When you think about terrorism, what comes to mind? Nowadays, the first word people will say is ISIS. Most people know ISIS as a terrorist organization, which is exactly what it is, but there is much more to it. ISIS stands for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and has been around for over ten years, but what makes up this extensive terrorist organization?
Let’s start with ISIS’ origins. ISIS wasn’t always ISIS. According to Martha Crenshaw from Stanford University, “[ISIS]…is descended from Al Qaeda in Iraq, an affiliate organization established by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 2004 to combat coalition forces. After he was killed in an American air strike in 2006, AQI became the Islamic State of Iraq, probably in an attempt to establish legitimacy among Iraqi Sunnis who thought of it as a foreign organization.” Ever since then, ISIS has grown in power and expanded through several regions. The reason it started to grow, however, was because of it’s involvement in the Syrian Civil War. This lead to it’s name change, adding Syria to their title, and finally settling on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. According to Stanford University, “Over the course of 2013 and 2014, ISIS quickly took over territory in Syria and Iraq. In addition to its rapid expansion, the group also drew attention for its public beheadings of Western captives and its large contingent of foreign fighters.” And from then on, they have been expanding their territory and taking responsibly for several terrorist attacks all over the world. From the last study conducted in 2016, it was estimated that ISIS has approximately 30,000 members.
Since 2004, ISIS’ beliefs, ideology, and goals have changed several times, but one thing remained the same and that was to instill as much fear as possible into people. Stanford University states that, “In its earlier iterations… the group focused on more concrete goals like driving foreign forces from Iraq, but as it grew it emphasized the establishment of a state.” Throughout 2013 and 2014, ISIS focused on capturing as much territory as they could in order to establish an Islamic state. “In June 2014, the ISIS formally declared a [Islamic state], demanding that Muslims and other jihadist groups declare allegiance to Baghdadi,” Stanford University said.
So, what or who is funding this terrorist group, especially for this amount of time? The simple answer is oil sales. When ISIS came in and took over all of the territory they used for their Islamic state, they also took over all of the oil refineries that came with it. Charles Lister, the author of Cutting Off ISIS’ Cash Flow, talks about how the undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence David Cohen states this is, “the best-funded terrorist organization we’ve confronted,” and that, “ISIS’ principal source of finance is still derived from its control and sale of oil, which [Cohen] assessed was still bringing in $1 million a day.” At the same time, this is a terrorist organization, so they also get their profit from crime in terms of kidnapping, extortion, and several other criminal activities as well as their relationship with other criminal organizations. What some people wouldn’t think, though, is that they very often get donations as well. Just like a charity, many people donate money to ISIS to support their cause and show support for what they are doing. These are usually very hefty donations and between these three things, ISIS has no problem with cash flow.
More recently than not, ISIS is in the news a lot. They tend to take responsibility for a lot of terrorist attacks that happen around the world. Most recently, on August 17, 2017 a van drove straight into a crowd of people in Barcelona, Spain. According to CNN, this attack killed thirteen people and injured over one hundred others. It was carried out by a twenty-two-year-old male that was soon killed by the police after the attack occurred. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack immediately, however several other suspected terrorists died during this attack. Another recent attack that ISIS took credit for was a suicide bombing in Pakistan that killed fifteen people on August 12, 2017. “A suicide bomber riding a motorcycle rammed into a military truck near a busy bus station in southwestern Pakistan, killing at least 15 people, including eight soldiers, and wounding at least 40 others,” The New York Times stated. However, when ISIS claimed responsibility for this attacked, they actually made a statement and said, “… the attack had been aimed at sabotaging Independence Day celebrations, as Pakistan will mark its 70th anniversary on Monday.” It is not unusual for ISIS to explain why they attacked a certain place, as they like to cause fear, panic, and gain as much media attention as possible.
Finally, what are the Unites States and surrounding countries doing to stop ISIS? Well, we go where it hurts first, and that’s the money. Lister says, “U.S. strategy is focused on disrupting ISIS revenue streams, restricting ISIS access to the international financial system, and targeting ISIS leaders, facilitators and supporters with sanctions.” Without funding, ISIS will fade and it will be virtually impossible for them to do anything, especially expand. At the same time, according to Crenshaw, “[The United States] have urged the government [of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki] to take steps to ensure the loyalty of Iraq's Sunni citizens and to recognize that the solution is political rather than military.” This is very important to prevent any type of war from breaking out. The goal is to prevent as much violence and bloodshed as possible.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has proven to be a huge threat to the United States and several other countries for over ten years now, and it’s only growing. The only thing we can do is take government action before a war breaks out and more innocent people die. The way it’s looking right now, a war isn’t too far off. ISIS is growing and expanding everyday. There are more and more terrorist attacks and no regret for them. The sooner we take action, the sooner we can, hopefully, find a peaceful solution.