Articles ISIS

ISIS and the Existential Threat (by Chris Milburn)

Tuesday, August 9th, 2016

In the wake of violent attacks on civilians in the U.S. and Europe, ISIS, also known as the self-proclaimed “Islamic State”, poses a unique and unprecedented challenge to the western world. Americans, in particular, struggle to understand the group, its motivations, and capabilities. Among the most important points of conversation is the recurrent question: Does ISIS pose an “existential” threat to the United States?

(more…)

Warriors of the Web (by Chris Milburn)

Tuesday, March 29th, 2016

Images from videos released by the Islamic State – also called ISIS and ISIL – have become instantly recognizable to Americans. Featuring Islamist fighters in black balaclava masks displaying their signature version of the black shahada flag, these videos are commonly discussed by westerners using the terms “recruitment” and “propaganda.” But approaching these productions as recruitment materials or manipulative propaganda overlooks important characteristics of the Islamic State and the real threat posed by their strategic communication.

(more…)

On the Brussels Attack (by Bruce Hoffman)

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016

Today’s tragic events in Belgium once again underscore the complexity of the current terrorist threat. ISIS has built a terrorist infrastructure in Belgium that facilitated these attacks. They were carried out by determined individuals with the requisite skill set, tradecraft, technical knowledge and discipline to execute simultaneous suicide attacks. There is a world of difference between this type of terrorist operation–and the infrastructure that has long been in place to support it–and the more spontaneous, often idiosyncratic violence coming from isolated individuals or lone wolves, such as the husband and wife team responsible for last year’s shootings in San Bernadino. Today, the terrorist threat for law enforcement and intelligence agencies is not an either/or proposition: it is posed by both lone wolves and established terrorist cells within existing organizations. The threat from the established cells has always shown itself to be more lethal and consequential in terms of body count.  The challenge is to avoid becoming so consumed and preoccupied with the former so that insufficient attention is paid to and inadequate resources are devoted to that latter. Overwhelming law enforcement and intelligence with isolated, individual threats is an intrinsic part of the strategy of terrorist groups today.

(more…)

And Here We Go Again (by Dr. Douglas Weeks)

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016

Waking up this morning to yet another terrorist attack, this time in Brussels, the recurring theme of what can be done to stop attacks like this from occurring is again raised. Before completing the first of a handful of live interviews which I have now been asked to do today, I watched the media raise this question to numerous other ‘experts’ with the common response that perimeters around airports must be expanded, that more police are needed, that the sharing of intelligence between intelligence agencies across Europe must be expanded, and that intelligence agencies must increase the sharing of intelligence with their respective police forces. Fifteen years on from 9/11, the resonance of the same recurring themes remains apparently unresolved.

(more…)

Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS (Book Review)

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2016

Author: Joby Warrick
Publisher:  Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2015

Reviewed by Jack Sheldon Anderson

Reflecting on the question what is history?–the English historian E.H. Carr wryly argued that to “praise a historian for his accuracy is like praising an architect for using well-seasoned timber.”[1] In other words, interpretation matters. Interpretation is central to Joby Warrick’s Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS, a spellbinding and thoroughly readable account of the origins of the brutal Islamic State. Warrick explains the terrible drama unfolding in the present in light of the scarcely cool facts of terrorism, collapsing regimes, and U.S. invasion only a decade or two old. Here we can paraphrase Carr–to praise Warrick for his accuracy is to miss what he’s accomplishing with a book that makes use of both the tools of the historian and the novelist. Warrick is an able and enthralling guide through recent events, but he is also making a case for what certain facts mean, and it pays to be aware of the effect of his style and selection of detail.

(more…)

The Islamic State (IS) (Analysis by David Riedman)

Friday, February 19th, 2016

Group Name: The Islamic State (IS)

Principal Ideology: Salifi Jihadist

Area of Operation: Iraq and Syria (with global unaffiliated supporters)

Leadership: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

Affiliated groups: 43 affiliate or supporter groups

Principal Enemy: Iraqi and Syrian Governments, U.S. Led Military Coalition

Tactics: Insurgent, Terrorism, Pseudo Nation-State


The Islamic State (IS) led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is the establishment of the new Islamic Caliphate by the group formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria which was a paramilitary group of Sunni Islamists.[1] ISIS initially overthrew the Iraqi government in major northern cities and took weapons, military vehicles, and money within those cities.[2] IS currently controls large portions of northern Iraq and the Syria north of the Euphrates River.[3] While the speed that The State gained territory seemed shocking, religious group affiliations offers an explanation. IS’s supporters were initially a Sunni in-group in Iraq who felt that the former Shia Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki was not a legitimate leader due to his out-group membership and alignment with the United States. Iraq’s current Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who is a member of the Shia Islamic Dawa Party[4], continues to perpetuate the out-group dynamic of Iraq’s political leaders in relations to IS’s in-group supporters.

(more…)

Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) (Analysis by Chris Kimrey)

Thursday, February 11th, 2016

Group Name: Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)

Principal ideology: Wahhabi/ Jihadi-Salafist

Area of Operation:  Iraq and Syria

Leadership: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

Affiliated groups: Ansar al-Islam, Boko Haram, Abu Sayyaf, et al.

Principal enemy: Syrian government; al-Qaeda, al-Nusrah Front

Tactics: Insurgency, terror tactics, inspired-attacks


Executive Summary

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), formerly Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham, is a collaborative patchwork of tribal factions and armed groups, emerged primarily from Islamic State in Iraq and al-Nusra Front in April 2013.[1] The common thread of the network of groups appears to be the Covenant of Medina which stipulated all Muslims “constitute one umma” and that “all believers shall rise as one man against whomsoever rebels… even though he be one of their sons.”[2],[3] The capability and ferocity of ISIS appears unmatched in the region and has allowed feverish spread of the group’s influence throughout northern Iraq and Syria. The group’s rapid growth and aggressiveness are a direct result of its development of a social identity apart from al Qaeda Central (AQC) through direct social competition. After being disenfranchised by al Qaeda, ISIS quickly sought to re-establish its relevance among its followers through a series of challenges to AQC, the most recent and direct of which—the group renamed itself simply the Islamic State consistent with its Islamic namesake ‘Daesh,’ declaring its chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as caliph and “leader for Muslims everywhere.”[4] Although some armed groups in the region have chosen to align with ISIS, Muslims outside the region are not willing to recognize the caliph as legitimate. Most recently, the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS) dismissed the ISIS announcement, noting it “lacked any Islamic or realistic aspects.”[5]

(more…)

Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) (Analysis by Greg Mammana)

Thursday, February 11th, 2016

Group Name: Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)

Principal ideology: Wahhabi/ Jihadi-Salafist

Area of Operation:  Iraq and Syria

Leadership: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

Affiliated groups: Ansar al-Islam, Boko Haram, Abu Sayyaf, et al.

Principal enemy: Syrian government; al-Qaeda, al-Nusrah Front

Tactics: Insurgency, terror tactics, inspired-attacks


Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, seems to have erupted into a household name overnight. The group has seen different names and leaders since 2013 when they first identified as ISIS. Prior to that they were the Iraqi division of al Qaeda called the Islamic State of Iraq, or al Qaeda in Iraq. Today it’s been known as Islamic State of the Levant (ISIL), Islamic State (IS), and DAESH, an acronym for al-Dawla al-Islamiya al-Iraq al-Sham. As Sunnis, ISIS rise to power was inspired by objection to the Shi’a-led Iraqi government, claiming that they have been “persecuted by… [then] Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, starved of resources and excluded from a share of power.”[1] Prior to 2013, ISIS was a faction of al Qaeda, creating a sub-group in parts of Iraq and Syria with similar social identities as the al Qaeda main group. However, techniques for achieving goals differed between the factions, causing the al Qaeda to question ISIS’ relevance.[2]

(more…)