Islamic State


Established In: 1999

Established By: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (death), Amir Mohammed Abdul Rahman al-Mawli al-Salbi (also known as Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi);

Also Known As: Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, Daesh, ISIS, ISIL

Country Of Origin: Iraq and Syria

Leaders: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (death), Amir Mohammed Abdul Rahman al-Mawli al-Salbi (also known as Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi);

Key Members: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Abu Fatima al-Jaheishi, Abu Ali al-Anbari, Abdel Baqer Al-Najdi, Abu Saleh al-Obaidi, Abu Arkan al-Ameri, Abu Omar al-Shishani, Abu Mohammad al-Adnani, Gulmurod Khalimov, Wa’il Adil Hasan Salman al-Fayad, Abul-Hasan Al-Muhajir

Operational Area: Worldwide

Number Of Members: 39,100–257,900

Involved In: Terrorist Attacks, Slaughters, Mass executions, Bombing Attacks, Beheadings, Rapping, Women Trafficking, Drug Trafficking

Connected With:

■■ See Full List

Connected Events:

■■ See Full List

General Info:

ISIS is an Islamic extremist terrorist organization controlling territory in Iraq and Syria, with limited territorial control in Libya and Nigeria. The group also operates or has affiliates in many parts of the world including Southeast Asia. On 29 June 2014, the group proclaimed itself to be a worldwide caliphate, with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi being named its caliph, and renamed itself “Islamic State”.

The new name and the idea of a caliphate has been widely criticised and condemned. Various governments, and mainstream Muslim groups all refusing to acknowledge it. As caliphate, it claims religious, political and military authority over all Muslims worldwide and that “the legality of all emirates, groups, states, and organisations, becomes null by the expansion of the caliphate’s authority and arrival of its troops to their areas”.

Many Islamic and non-Islamic communities judge the group unrepresentative of Islam. ISIS is responsible for human rights abuses and war crimes, and Amnesty International has reported ethnic cleansing by the group on a “historic scale”. The group has been designated as a terrorist organization by the United Nations, the European Union, the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, Canada, Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Syria, Egypt, India, and Russia. Over 60 countries are directly or indirectly waging war against ISIS.

The group originated as Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad in 1999, which pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda in 2004. The group participated in the Iraqi insurgency, which had followed the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. In January 2006, it joined other Sunni insurgent groups to form the Mujahideen Shura Council, which in October 2006 proclaimed the formation of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). Under the leadership of al-Baghdadi, the ISIS sent delegates into Syria in August 2011 after the Syrian Civil War began in March 2011.

This group named itself Jabhat an-Nuṣrah li-Ahli ash-Shām or al-Nusra Front, and established a large presence in Sunni-majority areas of Syria within the governorates of Ar-Raqqah, Idlib, Deir ez-Zor and Aleppo. In April 2013, al-Baghdadi announced the merger of his ISIS with al-Nusra Front, and announced that the name of the reunited group was now the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). However, both Abu Mohammad al-Julani and Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leaders of al-Nusra and al-Qaeda respectively, rejected the merger.

After an eight-month power struggle, al-Qaeda cut all ties with ISIS on 3 February 2014, citing its failure to consult and “notorious intransigence”. ISIS is known for its well-funded web and social media propaganda, which includes Internet videos of the beheadings of soldiers, civilians, journalists and aid workers, as well as the deliberate destruction of cultural heritage sites. The group gained notoriety after it drove the Iraqi government forces out of key western cities in Iraq.

In Syria, it conducted ground attacks against both government forces and rebel factions in the Syrian Civil War. It gained those territories after an offensive, initiated in early 2014, which senior US military commanders and members of the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs saw as a re-emergence of Sunni insurgents and al-Qaeda militants. This territorial loss almost caused a collapse of the Iraqi government that prompted renewal of US military action in Iraq.

ISIS is a Salafi group. It follows an extreme interpretation of Islam, promotes religious violence, and regards those who do not agree with its interpretations as infidels or apostates. According to Hayder al Khoei, ISIS’s philosophy is represented by the symbolism in the Black Standard variant of the legendary battle flag of Muhammad that it has adopted: the flag shows the Seal of Muhammad within a white circle, with the phrase above it, “There is no God but Allah”.

Such symbolism has been said to point to ISIS’s belief that it represents the restoration of the caliphate of early Islam, with all the political, religious and eschatological ramifications that this would imply. According to some observers, ISIS emerged from the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood, the first post-Ottoman Islamist group dating back to the late 1920s in Egypt. It adheres to global jihadist principles and follows the hard-line ideology of al-Qaeda and many other modern-day jihadist groups. However, other sources trace the group’s roots not to the Islamism of the Muslim Brotherhood and the more mainstream jihadism of al-Qaeda, but to Wahhabism.

ISIL aims to return to the early days of Islam, rejecting all innovations in the religion, which it believes corrupts its original spirit. It condemns later caliphates and the Ottoman Empire for deviating from what it calls pure Islam, and seeks to revive the original Wahhabi project of the restoration of the caliphate governed by strict Salafist doctrine. Following Salafi-Wahhabi tradition, ISIS condemns the followers of secular law as disbelievers, putting the current Saudi government in that category.

Salafists such as ISIS believe that only a legitimate authority can undertake the leadership of jihad, and that the first priority over other areas of combat, such as fighting non-Muslim countries, is the purification of Islamic society. For example, ISIS regards the Palestinian Sunni group Hamas as apostates who have no legitimate authority to lead jihad and it regards fighting Hamas as the first step toward confrontation with Israel.

The group is headed and run by al-Baghdadi, with a cabinet of advisers. There are two deputy leaders, Abu Muslim al-Turkmani (KIA) for Iraq and Abu Ali al-Anbari for Syria, and 12 local governors in Iraq and Syria. Beneath the leaders are councils on finance, leadership, military matters, legal matters—including decisions on executions—foreign fighters’ assistance, security, intelligence and media. In addition, a Shura council has the task of ensuring that all decisions made by the governors and councils comply with the group’s interpretation of sharia. The majority of the ISIS’s leadership is dominated by Iraqis, especially among former members of Saddam Hussein’s regime.

It has been reported that Iraqis and Syrians have been given greater precedence over other nationalities within ISIS due to the fact that the group need the loyalties of the local Sunni populations in both Syria and Iraq in order to be sustainable. Other reports have indicated however that Syrians are at a disadvantage to foreign members of ISIS, with some native Syrian fighters resenting alleged ‘favoritism’ towards foreigners over pay and accommodation. The Wall Street Journal estimated in September 2014 that eight million Iraqis and Syrians live in areas controlled by ISIS.

Ar-Raqqah in Syria is the de facto headquarters, and is said to be a test case of ISIS governance. As of September 2014, governance in Ar-Raqqah has been under the total control of ISIS where it has rebuilt the structure of modern government in less than a year. Former government workers from the Assad government maintained their jobs after pledging allegiance to ISIS. Institutions, restored and restructured, provided their respective services. The Ar-Raqqah dam continues to provide electricity and water.

Foreign expertise supplements Syrian officials in running civilian institutions. Only the police and soldiers are ISIS fighters, who receive confiscated lodging previously owned by non-Sunnis and others who fled. Welfare services are provided, price controls established, and taxes imposed on the wealthy. ISIS runs a soft power program in the areas under its control in Iraq and Syria, which includes social services, religious lectures and da’wah—proselytising—to local populations. It also performs public services such as repairing roads and maintaining the electricity supply.

British security expert Frank Gardner has concluded that ISIS’s prospects of maintaining control and rule are greater in 2014 than they were in 2006. Despite being as brutal as before, ISIS has become “well entrenched” among the population and is not likely to be dislodged by ineffective Syrian or Iraqi forces. It has replaced corrupt governance with functioning locally controlled authorities, services have been restored and there are adequate supplies of water and oil. With Western-backed intervention being unlikely, the group will “continue to hold their ground” and rule an area “the size of Pennsylvania for the foreseeable future”, he said. Further solidifying ISIL rule is the control of wheat production, which is roughly 40% of Iraq’s production. ISIS has maintained food production, crucial to governance and popular support.

ISIS has been flexible in using numerous sources of funding to sustain its operations. According to a 2015 study by the Financial Action Task Force, its five primary sources of revenue are as followed (listed in order of significance):

-Illicit proceeds from the occupation of territory (including control of banks, oil and gas reservoirs, taxation, extortion, and robbery of economic assets);
– Kidnapping for ransom;
-Donations, including through non-profit organizations;
-Material support provided by foreign fighters;
-Fundraising through modern communication networks;

The contribution of such sources was also analyzed in a 2014 study by the RAND Corporation using 200 documents — personal letters, expense reports and membership rosters — which had been captured from Islamic State of Iraq (al-Qaeda in Iraq). It found that from 2005 until 2010, outside donations amounted to only 5% of the group’s operating budgets, with the rest being raised within Iraq. In the time period studied, cells were required to send up to 20% of the income generated from kidnapping, extortion rackets and other activities to the next level of the group’s leadership.

Higher-ranking commanders would then redistribute the funds to provincial or local cells that were in difficulties or needed money to conduct attacks. The records show that the Islamic State of Iraq was dependent on members from Mosul for cash, which the leadership used to provide additional funds to struggling militants in Diyala, Salahuddin and Baghdad. In mid-2014, Iraqi intelligence obtained information from an ISIS operative which revealed that the organisation had assets worth US$2 billion, making it the richest jihadist group in the world.

About three-quarters of this sum is said to be represented by assets seized after the group captured Mosul in June 2014; this includes possibly up to US$429 million looted from Mosul’s central bank, along with additional millions and a large quantity of gold bullion stolen from a number of other banks in Mosul. However, doubt was later cast on whether ISIS was able to retrieve anywhere near that sum from the central bank, and even on whether the bank robberies had actually occurred.

Since 2012, ISIS has produced annual reports giving numerical information on its operations, somewhat in the style of corporate reports, seemingly in a bid to encourage potential donors. On 11 November 2014, ISIS announced its intent to mint its own gold, silver, and copper coins, based on the coinage used by the Umayyad Caliphate in the 7th century. Following the announcement, the group began buying up gold, silver, and copper in markets throughout northern and western Iraq, according to precious metal traders in the area. Members of the group also reportedly began stripping the insulation off electrical power cables to obtain the copper wiring. The announcement included designs of the proposed coins, which displayed imagery including a map of the world, a sword and shield, the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, and a crescent moon.

Oil revenues:

Exporting oil from oilfields captured by ISIS brought in tens of millions of dollars. One US Treasury official had estimated that ISIS earns US$1 million a day from the export of oil. Much of the oil is sold illegally in Turkey. In 2014 Dubai-based energy analysts put the combined oil revenue from ISIS’s Iraqi-Syrian production as high as US$3 million per day. In 2014, the majority of the group’s funding came from the production and sale of energy controlling around 300 oil wells in Iraq alone.

At its peak, it operated 350 oil wells in Iraq, but lost 45 to foreign airstrikes. It had captured 60% of Syria’s total production capacity. About one fifth of its total capacity had been in operation. ISIS earned US$2.5 million a day by selling 50,000–60,000 barrels of oil daily. Foreign sales rely on a long-standing black market to export via Turkey. Many of the smugglers and corrupt Turkish border guards who helped Saddam Hussein to evade sanctions are helping ISIS to export oil and import cash.

In April 2015, after the fall of Tikrit, ISIS apparently lost control of “three large oil fields” which would significantly degrade its ability to generate income from selling oil. Other energy sales include selling electric power from captured power plants in northern Syria; some of this electricity is reportedly sold back to the Syrian government.

Sale of antiques and artefacts:

Sales of artefacts may be the second largest source of funding for ISIS, according to an article in Newsweek. More than a third of Iraq’s important sites are under ISIS’s control. It looted the 9th century BC grand palace of the Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II at Kalhu. Tablets, manuscripts and cuneiforms were sold, worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Stolen artefacts are smuggled into Turkey and Jordan.

Taxation and extortion:

ISIS extracts wealth through taxation and extortion. Regarding taxation, Christians and foreigners are at times required to pay a tax known as a “Jizya.” In addition, the group routinely practices extortion, by demanding money from truck drivers and threatening to blow up businesses, for example. Robbing banks and gold shops has been another source of income. The Iraq government indirectly finances ISIS, as they continue to pay the salaries of the thousands of government employees who continue to work in areas controlled by ISIS, which then confiscates as much as half of those Iraqi government employees’ pay.


ISIS is widely reported as receiving funding from private donors in the Gulf states, and the governments of Iraq and Iran have repeatedly accused Saudi Arabia and Qatar of financing and supporting the group. Ahead of the conference of the US-led anti-ISIS coalition held in Paris in September 2014, France’s foreign minister acknowledged that a number of countries at the table had “very probably” financed ISIS’s advances. Although Iran and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have accused Saudi Arabia and Qatar of funding the group, there is reportedly no evidence that this is the case.

However, according to The Atlantic, ISIS may have been a major part of Saudi Arabian Bandar bin Sultan’s covert-ops strategy in Syria. Unregistered charity organisations are used as fronts to pass funds to ISIS. As they use aliases on Facebook’s WhatsApp and Kik, the individuals and organisations are untraceable. Donations transferred to fund ISIS’s operations are disguised as “humanitarian charity”. Saudi Arabia has imposed a blanket ban on unauthorised donations destined for Syria as the only means of stopping such funding.

Campaign of violence:

ISIS compels people in the areas that it controls to declare Islamic creed and live according to its interpretation of Sunni Islam and sharia law. There have been many reports of the group’s use of death threats, torture and mutilation to compel conversion to Islam,and of clerics being killed for refusal to pledge allegiance to the so-called “Islamic State”. ISIS directs violence against Shia Muslims, indigenous Assyrian, Chaldean, Syriac and Armenian Christians, Yazidis, Druze, Shabaks and Mandeans in particular.

Amnesty International has held ISIS responsible for the ethnic cleansing of ethnic and religious minority groups in northern Iraq on a “historic scale”. In a special report released on 2 September 2014, it describes how ISIS has “systematically targeted non-Arab and non-Sunni Muslim communities, killing or abducting hundreds, possibly thousands, and forcing more than 830,000 others to flee the areas it has captured since 10 June 2014”.

Among these people are Assyrian Christians, Turkmen Shia, Shabak Shia, Yazidis, Kaka’i and Sabean Mandeans, who have lived together for centuries in Nineveh province, large parts of which are now under ISIL’s control.

Among the known killings of religious and minority group civilians carried out by ISIS are those in the villages and towns of Quiniyeh (70–90 Yazidis killed), Hardan (60 Yazidis killed), Sinjar (500–2,000 Yazidis killed), Ramadi Jabal (60–70 Yazidis killed), Dhola (50 Yazidis killed), Khana Sor (100 Yazidis killed), Hardan (250–300 Yazidis killed), al-Shimal (dozens of Yazidis killed), Khocho (400 Yazidis killed and 1,000 abducted), Jadala (14 Yadizis killed) and Beshir (700 Shia Turkmen killed), and others committed near Mosul (670 Shia inmates of the Badush prison killed), and in Tal Afar prison, Iraq (200 Yazidis killed for refusing conversion).

The UN estimated that 5,000 Yazidis were killed by ISIL during the takeover of parts of northern a href=”https://www.gfatf.org/general-country-info-iraq/”>Iraq in August 2014. In late May 2014, 150 Kurdish boys from Kobani aged 14–16 were abducted and subjected to torture and abuse, according to Human Rights Watch. In the Syrian towns of Ghraneij, Abu Haman and Kashkiyeh 700 members of the Sunni Al-Shaitat tribe were killed for attempting an uprising against ISIS control.

The UN reported that in June 2014 ISIL had killed a number of Sunni Islamic clerics who refused to pledge allegiance to it. Christians living in areas under ISIS control who want to remain in the “caliphate” face three options: converting to Islam, paying a religious levy—jizya—or death. ISIS had already set similar rules for Christians in Ar-Raqqah, once one of Syria‘s more liberal cities. On 23 February 2015, in response to a major Kurdish offensive in the Al-Hasakah Governorate, ISIS abducted 150 Assyrian Christians from villages near near Tal Tamr (Tell Tamer) in northeastern Syria, after launching a large offensive in the region.

Treatment of civilians:

During the Iraqi conflict in 2014, ISIS released dozens of videos showing its ill treatment of civilians, many of whom had apparently been targeted on the basis of their religion or ethnicity. In the 17 days from 5 to 22 June, ISIS killed more than 1,000 Iraqi civilians and injured more than 1,000. After ISIS released photographs of its fighters shooting scores of young men, the UN declared that cold-blooded “executions” by militants in northern Iraq almost certainly amounted to war crimes.

ISIS’s advance in Iraq in mid-2014 was accompanied by continuing violence in Syria. On 29 May, ISIS raided a village in Syria and at least 15 civilians were killed, including at least six children. A hospital in the area confirmed that it had received 15 bodies on the same day. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that on 1 June, a 102-year-old man was killed along with his whole family in a village in Hama province. 1,878 people were killed in Syria by ISIS during the last six months of 2014, most of them civilians.

In Mosul, ISIS has implemented a sharia school curriculum which bans the teaching of art, music, national history, literature and Christianity. Although Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution has never been taught in Iraqi schools, the subject has been banned from the school curriculum. Patriotic songs have been declared blasphemous, and orders have been given to remove certain pictures from school textbooks. Iraqi parents have largely boycotted schools in which the new curriculum has been introduced.

After capturing cities in Iraq, ISIS issued guidelines on how to wear clothes and veils. ISIS warned women in the city of Mosul to wear full-face veils or face severe punishment. A cleric told Reuters in Mosul that ISIS gunmen had ordered him to read out the warning in his mosque when worshippers gathered. ISIS ordered the faces of both male and female mannequins to be covered, in an order which also banned the use of naked mannequins. In Ar-Raqqah the group uses its two battalions of female fighters in the city to enforce compliance by women with its strict laws on individual conduct.ISIS released 16 notes labelled “Contract of the City”, a set of rules aimed at civilians in Nineveh.

One rule stipulated that women should stay at home and not go outside unless necessary. Another rule said that stealing would be punished by amputation. In addition to the Muslim custom of banning the sale and use of alcohol, ISIS has banned the sale and use of cigarettes and hookah pipes. It has also banned “music and songs in cars, at parties, in shops and in public, as well as photographs of people in shop windows”. Dissidents in the ISIS capital of Ar-Raqqah report that “all 12 of the judges who now run its court system … are Saudis”.

Saudi practices also followed by the group include the establishment of religious police to root out “vice” and enforce attendance at salat prayers, the widespread use of capital punishment, and the destruction of Christian churches and non-Sunni mosques or their conversion to other uses.

ISIS carried out executions on both men and women who were accused of various acts and found guilty of crimes against Islam such as homosexuality, adultery, watching pornography, usage and possession of contraband, rape, blasphemy, renouncing Islam and murder. Before the accused are executed their charges are read toward them and the spectators. Executions take various forms, including stoning to death, crucifixions, beheadings, burning people alive, and throwing people from tall buildings.

Child soldiers:

ISIS has recruited Iraqi children as young as nine to its ranks, who can be seen with masks on their faces and guns in their hands patrolling the streets of Mosul. Children as young as six are recruited or kidnapped and sent to military and religious training camps, where they practise beheading with dolls and are indoctrinated with the religious views of ISIS.

Children are used as human shields on front lines and to provide blood transfusions for Islamic State soldiers. The second instalment of a Vice News documentary about ISIS focused on how the group is specifically grooming children for the future. Those under the age of 15 go to sharia camp to learn about religion, while those older than 16 can go to military training camp. Children are also used for propaganda. In mid-August, ISIS entered a cancer hospital in Mosul, forced at least two sick children to hold the ISIS flag and posted the pictures on the internet.

Sexual violence and slavery:

There are many reports of sexual abuse and enslavement in ISIS controlled areas of women and girls, predominantly from the minority Christian and Yazidi communities. According to one report, ISIS’s capture of Iraqi cities in June 2014 was accompanied by an upsurge in crimes against women, including kidnap and rape. The Guardian reported that ISIS’s extremist agenda extended to using women as sex slaves and that women living under their control were being captured and raped.

Fighters are told that they are free to have sex with or rape non-Muslim captive women. A Baghdad-based women’s rights activist, Basma al-Khateeb, said that a culture of violence existed in Iraq against women generally and felt sure that sexual violence against women was happening in Mosul involving not only ISIS but all armed groups.

They usually take the older women to a makeshift slave market and try to sell them. The younger girls … are raped or married off to fighters. It’s based on temporary marriages, and once these fighters have had sex with these young girls, they just pass them on to other fighters. They have been subjected to physical and sexual violence, including systematic rape and sex slavery. They’ve been exposed in markets in Mosul and in Raqqa, Syria, carrying price tags.

Abu Ibrahim Raqqawi, a 22-year-old resident, and member of the group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, dismissed the notion of Yazidi girls brought as sex slaves to Raqqa as propaganda. However, in February 2015, the group is reported on the subjugation of women, including the presence sex slaves within the city of Ar-Raqqah.
A United Nations report issued on 2 October 2014, based on 500 interviews with witnesses, said that ISIS took 450–500 women and girls to Iraq’s Nineveh region in August, where “150 unmarried girls and women, predominantly from the Yazidi and Christian communities, were reportedly transported to Syria, either to be given to ISIS fighters as a reward or to be sold as sex slaves”.

In mid-October, the UN confirmed that 5,000–7,000 Yazidi women and children had been abducted by ISIS and sold into slavery. In December 2014, the Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights announced that ISIS had killed over 150 women and girls in Fallujah who refused to participate in sexual jihad. Non-Muslim women have reportedly been married off to fighters against their will. ISIS claims the women provide the new converts and children necessary to spread ISIS’s control. Shortly after the death of US hostage Kayla Mueller was confirmed on 10 February 2015, several media outlets reported that the US intelligence community believed she may have been given as a wife to an ISIS fighter.

Yazidi girls in Iraq allegedly raped by ISIS fighters have committed suicide by jumping to their death from Mount Sinjar, as described in a witness statement.In its digital magazine Dabiq, ISIS explicitly claimed religious justification for enslaving Yazidi women. ISIS appeals to apocalyptic beliefs and claims “justification by a Hadith that they interpret as portraying the revival of slavery as a precursor to the end of the world”. ISIS appeals to the Hadith and Qur’an when claiming the right to enslave and rape captive non-Muslim women. Captured Yazidi women and children are divided among the fighters who captured them, with one fifth taken as a tax.

The group has received widespread criticism from Muslim scholars and others in the Muslim world for using part of the Qur’an to derive a ruling in isolation, rather than considering the entire Qur’an and Hadith. According to Mona Siddiqui, ISIS’s “narrative may well be wrapped up in the familiar language of jihad and ‘fighting in the cause of Allah’, but it amounts to little more than destruction of anything and anyone who doesn’t agree with them”; she describes ISIS as reflecting a “lethal mix of violence and sexual power” and a “deeply flawed view of manhood”.

Dabiq describes “this large-scale enslavement” of non-Muslims as “probably the first since the abandonment of Shariah law”. In late 2014, ISIS released a pamphlet that focused on the treatment of female slaves. It claims that the Quran allows fighters to have sex with captives, including adolescent girls, and to beat slaves as discipline. The pamphlet’s guidelines also allow fighters to trade slaves, including for sex, as long as they have not been impregnated by their owner.

The Islamic state justifies sexual slavery by quoting Quran 23:5-6 : It is permissible to have sexual intercourse with the female captive. Allah the almighty said: ‘Successful are the believers who guard their chastity, except from their wives or (the captives and slaves) that their right hands possess, for then they are free from blame. Muslim leaders and scholars from around the world have rejected the validity of these claims, claiming that the reintroduction of slavery is un-Islamic, that they are required to protect ‘People of the Scripture’ including Christians, Jews, Muslims and Yazidis, and that ISIS’s fatwas are invalid due to their lack of religious authority and the fatwas’ inconsistency with Islam.

Attacks on members of the press:

ISIS has tortured and murdered local journalists, creating what Reporters Without Borders calls “news blackholes” in areas controlled by ISIS. ISIS fighters have reportedly been given written directions to kill or capture journalists. In December 2013, two suicide bombers stormed the headquarters of TV station Salaheddin and killed five journalists, after accusing the station of “distorting the image of Iraq’s Sunni community”.

Reporters Without Borders reported that on 7 September 2014, ISIS seized and on 11 October publicly beheaded Raad al-Azzawi, a TV Salaheddin cameraman from the village of Samra, east of Tikrit. As of October 2014, according to the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory, ISIS is holding nine journalists and has nine others under close observation in Mosul and Salahuddin province.

During 2013 and part of 2014, an ISIS unit nicknamed the Beatles acquired and held 12 Western journalists hostage, along with aid workers and other foreign hostages, totalling 23 or 24 known hostages. A Polish journalist Marcin Suder was captured in July 2013 but escaped four months later. The unit executed American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and released beheading videos. Eight of the other journalists were released for ransom: Danish journalist Daniel Rye Ottosen, French journalists Didier François, Edouard Elias, Nicolas Hénin, and Pierre Torres, and Spanish journalists Marc Marginedas, Javier Espinosa, and Ricardo García Vilanova.

The unit continues to hold hostage British journalist John Cantlie and a female aid worker.Cyber-security group the Citizen Lab released a report finding a possible link between ISIS and a digital attack on the Syrian citizen media group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently (RSS). Supporters of the media group received an emailed link to an image of supposed airstrikes, but clicking on the link introduced malware to the user’s computer that sends details of the user’s IP address and system each time it restarts.

That information has been enough to allow ISIS to locate RSS supporters.On 8 January 2015, ISIS members in Libya claimed to have executed Tunisian journalists Sofiene Chourabi and Nadhir Ktari who disappeared in September 2014. Also in January 2015, Japanese journalist Kenji Goto Jogo was captured after travelling to Raqqah and displayed on video with another Japanese citizen with a demand for $200 million ransom.

Beheadings and mass executions:

An unknown number of Syrians and Iraqis, several Lebanese soldiers, at least ten Kurds, two American journalists, one American and two British aid workers, and three Libyans have been beheaded by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. ISIS uses beheadings to intimidate local populations and has released a series of propaganda videos aimed at Western countries. They also engage in public and mass executions, sometimes forcing prisoners to dig their own graves before shooting lines of prisoners and pushing them in. ISIS was reported to have beheaded about 100 foreign fighters as deserters who tried to leave Raqqa.

Destruction of cultural and religious heritage:

To finance its activities, ISIS is stealing artefacts from Syria and Iraq and sending them to Europe to be sold. It is estimated that ISIS raises US$200 million a year from cultural looting. UNESCO has asked for United Nations Security Council controls on the sale of antiquities, similar to those imposed after the 2003 Iraq War.

UNESCO is working with Interpol, national customs authorities, museums, and major auction houses in attempts to prevent looted items from being sold. ISIS occupied Mosul Museum, the second most important museum in Iraq, as it was about to reopen after years of rebuilding following the Iraq War, saying that the statues were against Islam and threatening to destroy the museum’s contents.

ISIS considers worshipping at graves tantamount to idolatry, and seeks to purify the community of unbelievers. It has used bulldozers to crush buildings and archaeological sites. The destruction by ISIS in July 2014 of the tomb and shrine of the prophet Yunus—Jonah in Christianity—the 13th-century mosque of Imam Yahya Abu al-Qassimin, the 14th-century shrine of prophet Jerjis—St George to Christians—and the attempted destruction of the Hadba minaret at the 12th-century Great Mosque of Al-Nuri have been described as “an unchecked outburst of extreme Wahhabism”. “Daesh (ISIS) gathered over 1,500 manuscripts from convents and other holy places and burnt all of them in the middle of the city square”. In March 2015, ISIS reportedly bulldozed the 13th-century BC Assyrian city of Nimrud, believing its sculptures to be idolatrous.