Council of the Emirate’s public organization, was killed in Iraq in the Khalidiyah area.
3 – Colonel Haji Bakr
It is the right hand of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, known as Abu Bilal al-Mashhadani, whose real name is Samir Abdel Mohammed Nayel Alkhlafawi Nayel Samir, working in the production of chemical weapons and weapons development in the organization, he was an officer in the former Iraqi Army, over responsibility for the military council to organize and received in 2012 the Ministry of Military Industrialization of the organization.
Left to Syria to work on manufacturing weapons, where he was a pilot officer, he worked The beginning of his military involvement was when he joined the ranks of the Islamic Army. Later, he was arrested in Boca prison, and was killed in Syria in the month of January of 2014.
4 – Abu Ayman al-Iraqi
Abu Ayman Abu Muhannad Iraqi or Suedawi, the most important official for “ISIS” in Syria today, memeber of the Iraqi Army during the reign of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, as he holds the rank of lieutenant-colonel, a member of the military council to ISIS today, which consists of 3 people. Was his nickname in Iraq Abu Muhannad Suedawi Born in 1965, he was the Emir of Anbar and assumed management of the northern Kara sector, was captured by coalition forces in 2007 and released in 2010, took over responsibility for security within the organization, then sent as an advocate for Baghdadi to the city of Deir ez-Zor in Syria 2011-2012.
He was the top military officer in the city of Idlib and the mountainous region of Lattakia, and the countryside of Alepp. He managed, during his stay in Syria, to recruit over 1000 foreign fighters, who formed the foundation of ISIS.
5 – Abu Ali Anbari
The judicial official in the organization, is now in the city of Raqqa, giving lectures in the mosque of Imam al-Nawawi between Maghrib and Isha prayers, no more information is available about him.
The leadership in Syria:
1 – Abu Luqman
Real name Ali Musa Ahawakh, a Law school graduate, and the Wali of Al-Raqqa. He is responsible for all the executions that took place the province, and most importantly execution Abu Saad Hadrami, the emir of Jabhat Al-Nusra in Al-Raqqa.
2 – Khalaf Al-Thiyabi Hallous:
Named within the organization, “Abu Musab al-Hallous”, known among the residents of his village and his cousins as “Abu Diab,” born in the village Kanetra, a village in the town of Selok.
He is credited with the the organization’s arrival to Al-Raqqa, and particularly to Selok, and is the first to swear allegiance to the organization at the time, where he hosted them at his home. At first he swore allegience to Abu Abdullah, and to Abu Luqman currently, where he was scheduled to be an Emir, but the arrival of Abu Luqman cost him the emirate, currently holds a grudge against him because he limited the extent of his privileges and appointed emirs over him. He was behind assigning a lot of the names of those to be assassinated, he tried to defect from ISIS after he was overthrown as the emir of Tal Abyad, and he later established Ansar al-Sharia, but Abu Luqman sent him a death threat, prompting him to back down.
Both Abu Jalal (Tariq al-Jubouri) and Abu Khalifa and his brother Ahmed Thiyabi (Abu Basir)are his personal bodyguards, Abu Khalifa was appointed by Abu Luqman to accompany him wherever he went.
3 – Abu Omar Qirdash:
Commonly known within the organization as “The Terminator”, of Turkmen descent from Tal Afar, and a former officer in the Iraqi army and was a loyalist at the time, tasked with the overall security of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, in his 50’s, He was present for the first time in Hama on behalf of (Abu Jassim, Iraq), was nominated to go to Lebanon by Haji Bakr , the biological brother of Hajj Abdel Nasser, the current emir of Al-Sharqiyah, he oversaw the operations of rigging cars during the battles with the Free Syrian Army in Aleppo, and then in Deir al-Zour and many other areas, as he is the top official in ISIS when it comes to rigging cars in both Syria and Iraq, meets on a regular basis with Abu ether, the emir of Aleppo, was tasked with transfering complaints from and to Al-Raqqa, accompanied in this task Abu Musab al-Turki, personally supervised suicide attacks and picking suicide bombers.
4 – Abu Omar “The Boxer”:
An Iraqi national, escaped from prison Tasfirat in Tikrit, Iraq – entered Syrian territory at the request of Al-Baghdadi to spy on al-Nusra at the time, he was asked to stay in Iraq in December of 2012, after which he went to Idlib and Aleppo and navigated between them, is a foot amputee and uses an artificial one, sentenced to death in Tunisia, competent in remote detonation through electronic devices and remote control.
5 – Mahmoud Al-Kheder:
Named within the organization, “Abu Nasser Al-Amni”, one of the main three officals in Al-Raqqa with Abu Luqman and Abu Mohammed Jazrawi, aged about thirty, is known only by few in the organization, works through “Abu Hamza Riyadiyat” and only from behind the scenes, and has all documents about assassinations and security information, he the one that holds all the keys, he always wears a mask and another transparent one over it to conceal his eyes, he sledom speaks to avoid anyone recognizing his voice, and wears gloves to hide the color of his skin.
6 – Abu Abdul Rahman security
A Syrian, whose real name is “Ali Al-Sahou”, was an agricultural engineering student from Deir al-Zour, from the village of Al-Ghayef in the province of Raqqa.
7 – Abu Ali Al-Sharii
Whose real name is Fawaz Ali – from the town of Al-Karamah in Al-Raqqa.
8 – Abu Anas Iraqi
An ISIS military official in Syria.
No further information is available about him.
The organization of ISIS always appoints emirs who originate from the area they are chosen to govern, but they do not have any decision-making power, and are merely facades, since the orders come exclusively from the Iraqis, in particular, the emirs of the central leadership of the Islamic State, except for Abu Luqman who is given the freedom to decide and act.
The announcement of the formation of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
The Syrian Revolution began and the eyes of all members of the State of Iraq turned to Syria and especially non-Iraqis, particularly Syrians, Colonel Haji Bakr feared a leakage of members from the State of Iraq, should they head to Syria, which might cause cracking and splintering in the state, he also feared that chaos in the neighboring country might become a pretext for some members and leaders within the State of Iraq who are looking for a way to defect.
Colonel Haji Bakr advised the organization’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi that he should instruct all leaders to prevent any member from going to Syria, and that message included that anyone leaving for Syria is considered a dissident and an apostate, and he indeed followed the colonel’s advice, by sending this directive, which can be interpreted as a as a warning to leaders, justifying it by claiming that the situation in Syria is not yet clear and they’d be well advised to stay put.
Despite the directives of al-Baghdadi, pressure was boiling within the ranks of the Islamic State of Iraq, which led Haji Bakr to come up with the idea of forming a group of non-Iraqis go to Syria under the leadership of the organization, in order to prevent any leading Iraqi member of going there, and thus he believed that taking this measure would secure the state of Iraq, and assigned to the new leadership the task of of setting up the organization and summoning new members from abroad, and thus (Jabhat Al-Nusra) was founded and began to grow, led by Abu Mohammed al-Golani, who gained fame as the group grew and sweeled, and the name of Abu Mohammed al-Golani rose globally, with jihadis looked up to him, many of whom flocked from the Gulf, Tunisia, Libya, Morocco, Algeria, Europe and Yemen to Syria and joined the ranks of Al-Nusra with fervor. This instant fame was fearsome for Haji Bakr and al-Baghdadi, who found it a cause for concern because there is no loyalty in Jabhat Al-Nusra’s ranks to the Islamic State of Iraq nor to al-Baghdadi.
The fear of the quickly growing influence of Al-Nusra turned Al-Golani into a credible threat to Al-Baghdadi, and the state of Iraq’s absence from the scene, Haji Bakr urged al-Baghdadi to order al-Golani to announce via an audio clip that Jabhat Al-Nusra is an official subsidiary of the Islamic State of Iraq, led by al-Baghdadi, Golani promised to think about the request, but days passed without a statement or answer, until later when al-Baghdadi sent him a rebuke and censure, to which he repiled and promised to think about his request and consult the matter with the Mujahideen and the faithful students. After a short period of time, al-Golani sent a message to al-Baghdadi in which he said that this declaration is not in favor of Jihad in the Levant, and that this view has been taken unanimously in the Shoura Council he was keeping, angering Haji Bakr and al-Baghdadi.
They decided to set up the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, for fear of any divisions, al-Baghdadi and Colonel Haji Bakr and their chaperones entered Syria three weeks prior to disbanding Jabhat Al-Nusra, and Colonel Haji Bakr advised Al-Baghdadi to assume the issuance of a statement disbanding Jabhat Al-Nusra in his name and not to issue a statement of isolating Golani, in case he changes his mind about joining them later, he asked Colonel Haji Bakr to delay the preparation of the statement until a battalion of fighters inside Syria was formed in order to protect the core of the Islamic State and al-Baghdadi after the announcement of the disbandment. Colonel Haji Bakr summoned the leaders of al-Nusra who were loyal to al-Baghdadi and asked them to instruct their members to form a battalion to protect the core and announce to them the disbandment of Al-Nusra and unification of fighters under the new title: the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, led by al-Baghdadi.
Colonel managed within 3 days of preparations to recruit a thousand men who were willing to fight for ISIS and tell them discreetly about the announcement date of the upcoming disbandment of Jabhat Al-Nusra.
A day before the announcement, Colonel Haji Bakr sent a message to the rest of the leaders of Jabhat Al-Nusra, telling them of the presence of Emir al-Baghdadi in Syria in order to prepare them to accept the disbandment and the pledge of allegiance to him, during that period, the statement of disbanding Jabhat al-NUsra and establishing the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham was being drafted.
The announcement was hailed by leaders who joined their ranks and the disbandment and the pledge of allegiance were met with joy, the heads and the judicial members of Al-Nusra were chosen to meet with Al-Baghdadi so he can appoint them, then those who meet with him can tell members of their groups about their meeting and vision, and recount how they swore allegiance to him.
The announcement of the disbandment split Jabhat Al-Nusra into three sections: Those who pledged allegiance to al-Baghdadi is close to the half, a quarter of the group’s fighters remained neutral, while the remaining quarter sided with Al-Golani.
Baghdadi felt threatened by the half that did not join him, those who didn’t takes sides in addition to those who sided with Al-Golani, so he ordered Colonel Haji Bakr to send a message to Al-Golani that read:
Join al-Baghdadi or face a confrontation with death for being an apostate, as stated in Sharia law, anyone who divides the Ummah shall be killed, but Al-Golani did not receive the message since he had to change his location, but has been reported to those present in the base.
Colonel Haji Bakr began sending delegates on behalf of al-Baghdadi to all the leaders who did not join them and carried the threat that they will be considered apostates and that everything they possess is the property of the state, they have to surrender their weapons and pledge allegiance to ISIS or leave the country safely on their own.
Colonel Haji Bakr asked the defectors from Nusra to arrange meetings with influential members of groups that hadn’t defected yet so they can lure them to join their ranks with money or fight them into submission.
The rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) in Syria:
At first the Al-Raqqa province was lying under the rule of Syrian opposition factions, including Jabhat AL-Nusra, Ahrar Al-Sham Movement and the Free Syrian Army (FSA). After the formation of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was announced, Jabhart Al-Nusra was disbanded and a number of its former members have pledged allegiance to Al-Baghdadi, while a few other Al-Raqqa locals remained loyal to their old organization. At that point, ISIS was fundamentally established as an organization that seeks to take control over the entire city of Al-Raqqa. In early July 2013, ISIS launched its intimidation policy by kidnapping and assassinating civil activists and prominent figures who opposed its transgressions, in an attempt to prevent further coverage of its recurrent violations. By terrorizing the population, many activists, fearful for their lives, were forced to flee town and head towards neighboring countries like Turkey. Additionally, ISIS’s coercive practices extended to include opposition military actions, The organization worked on disassembling their unity by carrying out a carbomb attack against the Ahfad Al-Rassul Brigade, with which the organization clashed in a battle that lasted more than 13 days in the city of Al-Raqqa, starting on 1/08/2013. Subsequently, ISIS managed to enter a carbomb to the Ahfad Al-Rassul Brigade’s Raqqa headquarters. As a result, 30 members of the Brigade were killed, forcing the faction to withdraw completely from the city. The repercussions of the attack was heavy among other opposition battles, and lead many of them to reconsider their positions, and dreaded a similar fate if they keep fighting against ISIS, thus the factions were divided into three groups: the major part pledged allegiance to ISIS, the second to the Aharar Al-Sham Movement, while the third was aligned with Jabhat Al-Nusra.
In early 2014, a time at which the Al-Raqqa rebels sensed that ISIS danger threaten their existence in the city, they decided to wage war against the organization on 04/01/2014 in order to dislodge it from the city. Battles went on for 8 days, after which Ahrar Al-Sham Movement held a truce with ISIS and handed over its strongholds and weapons while, both sides vowed to retreat from the city. Ahrar Al-Sham Movement complied and left Al-Raqqa, however, ISIS did not, and betrayed its pledge by killing 120 soldiers from the Ahrar Al-Sham Movement. The remaining factions, including Jabhat Al-Nusra and Al-Raqqa local rebels went ahead with the war against ISIS until 12/01/2014 when the battalions were no longer able to stand against the organization. ISIS took full control of the city, while the opposition battalions had to relocate to the countryside. At this point, the Islamic State of Iraq anf Syria (ISIS) announced Al-Raqqa as the first “Wilaya” in its capital. During that period and until this day, ISIS have arrested more than 1200 people, including activists, militants and civilians. At least 33 media activists have fled the area.
Below is a name list of a number of activists detained by ISIS:
2- Abdulilah Al-Hussein
3-Ramadan Sadeq Ramadan
4- Firas Al-Haj Saleh
5- Abdallah Al-Khalil
7- Abdulmajid Al-Issa
8-Mouhammad Weiss Musalem
9- Mouhammed Al-Salameh
10-Khalil Ibrahim Habash
13-Mouhammad Nour Matar
18-Mouhammad Ali Al-Nweiran
ISIS has also carried out random summary executions. Killing many activists, militants and civilians under false and preposterous charges. The latest incident involved executing media activist Al-Mutaz Billah Ibrahim, Sham News Network reporter, who was killed three months ago in Al-Hurriya Square and then handed his dead body over to his parents, along with two other unidentified individuals. ISIS also executed and brutally crucified 3 people in the city..
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Aleppo and Idlib:
In December 2013, clashes between Mussa’ab Bin Omair Brigade and members of ISIS erupted in the tonw of Maskana in the Aleppo countryside. Doctor Hussein Suleiman, who goes by the name “Abu Rayan”, leader in the Ahrar Al-Sham Movement and works as the Tal-Abyad Border crossing manager, volunteered to treat the wounded of both fighting sides. He was also head of the truce negotiation delegation appointed to resolve the conflict between both groups. However, Dr.Suleiman was arrested by ISIS along with the delegation members. ISIS killed Abu Rayan after torturing him and his dead body was handed over during a prisoner exchange operation. Photos of his dead body bearing apparent torture marks sparked outrage among Syrians who held a demonstration in the first Friday of January 2014 dedicated to the soul of Doctor Abu Rayan and to protest ISIS’s recurrent transgressions.
Other protests against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (SISI) were held across the country denouncing the organization’s callous actions and demanding its immediate departure from Syria.
As a result, clashes between ISIS and opposition battalions erupted in Aleppo, Idilib and their countryside. Rebels in Idlib managed to expel ISIS from the area, however it wasn’t the case for Aleppo, where ISIS remained in control of two stratrgic cities in the countryside, AL-Bab and Manbej.
ISIS has committed many ruthless acts in Idlib against both civilians and activists, including Abu Oubaida AL-Binnishi, who was in charge of aid at the Aharar Al-Sham Movement. ISIS fighter reportedly opened fire at Al-Binnishi when he was crossing one of their checkpoints back in Septemeber 2013.
ISIS in Deir Al-Zor:
Following a dispute that ensured between Al-Baghdadi and Al-Golani when the latter refused the merging of Jabhat Al-Nusra with ISIS. Members of the Jabhat Al-Nusra consequently pledged allegiance to ISIS headed by Amer Al-Rafdan Abu Omar (Deir Al-Zor’s emir) along with a number of the Front’s memebrs. The village of Jdeidat Al-ogaidat, in the eastern Deir Al-Zor countryside, was the stronghold of ISIS in the province and the center from which they launched their operations. From that point onward ISIS seized control of the Al-Jafra gas field which was and still is the funding source for the organization.
ISIS also established other strongholds in Deir Al-Zor province, including, the city of Al-Bukmal, Al-Mayadin and Buqros Tahtani as well as maintaining other strongholds within the city in the neighborhoods of Al-Hweiqa and Al-Ummal. Two people were in charge of the city, and appointed as emirs (both Abu Dajana Al-Zer and Abu Dajana Qizmir.)
As battles broke out between opposition factions and ISIS in the north, there has no trace of conflict among the rebels who were waging the war against ISIS in Deir Al-Zor. However, when ISIS managed to take control of the Koniko gas field, which was under the control of Jabhat Al-Nusra, battles erupted and the Islamic Front, Jabhat Al-Nusra along with a number of FSA factions were able to liberate Deir Al-Zor from ISIS domination as the organization only managed to maintain control over the salt mine in the town of Al-Tebni in the western Deir Al-Zor countryside locate within close vicinity to the Al-Raqqa province. During those battles, a high number of ISIS fighters were killed, most of whom were foreign (Muhajireen) militants, including “Emir” Abu Sa’ad Al-Jizrawi, ISIS leader in Deir Al-Zor.
Shortly after the defeat, ISIS launched another war against opposition faction in the northern regions of Deir Al-Zor near the Al-Hassaka province as well as igniting new battles in the Al-Raqqa province to the west:
1/ The first documented battle took place in the city of Markada in the southern countryside of the Al-Hassaka province closer to Deir Al-Zor. Fierce clashes broke out and lasted for several days and ended by ISIS emerging victorious, as Jabhat Al-Nusra lost at least 50 of its fighters.
2/ The second battle took place in the city of Al-Sour in the northern Deir Al-Zor countryside After ISIS managed to seize control over the nearby city of Markada, its fighters were able to advance towards Al-Sour as intense clashes erupted with opposition factions there. The battles culminated in more than 50 fatalities among the Army of Islam fighters. ISIS currently holds control over the city of Al-Sour and its surrounding villages and serves as attack launch point against the northern Deir Al-Zor countryside villages.
3/ During the same period, ISIS was in the midst of carrying out another war against northern Deir Al-Zor ooposition factions. A battle was launched near Al-Raqqa by attacking the village of Jazrat Al-Bouhamid, Al-Kassra, Al-Kabr, Hamar Al-Ali, Al-Souda and the town of Hatla where a major battle erupted in the Al-Halabiya square where more than 50 fighters belonging to Jabhat A-Nusra and Shuhada’a Badr Brigade were killed.
4/ ISIS as well conducted a battled targeting the eastern Deir Al-Zor countryside villages. By taking control over the village of Jadid Okeidat, the organization managed to advance and hold ground in the villages of Hatla and Al-Basira. ISIS lost dozens fighters during those battles, most of whom non Syrian.
5/ ISIS has also declared war on a different front targeting the opposition factions in the Deir Al-Zor southern countryside. The organization attacked the villages of Kabajeb and Al-Shula, located on the Deir Al-Zor-Damascys highway. During those battles ISIS lost 50 of its fighters most of whom were foreign, while Jabhat Al-Nusra and Ahrar Al-Sham lost at least 30 of their men.
6/ In May, ISIS committed a horrendous massacre in the city of Albukmal as more than 70 people were killed. Their leader at the time was Saddam Al-Jamal. However, rebel fighters have managed to stop them from seizing control of the city and killed a number of ISIS fighters.
ISIS is currently considered to be the most vicious terrorist group in the world. It has been denounced by equally- fundamentalist group of Al-Qaeda. The organization enjoys a grim reputation among its enemies. Iraqi Army soldiers were utterly intimidated by ISIS’ criminal actions which led them to withdraw from several cities in order to avoid clashes with ISIS fighters.
ISIS has managed, in a short period of time, to capture a wide stretch of lands across Iraq and Syria. However, as Al-Baghdadi’s group has declared an Islamic “caliphate”, the world stands idly and takes no serious action to confront the growing power of ISIS and put an end to its expansion.