aka al-Qa'ida in Iraq; 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; Islamic State in Iraq; Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham; Islamic State in Iraq and Syria; ad-Dawla al-Islamiyya fi al-'Iraq wa-sh-Sham; Daesh; Dawla al Islamiya; Al-Furqan Establishment for Media Production; Islamic State; ISIL; ISIS
Description: Al-Qa'ida in Iraq (AQI) was designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization on December 17, 2004. In the 1990s, Jordanian militant Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi organized a terrorist group called al-Tawhid wal-Jihad to oppose the presence of U.S. and Western military forces in the Middle East and the West's support for, and the existence of, Israel. In late 2004, he joined al-Qa'ida (AQ) and pledged allegiance to Usama bin Laden, at which point al-Tawhid wal-Jihad became known as AQI. Zarqawi traveled to Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom and led his group against U.S. and Coalition Forces until his death in June 2006.
In October 2006, AQI publicly re-named itself the Islamic State in Iraq and in 2013 it adopted the moniker Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) to express its regional ambitions as it expanded its operations to include the Syrian conflict. On May 15, 2014, the Department of State amended the Foreign Terrorist Organization designation of AQI to add several aliases, including the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and to make ISIL the organization's primary name. ISIL is led by Specially Designated Global Terrorist Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, aka Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri, aka Abu Du'a. In June 2014, ISIL leader al-Baghdadi declared an Islamic caliphate.
Activities: As AQI, ISIL conducted numerous high profile attacks, including IED attacks against U.S. military personnel and Iraqi infrastructure, videotaped beheadings of Americans, suicide bombings against both military and civilian targets, and rocket attacks. ISIL perpetrates the majority of its suicide and mass casualty bombings in Iraq using foreign and Iraqi operatives. In 2014, ISIL was responsible for the majority of deaths of the more than 12,000 Iraqi civilians killed that year. ISIL was heavily involved in the fighting in Syria during 2014, including against other militant opposition groups, and participated in a number of kidnapping incidents against civilians, including aid workers and reporters.
ISIL remained active throughout 2015, conducting several large scale attacks across the globe. In January alone, an ISIL sympathizer killed a policewoman and attacked a Jewish supermarket in Vincennes, France, leaving five dead, including the policewoman. In November, ISIL detonated two suicide bombs in Beirut, leaving 43 dead and an estimated 239 wounded. Also in November, ISIL carried out seven coordinated attacks in Paris – outside restaurants, at a major sporting event attended by French President Francois Hollande and at a rock concert at the Bataclan concert hall – killing at least 130 and injuring more than 350 others. In December 2015, 14 people were killed and 22 injured when two ISIL supporters opened fire on the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California in an act of domestic terrorism.
In Iraq, ISIL's use of military equipment captured in the course of fighting gave ISIL greater capabilities in line with a more conventional military force, including the reported use of eastern bloc tanks, artillery, and self-developed unmanned aerial drones. According to estimates from the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), acts of terrorism and violence killed more than 7,500 civilians and injured more than 13,800 in 2015. (Please see the Iraq report in Chapter 2, Country Reports on Terrorism, for a list of representative attacks.)
ISIL also committed multiple brutal murders against hostages and other victims in 2015, including beheading Japanese citizens Haruna Yukawa and Kenji Goto in January in Syria; killing U.S. aid worker Kayla Mueller in February after holding her captive in Syria; burning downed-Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasasbeh while locked in a cage in Syria in February; and the execution-style shootings of Norwegian Ole Johan Grimsgaard-Ofstad and Chinese Fan Jinghui in Syria in November.
Secretary Kerry has asserted that, in his judgment, ISIL is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control, including Yezidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims; and was also responsible for crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing directed at these same groups and in some cases also against Sunni Muslims, Kurds, and other minorities.
In 2015, ISIL abducted, systematically raped, and abused thousands of women and children, some as young as eight years of age. Women and children were sold and enslaved, distributed to ISIL fighters as spoils of war, forced into marriage and domestic servitude, or subjected to physical and sexual abuse. ISIL established "markets" where women and children were sold with price tags attached and has published a list of rules on how to treat female slaves once captured. (For further information, refer to the Trafficking in Persons Report 2015, http://www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/2015/index.htm.)
Although ISIL has not claimed responsibility, ISIL was likely responsible for several attacks involving chemical-filled munitions in Iraq and Syria, including a sulfur mustard attack in Marea on August 21, 2015. The United States has been proactively working with our allies to dismantle this chemical weapons capability, as well as deny ISIL and other non-state actors access to chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN)-useable materials and expertise through interdictions and strengthening the ability of regional governments to detect, disrupt, and respond effectively to suspected CBRN activity.
Strength: Estimates at year's end suggested between 19,000 and 25,000.
Location/Area of Operation: ISIL's operations are predominately in Iraq and Syria, but 2015 witnessed the continued creation of external ISIL branches based on preexisting governance boundaries. In 2015, ISIL claimed affiliates in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border (Khorasan) region, northern Nigeria, and the North Caucasus region. In 2014, ISIL had claimed affiliates in Algeria, Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. In addition, supporters and associates worldwide inspired by the group's ideology may be operating without direction from ISIL central leadership.
Funding and External Aid: ISIL receives most of its funding from a variety of businesses and criminal activities within areas it controls in Iraq and Syria. Criminal activities include robbing banks, smuggling oil, looting and selling antiquities and other goods, as well as extortion, human trafficking, and kidnapping for ransom.