- The U.S. Joins the Fight
- The Fight for Kobani
- Expansion of the Caliphate
- ISIS in 2015
- Surge in Strength
- Explosion of International Violence
On June 29, 2014 ISIS dropped the second "IS" from their name and established a Caliphate in the areas they currently controlled, with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as their Caliph. Now known simply as the Islamic State, they claimed the territory under their control as a new Caliphate. This declaration was ridiculed by foreign and domestic Islamic scholars and leaders, as the Islamic State attempted to take hold of the global Jihad movement. The IS called for all Muslims in the world to pledge their allegiance to the new Caliph and Caliphate, but Muslims worldwide continue to be disgusted by the actions of the IS. The president of Indonesia, the world's most populated Muslim majority country has called the actions of the IS "embarassing to the religion" and has called on other Muslim leaders to do their part in combatting Islamic extremism. (Al-Arabiya, August 22 2014)
The brutality and barbarism of the Islamic State fighters has been staggering. The Islamic State staged mass executions of security personnel and detractors throughout their storm of terror across Iraq and Syria. In the city of Tikrit IS claims that they executed over 1,700 Shia Muslim Iraqi soldiers (in April 2015 mass graves in Tikrit were exhumed, containing the bodies of many of these soldiers). According to witnesses and people who were lucky enough to escape, IS militants loaded Shia civilians onto trucks and drove them away for execution: satelite images show men women and children laying face down in ditches while IS militants spray their bodies with machine guns. Every Friday in occupied parts of Syria, Islamic State fighters hold amputations, lashings, and executions in public squares, with the bodies of the victims put on display for several following days. A 45 page report prepared by the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights released on August 27, 2014, details the terrifying tactics of IS fighters, including how they force children to watch beheadings and shootings and terrorize the population by dragging dead bodies behind their vehicles. Also detailed in this report is the Islamic State's use of child soldiers, some as young as 10 years old, in suicide bombing missions and other attrocities. The report showed how women suffered public lashings and stonings at the hands of the Islamic State for not adhering to their strict dress code, and presented evidence that Syria's President Assad used chemical weapons on his citizens.
ISIS militants execute Yazidis in a ditch. Source: Reuters
The Islamic State focused much of it's efforts in mid-late 2014 on terrorizing and trapping Yazidis, an Iraqi religious minority whose roots run deep through Iraq's history. To avoid persecution and murder by the Islamic State militants, thousands of members of the Yazidi community and other ethnic minorities fled to Mount Sinjar in Northwest Iraq. Without food, water, or medical care, these people faced grave danger. It is estimated that about 700,000 Yazidis exist today, mostly living in Northern Iraq. The IS fighters forced 40,000 people out of their homes and onto the mountain, where they stayed in 9 refugee camps. Yazidis have been subject to genocidal ideals on multiple occasions: under Ottoman rule in the 18th and 19th centuries Yazidis were detested and there were multiple genocidal massacres against them, and recently in 2007 a series of car bombs killed almost 800 Yazidis. The Islamic State fighters have also abducted over 300 Yazidi women, whom the Yazidis claim they will impregnate in attempts to stop the ancient Yazidi bloodline from flowing. Evidence suggests that IS fighters have buried women and children alive as well. Iraqi air force and Kurdish peshmerga soldiers provided aid and escape for some of these lost and desperate people. Rescuers funneling out small groups of people with helicopters gave hope to the Yazidis still trapped on the mountain. United States air strikes on IS posts surrounding Mount Sinjar allowed over 20,000 people to escape during the weekend of August 8-10. The Yazidis who were rescued were able to seek shelter in Kurdistan after crossing through Syria. Air strikes carried out by the United States that weekend did significant damage to IS infrastructure and took out some top IS commanders. The siege of Mount Sinjar and the town of Sinjar itself continued until mid-December 2014, when Kurdish Peshmerga militants aided by US air strikes were finally able to break the siege and help hundreds of trapped individuals escape the terror of the Islamic State. Non-stop US air strikes battered the Islamic State positions for over 12 hours on December 20. Masrour Barzani, head of the Iraqi Kurdish region's national security council said that the Kurdish fighters had liberated a large area of land surrounding the mountain and allowed the individuals who had been trapped since August to escape. This liberated area opened up a corridor, and according to Barzani this was a strategic victory that will help free the rest of the Sinjar region. Many of the trapped individuals who were not rescued in August were rescued during this operation,which was the largest single operation in the fight against the Islamic State at the time.
In an act of rare goodwill from the Islamic State fighters, on April 7, 2015, they released over 200 Yazidi prisoners who had been abducted by the Islamic State. The Yazidis, including 60 children, had been abducted when ISIS trapped them on Mount Sinjar in August 2014; many others who had been abducted were still missing.
After news of the Yazidi massacres and IS capture of Kurdish territory, Kurdish and American forces took back Mosul dam from IS with air strikes and ground troops on August 18, 2015, leaving the dam littered with IS vehicles and hardware and the dam under Kurdish control. Whoever controls Mosul dam controls the vast majority of Iraq's water, a significant strategic advantage in the desert-ridden Middle East.
In addition to the Yazidi and Shia communities the IS is also targetting Christians, forcing 200,000 Christians to flee for their lives out of Iraq's largest Christian city towards the Kurdish North. Christians who remained in the city and surrounding towns were given the option to convert to Islam or be murdered by the IS militant extremists. Most Christians have fled from IS extremism to Arbil, a town north of Baghdad.
The Islamic State's crusade against the Yazidi population was labelled a genocide by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria in June 2016. In a report released by the International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic in early August 2016, titled “they Came to Destroy: ISIS Crimes Against the Yazidis,” the authors contend that ISIS is commiting genocide against the Yazidi population. Paulo Pinheiro, Chair of the Commission, stated that, “Genocide has occurred and is ongoing. ISIS has subjected every Yazidi woman, child or man that it has captured to the most horrific of atrocities.” The commission's findings were based on extensive interviews with survivors, religious leaders, smugglers, activists, lawyers, medical professionals, and journalists. ISIS members have attempted to exterminate the Yazidi religion by killing those who do not convert to Islam, and by impregnating Yazidi women to kill off the blood lines.
District 17 air base was overrun by IS fighters on July 25, 2014 after a seige on the base that lasted almost a month. IS fighters detonated 2 suicide bombs at different points around the air base on July 24 and attacked from ground positions, eventually breaching the walls and killing the Syrian army soldiers within, parading their bodies and severed heads around the streets. On Friday the IS jihadists posted videos online of them inside the living quarters of the air base, and posted pictures of decapitated Syrian army members on Twitter.
The United Nations reported in mid August 2014 that the humanitarian crisis in Iraq is at "at the highest level" due to people being chased out of their homes and forced to flee to Mount Sinjar by IS militants. The United Nations declared a level 3 emergency after drones flying over Mount Sinjar showed there were significantly less people trapped than originally thought (thanks to US air strikes that freed over 20,000 people during the weekend of August 8). A level 3 humanitarian crisis means that additional goods, funds, and assets will continue to be sent to the affected population.
The 93rd Brigade air base fell to Islamic State fighters on August 6, 2014, after a week of intense battle. The air base housed stragetic military equipment now being used by ISIS including tanks and missiles.
On August 25 the fighters of the Islamic State took over Tabqa airfield, a major Syrian air base. The air base is the third military base to succumb to the extremists in the past month, and is full of artillery, protective bunkers, warplanes, helicopters, and tanks that will now most likely be used by the militants to fight international efforts to stop them. After a relentless week-long offensive, IS fighters took Tabqa air base by finally breaching the walls on Sunday August 24. Analysts claim that IS lost around 100 men with 300 wounded, and the Syrian army defending the airbase suffered 170 casualties with another 150 supposedly captured. The province of Raqqa is now the first in Syria to fall completely into the hands of the Islamic State.
Islamic State fighters also made considerable advances towards Syria and Iraq's neighbor Turkey, capturing the strategic border towns of Akhtarin and Turkmanbareh in Syria's Aleppo province. The Islamic State militants staged a brutal attack against rebels residing in the towns, and also took neighboring villages during the battle. Experts say that the Islamic State was attempting to make it's way to the Bab al-Salama border crossing with Turkey, via the towns of Marea and Azaz.
On August 24, 2014 five rockets from Syria struck Israel and Israel retaliated with air strikes, and on September 1 two mortar shells fired from Syria exploded in open areas in the Golan Heights. It is thought that both of these instances were a result of stray fire.
Multiple groups of Syrian rebels headed by members of the al-Nusra Front stormed and took over the Quneitra crossing between Syria and the Golan Heights on August 28, getting dangerously close to Israeli territory. Syrian military units fought hard to retain the border crossing but video clips posted by the groups show the Al-Qaeda affiliated rebel groups in control of the crossing station. Syrian military carried out air strikes against the militants in the border crossing station but the rebels held their ground. It should be noted that the rebels in this case are not affiliated with ISIS explicitly, but are affiliated with the group al-Nusra Front, who hold close ties with ISIS and whose fighters often associate with ISIS. When the Syrian rebels took over the Quneitra crossing they also took a number of Fijan UN peacekeepers hostage who were stationed there. They also terrorized 70 Filipino UN peacekeepers who were stationed at the location, but they managed to escape. It was later reported the Qatar paid the groups $25 million to secure the release of the Fijan peacekeepers. Although Israel percieves the rebels at it's border to be a threat, they feel adequately prepared and have built up their border defenses in recent years in anticipation for such a moment. According to a Free Syrian Army (FSA) spokesperson, there are rebels affiliated with ISIS and Al-Nusra that are operating as sleeper agents and slowly trying to infiltrate the Golan Heights. Monday September 15 saw the Syrian rebels advance on the positions of the remaining peacekeepers on the Syria/Israel border, causing the peacekeepers to retreat to Israeli territory. The rebels took over their positions and stole their uniforms, armor, weapons, and vehicles. The rebels established a base of operations that they deemed a "safe zone" right on the Israel border that supposedly will be used to launch attacks against Assad's forces, or Israel. According to the Syrian ambassador the rebel members of the Al-Nusra front "succeeded in occupying all of the Syrian side" of the Golan Heights. Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon was quoted on September 16 as saying that he did not believe that the activities of the Islamic State represent a threat to Israel at this point. (Yahoo News, September 16, 2014)
Islamic State members carried out a suicide bombing against the Iraqi army camp Camp Saqlawiyah and then overran the camp on the morning of September 21, 2014. Two trucks filled with explosives were driven up to the outside of the base and detonated, and two suicide bombers blew themselves up with bomb vests. Chaos ensued after the bombings, and the ISIS members were easily able to overpower the 820 Iraqi soldiers stationed at the camp. The Islamic State militants had seized/closed off the one supply bridge to the base in the days prior, so the Iraqi soldiers were already running low on food, water, ammunition, and other supplies when the ISIS members attacked.
The US Joins the Fight
The United States carried out it's first air strikes in Syria against ISIS on September 22, 2014. The US forces hit five spots and 14 seperate targets during the strikes including Raqqa, and also attacked a different Sunni extremist group in Aleppo known as Khorassan. The strikes were successful, and according to US officials the Jihadist forces were scattered following the attack and their infrastructure sustained significant damage. This attack involved over 50 cruise missiles and was significantly more powerful than the United States previous attacks on the Islamic State militants in Iraq. It was later reported that these airstrikes killed more than 120 jihadists, at least 70 from ISIS and 50 from Al-Qaeda. United States officials stated after the bombardment that it will be the first of many in a prolonged engagement against ISIS.
After these initial strikes in Syria, during the weekend of September 27, 2014, US forces in the air were joined by fighter jets from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan. The strikes took out ISIS posts near the Kurdistan border in eastern Syria while Kurdish citizens watched from miles away hilltops. On September 30, Kurdish Peshmerga forces took back a strategic border crossing and surrounding villages from the Islamic State. The Rabia border crossing between Iraq and Syria had been a huge tactical advantage for the ISIS militants, as they used the crossing to move freely between the two countries. At least a dozen Islamic State fighters were killed by the Kurdish forces as they fought to take back the crossing, with support from the United States in the air. These Kurdish Peshmerga soldiers also liberated the surrounding towns from ISIS. During the following week US led air strikes including support from British Royal Air Force (RAF) jets continued decimating the Islamic State positions in Iraq and Syria, destroying multiple armored vehicles, observation posts, military positions, artillery pieces and rocket launchers. These included strikes on Mosul dam, Fallujah, and Aleppo.
After these air strikes it was reported that Mohsen al-Fadhli, the leader of the terrorist group Khorasan was one of the casualties. Khorasan has links to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, and their fighters have been fighting alongside the Islamic State during the conflict. His death was a large blow to the terrorist infrastructure in Syria and Iraq.
In his first televised speech since his election on October 18, Iraqi Defense Minister Khalid Al-Obeidi pledged to take back all parts of Iraq that have been taken over by the Islamic State. He also acknowledged the fact that US led air strikes including the international coalition have been the main reason behind the slowing of the spread of the Islamic State.
The Fight for Kobani
On October 7, 2014, it was reported that Islamic State militants had breached the borders of the strategic town of Kobani on the Syria-Turkey border. Kurdish forces fought for over two months to repel the Islamic State, staging intense gunfights in the streets and doing everything that they could to stop the ISIS menace. On October 7 during a news interview Turkey's President Erdogan stated that "Kobani is about to fall". Late in the fight for Kobani the Kurdish forces were aided by US led air strikes against ISIS, which experts say were the most effective air strikes of the entire conflict but just should have happened sooner. The Kurdish forces were outmatched fighting with their average weapons against the tanks, rocket launchers, grenades, mortars, and other advanced weaponry that the Islamic State fighters had picked up along their bloody path. As of October 9, the Islamic State had taken over 1/3 of Kobani. The Kurdish fighters were successful in beating back the ISIS militants during the weekend of October 11, but ISIS forces continued to mass on Kobani's borders and the United States air strikes were getting less effective. On October 9 US Secretary of State Kerry clarified that preventing the fall of Kobani was "not a strategic goal" for US air strikes. Although it is a border town and Turkish fighters were able to see the battles from nearby hilltops across the border, Turkey chose not to get involved in the conflict at first which led to riots in the Turkish streets and clashes between Turkish Kurds and police. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu stated that it was not feasable for Turkey to unilaterally conduct a ground operation against the Islamic State in Kobani on their own. In a shift in policy, on October 21 it was announced that Turkey would be allowing Kurdish soldiers to cross the border into Syria and aid the town of Kobani. The US led allies are considering instituting a buffer zone at the border between Turkey and Syria in order to slow the spread of ISIS. Secretary of State John Kerry has said that the institution of a buffer zone is something "worth looking at very closely". (BBC, October 9 2014)
After over one month of intense fighting, Kurdish militants defending Kobani were gaining ground back and were becoming successful in driving out the terrorists of the Islamic State. During the week of October 14, US led air strikes killed hundreds of members of the Islamic State who were laying seige to Kobani. Over the weekend of October 18 US forces staged supply drops to Kurdish troops battling ISIS, delivering food, ammunition, medical supplies, and other necessities to the individuals defending their homes from the terrorist group. This effort represented a change in US policy during the battle, as they began to provide direct assistance to the Kurdish fighters instead of just providing air support. These supplies were provided by Kurdish groups outside of Kobani and simply delivered by US C-130 aircraft, and were not supplied by the United States. It was later reported that US planes carried out strikes on a pallet of supplies in order to prevent the ammunition and supplies inside from falling into the hands of ISIS. Despite this effort, the next day a video was posted online of ISIS militants in Kobani parading around with the US supplies. These include hand grenades, small rockets, ammunition, and medical supplies. On October 30 Iraqi peshmerga fighters arrived to aid the Kurdish fighters under seige in Kobani after almost 2 months of daily battles. The United States air strikes continued but were less effective as the ISIS fighters moved into the crowded residential areas of Kobani. Although the strikes killed hundreds of terrorist fighters, they were unsuccessful in breaking the seige.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights published a report on October 24, 2014, claiming that since the begining of the fight for Kobani, 481 ISIS fighters and 302 Kurdish fighters had been killed in the city.
The Kurdish militia completely expelled ISIS from the town of Kobani in January 2015, after more than four months of fighting to keep the town under their control. Nearly three quarters of the coalition air strikes had been against ISIS fighters in Kobani, and alltogether the United States and allies carried out 700 air strikes before they were able to drive the Islamic State militants from the town borders.
The Islamic State reportedly used chemical weapons in the form of Chlorine gas against Iraqi police forces in Balad, a town on the outskirts of Baghdad in September. This attack was reported on October 23, 2014 after the United States opened an investigation into whether chemical weapons were indeed used by the terrorist group. If these reports are found to be true, it would be the first confirmed use of Chlorine gas by the Islamic State militants, although there have been other instances reported by Iraqi security forces. It is believed that they may have taken the gas from reserves left over from Bashar al-Assad, or others.
Expansion of the Caliphate
The Islamic State found it's first foothold outside of Iraq and Syria in the Libyan city of Darna where rule of law is scarce and the population lives under the control of extremist militants. On October 30, 2014, a group of these militants gathered in Darna and pledged their collective allegiance to the Islamic State, effectively making the city they control the first city outside of Iraq and Syria to officially join the Islamic State's Caliphate. It was reported on December 3 that hundreds of individuals were undergoing training under ISIS militants in Libya. This group claimed responsibility for the execution of two Tunisian journalists in January 2015. Libya has many radical Islamist groups fighting for power following the overthrow of Gaddafi in 2011. United States intelligence services reported in May 2015 that the Islamic State had dramatically expanded it's influence in Libya over the previous months, sending money, equipment, and military trainers into the African country.
In a surprising turn of events, on November 13, 2014, it was revealed that during the previous week meetings were held at a farmhouse in northern Syria between leaders from the Islamic State and al-Qaeda. This was the first known face-to-face communication between leaders from the two groups in at least 6 months. During this meeting officials from the two terrorist organizations agreed to put aside their differences and stop fighting each other, instead focusing their mutual attention on their opponents. The groups agreed to focus on eliminating the US trained rebel faction the Syrian Revolutionaries Front, as well as any US forces in the region. Collaboration between the two groups may complicate US operations in the region, as they expand the fighting to new areas in Northern Syria and develop new battlefield strategies with their new allies.
The Islamic State's leader in Mosul, Radwan Taleb al-Hamdouni, was killed along with his driver when his car was hit by an air strike in Western Mosul on November 19, 2014.
US air strikes continued during November, causing heavy damage to Islamic State positions around areas like Kobani and Raqqa. In Iraq, the US led air strikes focused on Mosul, Asad, Baghdad, Ramadi, Tal Afar and Hit. During the weekend of November 22, the United States and allied forces carried out twenty four air strikes on Syrian and Iraqi ISIS strongholds.
On November 25 it was reported that fighters from the Islamic State had breached the core of Ramadi, the capital of Iraq's largest province. The terrorist extremists fought for two weeks to capture the town, cutting off supply lines and surrounding the government buildings. Ramadi is one of the last government controlled sections of the Anbar province, bordering Baghdad to the West. Individuals who fought to keep Ramadi out of the hands of the Islamic State cited that a lack of consistent air support and reinforcements made it impossible to hold their ground.
Syrian government air strikes killed at least ninety five militants and civilians in the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa on November 25. The air strikes targetted a market near a museum and an industrial neighborhood, causing many civilian casualties in addition to killing the militant targets. These strikes represent one of the bloodiest days of the conflict.
During the weekend of November 29, 2014, over fifty five air strikes were carried out against the Islamic State. Seventeen of these air strikes were levelled against jihadists fighting to take over the town of Kobani. The group of strikes was led by US fighter jets and accompanied by Syrian government planes, who struck the Daraa province and killed an estimated nineteen people. In addition to striking militants associated with the Islamic State, air strikes were also carried out against a Khorasan outpost near Aleppo.
Just days after the P5+1 deadline for a nuclear deal with Iran came and went without an agreement, it was reported that Iranian planes were participating in the bombing of the Islamic State, in the same airspace as planes from the United States. Some of these bombing runs were being made by F4 Phantom jets, manufactured by America and provided to Iran before their 1979 revolution. A senior US defense official confirmed Iranian and US planes sharing airspace on December 1 and stated that officials in Washington are "[not] necessarilly concerned with it" and "have [their] eyes on it". The Iranian bombing activity during the weekend of November 29 took place near the Iranian border in a different spot than most of the US and coalition air strike activities. Iranian strikes helped chase ISIS militants out of the towns of Saadiya and Jalawla in the Iraqi province of Diyala. The fact that the Obama administration or any other US official did not challenge this Iranian involvement in the fight against ISIS shows that they see Iran as a potential unspoken partner in certain aspects. These "dual but seperate" military operations were carried out supposedly without any sort of coordination between US and Iranian leaders.
The fight against ISIS continued into December 2014 as allied air strikes caused significant damage to the Islamic State but were not successful in slowing down the gains of the jihadist group. Battles continued to rage for the third month in the streets of Kobani between Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and ISIS militants, and the ISIS affiliated group the al-Nusra Front began making significant territorial gains in the Idlib and Hama provinces in Syria. Due to these gains made by al-Nusra and the intensity of battles elsewhere at the time, on December 8 it was reported that the pro-Western rebels fighting the Islamic State in Northern Syria were not being paid by the US government anymore and were not recieving the regular supply drops that they had in the past. The United States government was paying these rebels a stipend of $150 per month and supplying them with firearms, ammunition, food, and other materials while they fought the Islamic State. This cutoff is estimated to have affected 8,000 of the 10,000 fighters in Syria. A State Department representative clarified that supplies such as food and medical equipment would continue to be sent, but the fighters would not be paid or sent weaponry anymore.
The United States carried out at least twenty air strikes against the Islamic State positions during the week of December 10. The majority of these strikes focused on Kobani which had at the time been under seige for three months straight, and also hit Sinjar, Ramadi, Mosul, and Samarra.
During December 2014 the Islamic State militants began a terror campaign in the government stronghold of Baghdad, mounting multiple suicide attacks and killing over twenty people by December 11. Militants affiliated with the Islamic State stole an oil tanker truck and filled it with explosives before driving it to a checkpoint near the outskirts of Baghdad on December 10. Once they reached the checkpoint they orchestrated a suicide bombing attack that claimed the lives of ten Iraqi soldiers and multiple rebel fighters. Earlier in the week a roadside bomb and other attacks killed ten people and injured dozens right outside of Baghdad.
The Iraqi government's "lack of interest and support" caused the Islamic State militants to gain back strategic areas of the Anbar province including Hit and Haditha during the week of December 15. This reclamation of land in the Anbar province cut off multiple supply lines to Baghdad, which sits only 80 miles away. Multiple suicide attacks in Hit and Haditha terrified the residents, and the rebel tribes did not have enough weapons or supplies from the Iraqi government to fight off the Islamic State advance.
According to data provided by the US military, US planes carried out 97% of the total air strikes against the Islamic State in December 2014. US led air strikes against the Islamic State militants in Kobani continued into 2015, killing over 50 ISIS fighters within the first week of January.
The Islamic State ordered the closure of all schools in their territory while they reform the curriculum in January 2015, leaving over 670,000 children deprived of proper education.
ISIS in 2015
A spate of suicide attacks were carried out by members of the Islamic State in the Iraqi city of Samarra during January 2015, targetting security checkpoints and public areas. Multiple car bombs were set off at these checkpoints on January 8, killing 2 policemen and one civilian, and injuring many others. The Islamic State intensified attacks against Samarra in late 2014 and early 2015 because of it's convenient vicinity to Baghdad.
Islamic State positions in Kobani, Deir Ezzour, Beiji, Ramadi, Tal Afar and Mount Sinjar were struck by air fire unleashed by the United States and allied forces in mid January 2015. These strikes focused on ISIS tactical fighting positions, artillery systems, patrol units, and oil refineries being operated by the terrorist organization. Nations conducting air strikes against ISIS in Iraq in January included the United States, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Air strikes in Syria during January were carried out by the United States, Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
In response to the continued bombardment of their positions by allied air strikes and international backlash against the group, Islamic State sympathizers somehow hacked into the United States military command Youtube and Twitter accounts on January 13. The group posted on the US military command twitter account "American soldiers, we are coming, watch your back, ISIS," and "In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful, the CyberCaliphate continues its CyberJihad." The individuals also posted the names of various US generals and military/defense officials along with their associated addresses in a 52 page spreadsheet. United States officials downplayed the effect of the "cyber-attack", stating that "hacking a Twitter is about the equivalent of spray-painting a subway car," and that they "view this as little more than a prank, or as vandalism." (Reuters, January 13 2015)
Adding to the Islamic State's international reach, a group in Libya identifying themselves as the Tripolitania Province of the Islamic State pledged their allegiance to ISIS on January 12 2015 after abducting 21 Egyptian Christians. After this announcement, all three of Libya's provinces have terror groups that have alligned themselves with the Islamic State. The 21 Christians that Tripolitania Province of the Islamic State abducted were all migrant workers who were abducted in two seperate large groups from the coastal city of Surt. Surt is dominated by the terrorist group Ansar al-Sharia of Surt, who are not affiliated with the other Libyan terror groups Ansar al-Sharia of Derna and Ansar al-Sharia of Benghazi.
During the second week of January 2015, Canadian soldiers fired upon ISIS militants in Iraq, in the first physical exchange of fire between Islamic State militants and Western troops on the ground. The soldiers were visiting Kurdish Peshmerga forces on their front lines when they were put under heavy fire from mortars and multiple machine guns. The Canadian soldiers fired back in self-defense and secured the area by neutralizing their targets, taking no casualties themselves. Canada currently has 69 special forces trained soldiers in Iraq and Syria, participating in the conflict in a "training and advisory" role.
A United Nations report published on January 20, 2015, detailed the brutal execution style killings that members of ISIS had carried out during December 2014 and early January 2015. Individuals accused of theft were tied to crosses in a town square in Mosul, while three men accused of participating in homosexual acts were blindfolded and then thrown from an exceptionally tall rooftop. Other executions described in the report include the killing of four doctors in Mosul who refused to treat Islamic State fighters, the killing of three female lawyers, and and stoning to death of a woman accused of adultery. A large group of teenage boys were caught watching a soccer game between Iraq and Jordan during the second week in January, and were all then murdered in the street with machine guns. The Islamic State put on trails of the individuals strictly for show in which they were immediately pronounced guilty and sent off to be executed. Most of the accusations were unfounded. In addition to the ones listed, many other execution style killings were being investigated by the United Nations at the time. The report found that the Islamic State has a "monstrous disregard for human life".
Sinai Province, an Egyptian group affiliated with the Islamic State, staged more than a dozen attacks on police and military targets on January 29, 2015, killing 30 security officers and injuring many more. The attack seemed to be extremely well coordinated, with car bombs going off outside of a military base while mortars were simultaneously being shot at the base as well. These attacks toppled buildings and left security forces scrambling in the rubble.
The Jordainain military conducted aggressive and devastating air-strikes against the Islamic State in retalliation for the brutal killing of captured Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh during the first week of February 2015. Jordanian officials promised swift retribution for the murder, and carried out more than 56 air strikes against ISIS positions during the weekend of February 7. The head of the Jordanian air force, General Mansour al-Jbour stated in a news conference on February 9 that “we achieved what we aimed for. We destroyed logistics centers, arms depots and targeted hideouts of their fighters. We are determined to wipe them from the face of the Earth.” The United Arab Emirates sent a squad of F-16 fighter jets to Jordan that same weekend in attempts to boost the military effort. Earlier in the campaign the UAE had suspended air support, fearing that there was not an adequate search-and-rescue protocol for downed pilots. The UAE's official news agency released a statement saying that they “reaffirm [their] unwavering and constant solidarity with Jordan.” On February 10, 2015, the Jordanian government announced that they had moved thousands of ground troops to the Jordan-Iraq border to prevent ISIS fighters from entering Jordan and as a show of force.
The last US hostage held by ISIS, Kayla Mueller, was confirmed dead on February 10, 2015. Islamic State militants claimed that she was killed by falling rubble during Jordanian air strikes, but international security experts doubt that is the case. In a letter handwritten by Mueller received by her family soon before her death, she described how she was not being mistreated by the jihadis, although it is not certain how accurate that claim is.
Jihadis from the Islamic State took over the strategic town of al-Baghdadia on February 12, 2015, after laying seige to the town for months and attacking from two different directions. The town is five kilometers Northeast of the Ain al-Asad air base, where over 300 US Marines were training members of the Iraqi 7th Division. One day after siezing al-Baghdadia, the Islamic State fighters disguised themselves as Iraqi security forces and attempted to attack the Ain al-Asad air base with explosives. Eight assailants dressed in Iraqi army fatigues approached the air base: three detonated explosive belts that they were wearing, and the other five were shot before they got close. The targetting of this base may mean that US troops will be dragged into the conflict, something that US officials were hoping to avoid. The following day, ISIS militants burned over 45 civilians in al-Baghdadia to death.
Militants affiliated with the Tripoli Province of Islamic State posted a video of them beheading the 21 Egyptian Christians that they had abducted January 12, on an unidentified beach in Libya via the Islamic State's official media accounts on February 15, 2015. The group pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in 2014 prior to the abduction. The video is very well put together, similar to the Islamic State's other videos, and shows the Christians being marched wearing orange jumpsuits by ISIS fighters wearing black robes and facial coverings. The black masked jihadis then behead all 21 victims after pushing them into the sand. The Egyptian government bombed Islamic militant positions in Derna, Libya the following day in response, which provoked a wave of car-bomb attacks from the militants on the Libyan city of Qubbah in retaliation. The car bombs were detonated at a gas station, killed 40 people, and injured more than 70. Two days after the detonation of these car bombs, the group claimd responsibility for the planting and detonation of two explosive devices at the Iranian Ambassador to Libya's residence and a rocket strike on the Labraq airport. Two explosives rang out on February 22, 2015, originating from the front gate of the Iranian Ambassador to Libya's residence in Tripoli. Nobody was at the house at the time, and no injuries were reported. The second explosion occured approximately 30 minutes after the first, meant to cause confusion and inflict damage on individuals who had come to the original attack site to help.
The Islamic State abducted at least 220 Christians from Assyrian Christian villages in Northern Syria during the week of February 23, 2015, according to a Syrian Christian group representing multiple NGO's in the area. Nineteen of these abducted Christians were then released under unclear circumstances two weeks later. The whereabouts of the rest of the hostages are currently unknown, but it is thought that they may suffer the same brutal fate as the 21 Egyptian Christians that were beheaded by an ISIS affiliated group during the previous week.
Turkey sent a force of 39 tanks, 57 armored cars, 100 other vehicles, and 572 soldiers into Syria on February 21, 2015, in order to rescue a group of Turkish soldiers who had been trapped by the Islamic State for months. The soldiers had been gaurding the tomb of the Suleyman Shah when their position was overrun by Islamic State fighters and they were forced to retreat inside the tomb area. The tomb is the only piece of soverign Turkish territory outside of the geographic boundaries of the country, privy to a treaty with France (the colonial power who controlled Syria at the time), in 1921 that gave Turkey control over the tomb. The Turkish forces swept in and rescued their comrades in an overnight raid on February 23, destroyed the original tomb so it would not fall into the hands of the Islamic State militants, and took the remains of the Suleyman Shah back to Turkey. Assad's government in Syria was not happy about the raid, claiming it was an act of “flagrant agression,” because Turkey did not consult them beforehand.
Video surfaced online on February 26, 2015, of Islamic State militants running rampant in a museum in Mosul, smashing ancient artifacts and destroying the history and culture of people who they believe did not prescribe to the proper version of Islam. The militants had occupied the museum since they overtook Mosul in June 2014 but had left the artifacts untouched until then. Members of the Islamic State are shown in the video smashing statues, carvings, and other historical objects with sledgehammers and drills. While the destruction continues, the video is narrated by a man who attempts to justify the destruction, stating that “Our prophet ordered us to remove all these statues as his followers did when they conquered nations.” The artifacts destroyed were original artifacts from sites including the Assyrian cities of Nineveh and Nimrud and the Greco-Roman UNESCO World Heritage site of Hatra.
In the begining of March 2015, the first US backed Syrian rebel group fighting against Assad's forces and the al-Nusra Front collapsed after months of battles on multiple fronts. The group, known as Harakat Hazm, was the first rebel Syrian group to receive American made missiles and other munitions during 2014. Local rebel commanders stated that the resistance group fell apart because the aid provided by the United States was never steady, and insufficient in scope to fight Assad's army.
Surge in Strength
Iraqi army operations to retake the Iraqi city of Tikrit from the Islamic State militants began on March 2, 2015. This represented the third, and most serious attempt by the Iraqi army to retake Tikrit, which fell into the hands of the Islamic State in June 2014. Iran assisted Iraq with this mission by providing drones, heavy weaponry, and ground troops to the Iraqi military. The United States at first did not provide the Iraqi army with any assistance in Tikrit, as the mission launch was not announced to U.S. officials. Civilians from neighboring towns greeted government forces happily as they poured into the Tikrit in attempts to drive out the Islamic State fighters that had held the city for months. The government forces were met with a city barren of civilians, and laced with explosives and other traps. It was estimated that over 30,000 Shiite Iraqi troops took part in the operation. US intelligence services confirmed that Iran gave advanced missiles, rockets, and other smaller munitions to Iraqi security forces fighting the Islamic State in Tikrit in early March. Iraqi forces traded fire with Islamic State fighters in Tikrit for weeks without any significant advances on either side. The battle to retake Tikrit slowed coming into the third week, diminishing hope that the Islamic State members in the city had been beaten down. During the fourth week of the fight to take back Tikrit from the Islamic State, the United States began to provide support for the Iraqi militants fighting against ISIS. The United States flew surveilance drones over the city, giving the Iraqi fighters a strategic edge over their opponents. After effectively sitting out the battle for Tikrit for a month, on March 26 the United States began air strikes in the city in support of the Iraqi army. The Iraqi government asked the United States for air assistance in hopes that they would be able to tip the balance of the fight in their favor. Even with battle support from the air from the United States, the Iraqi government forces and their allies on the ground struggled to take back Tikrit from the Islamic State. Five days after US air strikes begun, there were still an estimated 2,000-3,000 Islamic State militants fighting in Tikrit's center and the militants still held control of the strategic Highway 1, from Tikrit to Mosul. After over 6 weeks of fighting, Iraqi security forces officially declared victory over ISIS in Tikrit on April 2, 2015. During the following weeks the security forces embarked on the morbid task of exhuming bodies from mass graves, attempting to identify bodies of Iraqi soldiers killed by the Islamic State.
Members of the Islamic State began demoloshing the historicaly significant town of Nimrud, near Mosul, in March 2015. Iraqi officials stated on record that the ISIS militants came to Nimrud on March 5, 2015, and began using a large bulldozer to destroy the palace. The city of Nimrud was over 3,000 years old, with more than 60,000 people living within the city walls at some points. The World Monuments Fund had listed Nimrud as one of the world's most endangered historical cities since 2002. There was no security force protecting the ancient city when ISIS militants descended upon it. Iraq's Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities responded to the destruction in a statement, reading “ISIS continues to defy the will of the world and the feelings of humanity. They violated the ancient city of Nimrud and bulldozed its ancient ruins.” (CNN, March 6, 2015)
Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram pledged their allegiance to the Islamic State in early 2015, and this allegiance was officially endorsed by ISIS on March 12, 2015. Boko Haram is a brutal organization who spent much of late 2014 and early 2015 terrorizing villages, murdering civilians, abducting schoolgirls, and fighting troops from Nigeria, Niger, Chad, and Cameroon. No operational ties between the groups are officially known, and this declared alliance was thought to be more of a propaganda and marketing tool rather than representing legitimate cooperation between the groups. Experts believed that the main driver for Boko Haram to align with the Islamic State was their need for funds.
The Kurdistan Regional Security Council released a statement during the second weekend in March, claiming that they posessed evidence that chlorine gas was used by the Islamic State in a January 2015 suicide attack in Northern Iraq. Samples from the January 23 attack scene yielded traces of chlorine when they were tested at an undisclosed, US allied facility.
The Islamic State carried out it's first attack in Yemen in mid-March 2015, warning that the attack was "just the tip of the iceberg." Individuals associated with the Islamic State committed suicide bombings at two Shiite Mosques in the Yemeni capital Sanaa on March 20, 2015, killing 142 people and injuring 351. While ISIS claimed responsibility, the country's Al-Qaeda offshoot issued a statement condemning the attack, claiming that they do not target Mosques or markets in order to protect potential innocents.
The United States ramped up it's efforts to train Iraqi government forces during March 2015, instructing thousands of young Iraqi fighters at the Camp Taji Military complex North of Iraq. Twelve advisory teams from the United States had been training Iraqi fighters since August 2014.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that during the first three months of 2015 the Islamic State recruited into their ranks at least 400 children under the age of 18. According to the group, the children were all recruited from local schools and mosques. The children are taught battle tactics and how to drive after being recruited, and are often used as informants. Children with birth defects or physical deformities who had been cast out from their families were welcomed by the fighters of the Islamic State.
The Islamic State fought with the al-Nusra Front for control over a Palestinian refugee camp in the Syrian town of Yarmouk near Damascus during the first week of April 2015. The Islamic militants began their assault on April 1, killing members of the Palestinian forces defending the camp. As confirmed by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the Syrian government responded to the news of the attack near their capital by dropping barrel bombs indiscriminately on the town, killing hundreds of civilians. The refugee camp was home to more than 18,000 individuals, who were caught in the middle of a bloody struggle for power. During the first week of fighting approximately 2,000 civilians fled Yarmouk to escape the battle. Dispelling rumours of them possibly joining the battle on the side of the Syrian government, on April 10 PLO officials announced that they would not be joining the fight for the Yarmouk refugee camp. A statement released by the PLO on April 9 read: “We refused to drag our people and their camps into the hellish conflict which is happening in Syria and we categorically refuse to become one of the parties involved in the armed conflict that is taking place in Yarmouk.” UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon described the situation in Yarmouk as “the deepest circle of hell,” on April 9, and stated that the refugee camp was “begining to resemble a death camp.” (Daily Star, April 10, 2015)
During the second week of April the Islamic State militants took over at least part of Iraq's largest oil refinery, located only 25 miles from Tikrit. Pictures were posted on the internet during the weekend of April 12, showing Islamic State fighters running amok inside of the Baiji oil refinery, which accounts for a full third of Iran's refinery capacity. Later in the week the ISIS militants made significant gains within the complex, killing the commander of Iraqi government forces at the refinery and stealing hundreds of barrels of oil to sell on the black market. During the following months intense fighting for control of Baiji continued, and in late September 2015 U.S. officials announced that the fight for the Baiji refinery is at a complete standstill.
Militants in the Sinai Peninsula associated with the Islamic State carried out a series of attacks on Egyptian security forces on April 12, killing twelve individuals and wounding many others.
Members of the Islamic State overran and took over the Iraqi army's 4th regiment headquarters Northwest of Baghdad in the Thar Thar region, in mid-April. Massive destruction was reported at the base, as the Islamic State militants blew up humvees and other military vehicles. The attack began with three suicide bombers who detonated themselves along the outer perimeter of the base. The ISIS militants had taken over the Iraqi army's 26th regiment headquarters less than four weeks prior. A seperate group of ISIS fighters took over several villages in the Anbar province of Iraq during the same week, destroying local police stations and terrorizing civilians.
Multiple sources reported in April 2015 that the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, had been seriously injured in an air strike in Western Iraq during March 2015. The wounds sustained by Baghdadi were significant and life-threatening, but the Caliph of the Islamic State made a slow recovery. Initial news of his injuries prompted frantic meetings of ISIS leaders, who believed that he may succumb to his wounds. International news organizations were slow to report news of his injury as he had been rumorred to have been injured or killed on many prior occasions, but these reports were confirmed in early May. Baghdadi suffered serious shrapnel wounds which left his spine injured and his left leg immobile, but he was still able to give commands to his Jihadist troops through his advisors and close friends. The following week, reports from the Iranian government confirmed that the Islamic State's second-in-command, Abu Alaa al-Afri, had been killed in an air strike. Videos of the air strike and photos of what was alleged to be al-Afri's body were shown on Iranian television. Al-Afri had taken over daily operations of the Islamic State following al-Baghdadi's injury.
Battles between Islamic State militants and Syrian government forces ended with the deaths of almost 40 jihadists on May 10, 2015. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the Islamic State fighters attempted to take over the city of Dier al-Zor and it's nearby fully stocked military airport, but were stopped by government forces and subsequently engaged in a long battle.
In the largest victory for the Islamic extremists since mid-2014, during the weekend of May 16, 2015, Islamic State militants overtook the large Iraqi city of Ramadi. The Islamic State militants out-strategized the army in the city, mounting over 10 suicide attacks reported to be larger than the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and strategically positioning themselves around government buildings. Iraqi government forces poured into the city during the following week in attempts to retake it, and more than 500 fighters were killed during the first days of combat alone. The Islamic State takeover of Ramadi caused over 8,000 civilians to flee their homes. Iraqi government forces supported by American led air strikes began attempts to retake Ramadi as well as other parts of Iraq's Anbar province on May 27, 2015.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the Islamic State launched an offensive against the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra during mid-May. Palmyra is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site with an archaeological dig site as well as a museum with ancient artifacts. More than 120 Syrian soldiers died while defending the Palmyra site on May 17, 2015. Despite their defense efforts, the archaeological site including the beautiful ancient city of Palmyra fell to Islamic State forces on May 20, 2015. Residents of Palmyra were encouraged via loudspeaker to give up the location of any government forces in the area, and members of the Islamic State began staging executions in the town's main area. In addition, ISIS members seized control of the Jazl oil field near Homs on the same day. Following the public executions of government officials in Palmyra, the Islamic State militants went about winning over the hearts of the citizens by distributing free bread and repairing broken power generators. A representative from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights stated during a press conference on May 20, 2015 that as of that moment the Islamic State officially controlled more than half of Syria. Islamic State militants destroyed shrines in Palmyra in mid-June 2015, ending more than two months of speculation as to what the fate of the city would be in the hands of ISIS. Although Islamic State members did not destroy city's famous Roman-era ruins, they caused significant damage to many parts of the ancient city. Islamic State militants destroyed a significant part of, and caused irreperable damage to, the Temple of Baal in Palmyra in August 2015. The 2,000 year old temple was destroyed in an “explosion the deaf would hear,” according to a Palmyra resident. Islamic State militants destroyed another peice of ancient history in Palmyra on October 5, 2015, when they detonated explosives and destroyed the Arch of Triumph.
In a sobering assessment of the fight against ISIS, a senior State Department official stated during a press conference on May 20, 2015 that the primary focus of the allied troops following the fall of Ramadi was to, “just basically hold it together.” The State Department official noted that ISIS is, “better in every respect,” than al-Qaeda (McClatchy DC, May 20, 2015).
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the bombing of a Shi'ite mosque in Saudi Arabia in mid-May 2015 that killed 21 and injured 123 people. The suicide bomb went off in front of a mosque in the village of Qadeeh, where worshipers were celebrating the birth of the 7th century Shi'ite saint Imam Hussein. This marked the first time ISIS had carried out a successful attack in the Saudi kingdom.
Increasing the threat to government held territories in Iraq, Islamic State forces closed up dams in Ramadi after they siezed the city during May 2015. The Islamic State often has taken over dams and used them strategically to either control civilians by rationing water, or flooding large areas of land to aid their military operations. Closing the Ramadi dam caused a lowering of the water levels in the Euphrates river, and completely cut water supplies to some government held portions of Iraq.
Echoing international concerns, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop announced during a press conference in early June 2015 that, “Daesh [ISIS] is likely to have amongst its tens of thousands of recruits the technical expertise necessary to further refine precursor materials and build chemical weapons.” The Foreign Minister stated that ISIS had most likely made “serious efforts in chemical weapons development” (Defense News, June 7, 2015).
The Islamic State made their presence known in Afghanistan for the first time in late June 2015, overtaking areas in the East from the Taliban and riding into towns brandishing machine guns. The Islamic State members reportedly beheaded multiple Taliban leaders to instill fear in the heart of civilians. Low-level Taliban members, bored with the movement's minimal progress recently, began to join the Islamic State as they pushed further into Afghani territory. During the first week of the Afghani insurgency, Islamic State fighters overran eight districts in Afghanistan. A Taliban spokesman referred to the Islamic State militants as "thieves and thugs".
Militants affiliated with the Islamic State staged multiple simultaneous and coordinated attacks on June 30, 2015, in Egypt's Northern Sinai. The attacks killed more than 50 individuals, most of the victims being members of the Egyptian security forces. These attacks came the day after a prominent Egyptian prosecutor who had done work investigating the Muslim Brotherhood terrorist organization was killed by a car bomb in Cairo. Officials estimated that 300 Islamic State members were involved in the attack, armed with heavy weaponry and IED's. While attempting to fight off the militants during the attacks, the Egyptian army managed to kill approximately 40 Islamic State members. In response to these terrorist attacks the Egyptian government called in helicopters and war-planes to aid in the fight against the terrorists, and the IDF pledged to grant all Egyptian reinforcement and equipment requests. According to experts, this attack was the most well-coordinated and complex attack carried out by the ISIS affiliated group in the Sinai.
In the group's first reported decapitation of female victims, in June 2015 Islamic State militants beheaded multiple women in Syria who were accused by the group of practicing witchcraft and sorcery. The women were caught by the militants with “charms and amulets.” Each woman was killed along with her husband, and this was the first instance reported of Islamic State militants killing women in this manner.
The Islamic State in Yemen claimed responsibility for two car bombs detonated in the capital city of Sanaa that killed over 200 people on July 6, 2015. One car bomb was detonated in front of a hospital, and the other detonated on a busy city street. Four car bombs and multiple suicide attacks ripped through Shi'ite districts of Baghdad on July 12, killing more than 35 people and injuring hundreds of others. The attackers, affiliated with the Islamic State, entered crowded markets and public areas with explosive vests on and detonated themselves.
Five simultaneous car-bomb explosions rocked the Gaza Strip on July 19, 2015, targetting Hamas and Islamic Jihad members and their families. Despite the multiple attacks, nobody was reported as killed or seriously injured. The attack was allegedly in response to Hamas's recent crackdown on supporters of the Islamic State group. These attacks marked the first time that ISIS had targetted members of the Islamic Jihad group in Gaza.
A suicide bomb set off by 20 year old ISIS sympathizer Seyh Abdurrahman Alagöz killed 32 people in the Turkish city of Suruc on July 19, 2015. The suicide bomber, identified via DNA evidence as well as an identification card left at the scene of the explosion, had been recruited by the Islamic State and had travelled to Syria to train approximately 6 months prior. The Turkish government restricted access to certain websites such as Twitter in the days following the attack to discourage citizens from sharing pictures or video of the blast, or victims.
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in Baghdad on July 21, 2015, that killed 20 people.
Islamic State forces were driven out of the Northeastern Syrian city of Hasaka on July 28, 2015, a month after they had captured it. The Islamic State launched a major offensive against the city on June 25. Syrian government forces and Kurdish militias stormed Hasaka in waves and drove the jihadists out, taking full control of the city in a matter of days.
Two car bombs exploded in the suburbs of Baghdad on August 10, 2015, killing at least 50 and injuring approximately 80 others. Militants from the Islamic State took responsibility for the attack, as the Iraqi government scrambled to contain the situation.
After holding the UNESCO world heritage site of Palmyra for over two months, members of the Islamic State executed and displayed the body of Khaled al-Asaad, an 83 year old archaeologist who had studied and protected the Palmyra ruins for 40 years. Al-Assad had been captured in May when the ISIS jihadis took over the city, and was executed after he refused to give up the information they wanted, possibly pertaining to legendary storehouses full of gold within the city. Members of the Islamic State detonated explosions in and around Palmyra during the following week, causing irreperable damage to ancient structures of extreme cultural significance. The militants set off explosives around the Temple of Baalshamin, the most well-preserved and best known part of the ruins, and caused great damage to the structure. The same day, ISIS militants also bulldozed a 1,500 year old Assyrian Christian monastery in the town of Quaryatain. This blatant disregard for culture and history prompted the head of UNESCO to declare the Islamic State's destruction of heritage sites as the “most brutal, systematic destruction of ancient sites since World War II.” (Yahoo News, August 24, 2015).
Sinai Province, the Islamic State affiliate in Egypt, claimed responsibility for a car-bombing outside of a busy government building on August 19, 2015, that severely injured more than thirty people including multiple police officers. The face of the building was badly damaged, and windows were blown out for blocks around. In response to this attack, Egypt's President el-Sissi approved new legislation applying a broad definition of terrorism, and silencing journalists who do not report government approved news. The legislation defines terrorism as not only using force or threats to terrorize individuals, but also as any attempt to “disturb public order,” or any act that undermines national pride or unity, or obstructs authority. Included in the legislation as well is a clause absolving law enforcement officers from criminal responsibility for their actions if they use force to implement the law or maintain order.
Kurdish Peshmerga forces aided by U.S. airstrikes entered a new phase in the battle against the Islamic State on August 26, 2015, as they took back 10 villages in Iraq's Kirkuk province from the Jihadi group. Approximately 200 Kurdish fighters participated in the offensive, in which dozens of Islamic State militants were killed.
An Islamic State suicide bomber detonated an explosives-filled vehicle in the middle of an advancing batallion of Iraqi army troops on August 27, 2015, killing two major Iraqi Generals. The bombing killed three other soldiers and wounded ten others.
Islamic State militants edged closer to Syria's capital of Damascus than they ever have during the final week of August 2015. The militants fought against government and rebel forces in the neighborhoods and towns surrounding Damascus, and eventually took control of many of them.
Twenty individuals from the town of Marea, Syria, were treated for difficulty breathing and large swolen blisters on September 1, 2015, following a suspected chemical weapons attack from Islamic State militants. Photos were posted on social media of rocket canisters with foul-smelling black liquid pouring out of them, which were allegedly shot at the town by the jihadis. Experts in Syria believe that the injuries sustained by the victims were consistent with mustard gas and other similar chemical agents.
The Egyptian's fight against militants in the Sinai claimed the lives of eight Mexican tourists during the weekend of September 13, 2015. A caravan of vehicles carrying 15 Mexican tourists and an unknown number of Egyptians was attacked by Egyptian security forces hunting Islamic State affiliated militants. Twelve people including eight Mexicans and four egyptians were killed in the attack, and six Mexican tourists were injured. Egyptian officials claimed that the convoy was driving through a restricted area that was being monitored by the security forces, but local residents rebuked these statements. A spokesman for the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism stated that the tour company, “did not have permits and did not inform authorities,” before embarking on their journey into the Sinai. (Washington Post, September 15, 2015).
Islamic State militants claimed responsibility for twin suicide-bombings in Iraq on September 17, 2015. Two individuals armed with explosives entered a crowded market area, detonating one suicide vest and one car bomb. After the smoke cleared eleven people lay dead, and an additional forty-seven people were injured.
Israeli officials expressed concern during mid- September 2015 amid confirmed reports that the Russian military had begun to become involved in the Syrian civil war, in support of the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Russia greatly expanded their military presence in Syria during September 2015, stationing fighter jets at Syrian air bases for the first time in history. Drones were deployed by Russian forces for surveliance missions over Syria. In response to these revelations Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu scheduled a meeting during late September with Russian President Vladimir Putin, during which Netanyahu attempted to influence Putin to bring Assad to the negotiating table and end the Syrian civil war.
Seventy members of the Al Bu Nimr tribe in Iraq were murdered by Islamic State members on October 5, 2015. Allegedly, the tribesmen were executed because they had relatives serving in the Iraqi security forces. The tribe has been active in fighting terrorism since the early 2000's, even assisting the U.S. military in fighting al-Qaeda during 2006 and 2007.
Twenty-two people were killed on October 6, 2015, in the first attacks ISIS had launched against the government in Yemen. Members of the Islamic State carried out four coordinated suicide bombings that killed eleven civilians in Yemen's capital, Aden, and one bombing in Sanaa which left seven people dead.
Blood samples from several members of Iraqi militias tested positive for mustard gas during October 2015, adding further evidence to the claims that the Islamic State is using chemical weapons.
Violent attacks rocked Israel in October 2015, with Palestinians incited by their leader's propaganda carrying out daily terror attacks against Jews during the “days of rage.” The Islamic State published anti-Israel propaganda videos about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for the first time ever in response, praising these attacks and calling for more attacks against Jews and Israelis. The videos include archival footage of past attacks on Israel and were presented in the Islamic State's signature style, featuring brutal murders and interviews with fighters. Palestinians were also reminded of the significance of the al-Aksa mosque in the videos, and are encouraged to take up arms to defend it. The propaganda arm of the Islamic State produced at least six of these videos during the second week of October 2015. On October 23, 2015, the Islamic State released their first video completely in Hebrew, in which a man speaking perfect Hebrew with an Arabic accent threatens that “not one Jew will remain in Jerusalem.”
Militants affiliated with the Islamic State claimed responsibility for an attack on a mosque in Saudi Arabia that killed one person and injured 16 others on October 26, 2015. A car bomb exploded outside of a Shi'a mosque in Najran city, Saudi Arabia, as the driver of the vehicle entered the mosque and detonated himself as well.
Two Turkish police officers were killed in a raid on a suspected Islamic State safe-house in Turkey on October 27, 2015. The house was rigged with explosives, and during the raid seven militants were killed and twelve were taken into custody.
The Islamic State continued to expand in Syria during October and November 2015, taking the city of Mahin, the capital of Homs province, on November 1. The capture of Mahin represented an expansion of ISIS beyond it's territory in Northern and Eastern Syria.
Assessments released in November 2015 displayed the futility of the Iraqi government's fight against the Islamic State in Ramadi. The terror organization managed to resupply through control of local highways despite constant air strikes on the city's weapons depots. The Iraqi government launched approximately 30 attempts to retake the Ramadi since the militants overran the city in May 2015, and each one failed.
Kurdish forces aided by Yazidi fighters and coalition air strikes began in November 2015 to take back Mount Sinjar and the surrounding areas, which had been under ISIS control since August 2014. The fighters succeeded in taking back a strategic stretch of Highway 47 on November 11, 2015, which serves as a major lifeline for the Islamic State and links it's activities in Mosul and Sinjar to Syria. The town of Sinjar was officially taken back from the Islamic State on November 18, 2015, although the jihadis allegedly withdrew due to coalition airstrikes, and not due to a Kurdish military push. Coalition forces discovered that the jihadis had dug a complex network of tunnels underneath Sinjar mountain to hide out from coalition air-strikes. Upwards of thirty tunnels were discovered, complete with sleeping quarters and wired with electricity. Boxes of U.S. issued ammunitions were found in the tunnels as well.
In December 2015 and January 2016 Islamic State militants launched a frenzied campaign to take control of the oil-rich city of Deir Ezzour, but were met by Syrian regime forces. A bloody battle ensued, claiming the lives of 300 civlians according to Syrian state television. Other sources, such as a Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported more modest casualty numbers. The Islamic State attacked Deir Ezzour because aid was being dropped on the town by allied forces. Members of the Islamic State captured 18 Syrian soldiers and publicly beheaded them during the weekend of January 17, 2016.
Islamic State militants shelled a school in Eastern Syria on December 22, 2015, killing nine female students and wounding twenty others.
U.S. trained Iraqi forces raised the Iraqi flag over the main government complex in Ramadi on December 28, 2015, after fighting bravely for days to retake the city from ISIS militants who held the city for over 7 months. Praising the work of these soldiers, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter wrote in a statement, “the expulsion of ISIL by Iraqi security forces... is a significant step forward in the campaign to defeat this barbaric group. Now it's important for the Iraqi government... to seize this opportunity to maintain the peace in Ramadi.” (Reuters, December 28, 2015).
An Islamic State member carrying over eight hours of footage featuring ISIS research & development facilities was captured by the Free Syrian Army in January 2016. The videos depict a “jihadi university” where members are shown building homemade thermal batteries for surface-to-air missiles, remote controlled explosive cars, and pipe bombs. “Students” are taught how to build mannequins with self-regulating heat devices to drive the remote controlled explosive vehicles and avoid suspiscion by thermal sensors. These videos were edited in the typical high-quality, flashy fashion that their media is normally disseminated.
Abu Omar al-Shishani, also known as “Omar the Chechen,” was killed on March 4, 2016, by a U.S. airstrike on the town of Shadadi. Twelve other militants were killed along with him. Omar the Chechen was a Georgian foreign fighter who was known as the Islamic State's unofficial “Minister of War,” appearing in multiple recruitment videos. Al-Shishani was a respected leader within ISIS, who had at one point trained with U.S. Special Operations Forces while a member of the Georgian army.
Three hundred workers and contractors from the Damascus-based Al-Badiyeh Cement Co. were abducted by ISIS militants and brought to ISIS territory by bus on April 7, 2016. It was later reported that although multiple workers were executed, the Islamic State militants let the majority of the abductees from the cement plant go.
The United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria released a report in June 2016, revealing that more than 3,200 Yazidi women and children were being held as slaves by ISIS militants. The report labelled the Islamic State's crusade against the Yazidi population a genocide. The Inquiry chairman, Paulo Pinheiro, explained that “genocide has occurred and is ongoing... ISIS has subjected every Yazidi woman, child or man that it has captured to the most horrific of atrocities... [ISIS seeks] to erase the Yazidis through killings, sexual slavery, enslavement, torture and inhuman and degrading treatment.”
The Syrian city of Manbij was freed from the grasp of the Islamic State during the second week of August 2016, after suffering under ISIS control for 2 years. U.S. supported Kurdish and Arab fighters belonging to the Syrian Democratic Forces took the city, between Kobani and Aleppo, freeing the residents. As women burned their niqabs and rid themselves of restrictive outfits mandated by the jihadis, men cut their beards, smoked cigarettes, and engaged in spontaneous celebrations in the streets. The same weekend, Syrian rebels backed by U.S. forces broke the months-long seige on Aleppo by the Russian backed Syrian government forces.
Explosion of International Violence
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the bombing of a Russian civilian airliner over the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt on October 31, 2015. All 224 passengers on board the aircraft, most of them Russian nationals, perished in the explosion and subsequent crash. During the confusion in the weeks following the attack due to the remote location of the crash and significant damage from the explosion, international media outlets reported different things including that the plane had been brought down by a missile, an internal explosion, or the engines had simply malfunctioned. By mid-November it became clear however that the plane had indeed been brought down by an internal explosion. An investigation by Russian authorities concluded that the cause of the crash was likely a homemade bomb containing the equivalent of 1kg of TNT. Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered all civilian flights between Russia and Egypt cancelled for the forseeable future, and thousands of Russian citizens were evacuated from the country. On November 18, 2015, ISIS social media accounts posted a picture of the bomb that allegedly brought down the plane, made out of a can of Schweppes Gold soft drink. The picture posted on social media can be found below. An EgyptAir mechanic who worked on the plane prior to takeoff and whose cousin had recently joined the Islamic State in Syria was named as a suspect in the bombing on January 29, 2016.
The alleged bomb used to bring down the Russian civilian jet on October 31, 2015.
A pair of suicide bombings in Beirut killed 43 and injured 239 others on November 12, 2015. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for these attacks, and a captive associate of the Beirut suicide bombers admitted to being an ISIS recruit who had arrived in Beirut from Syria just two days prior.
On November 13, 2015, terrorists affiliated with the Islamic State carried out a planned and coordinated terror attack on seven separate targets in Paris, France. People enjoying their Friday night out in the city at a soccer game, a concert, and at various restaurants had their lives changed drastically in a defining attack for the Islamic State terror group. The first attack occured at the Stade de France, the country's national sports stadium. At a friendly football match (not played for rank) between France and Germany attended by French President Francois Hollande, a bomber detonated himself outside of the stadium at 9:20pm local time after his explosive vest was discovered by a venue security gaurd. A second bomber did not attempt to enter the stadium, and detonated himself a few moments after the first explosion. It is a popular practice for fans to light fire-crackers during the games, so the crowd was not dispersed and the teams kept playing folowing the initial explosions. President Hollande was evacuated immediately, and once security inside the stadium realized what was happening they stopped the game and had the fans come down onto the field. A third bomber detonated himself at a McDonalds restaurant close to the stadium thirty-three minutes after the second stadium bomber detonated.
At 9:20pm, almost simultaneous with the first suicide bomb detonation at the Stade de France, attackers opened fire at people eating dinner at Le Carillon cafe and Le Petit Cambodge on streets rue Bichat and rue Alibert. The assailants fled in two vehicles following the attack, in which they killed eleven people. Twelve minutes after the start of this attack, at 9:32pm, an attacker opened fire on the Cafe Bonne Biere killing five and injuring eight. Four minutes later, at nearby restaurant La Belle Equipe, multiple terrorists opened fire killing nineteen and injuring nine before fleeing in vehicles. At 9:40pm a suicide bomber was seated at the Comptoir Voltaire cafe, and placed an order before detonating his explosives killing himself and seriously injuring fifteen.
U.S. blues-rock band The Eagles of Death Metal were playing a sold-out show at the Bataclan theater on Boulevard Voltaire, when at approximately 9:45pm three men dressed in all-black toting AK-47 assault rifles entered the concert hall. Shouts of “Allahu Akbar” were heard and the gunmen started firing calmly into the crowd. Some concert-goers initially mistook the machine-gun fire for pyrotechnics, but it soon became clear that they were in danger. The initial attack lasted for 10-20 minutes, with the attackers re-loading three or four times each while lobbing grenades into the frenzied crowd. Band members managed to escape the theater soon after the attack began, but some of their crew members were killed. The attackers began to round up a group of 60-100 hostages at 11:00pm, and shortly after midnight French police launched an assault on the Bataclan theater. Two terrorists detonated their suicide vests when police stormed the building, one was shot by police, and one escaped. Eighty-seven people were killed by the terrorists at the Bataclan theater. Syrian and Egyptian passports were found on the bodies of the attackers, but these proved to be fake. In total these attacks killed 129 people and injured over 350.
A state of emergency was declared in France by President Hollande in the days after the attack, which was then extended until the beginning of 2016. The French army carried out it's largest air strikes on ISIS yet on November 15, 2015, dropping 20 bombs on the self-proclaimed capital in Raqqa. Hollande vowed to “mercilessly,” fight terrorism while on a visit to the Bataclan theater after the attacks.
French security forces carried out raids on multiple suspected terror cells across the country over the week after the attack. Using tips from locals and intelligence information gathered with the help of governments of the United States, Syria, and France's European neighbors, French police pinpointed the suspected location of the organizer of the November 13 attack and descended upon the apartment building on November 18, 2015. The French police attempted to enter the apartment but ended up simply alerting the individuals inside to their presence, because the door was reinforced and they were unable to breach it until larger equipment was brought. Once the door was breached the French police engaged in a fierce gun-battle with multiple terrorists who were obviously planning another attack. One of the individuals in the apartment detonated a suicide vest after exchanging fire with the officers, rocking the building and causing a commotion outside. All suspects in the apartment were killed, and DNA evidence confirmed the following day that the organizer of the November 13 attack, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was one of the victims in the raid.
Fighters with the Islamic State carried out their largest assault in Northern Iraq in months, during December 2015. The militants launched a three-pronged attack on Mosul, but were beaten back and eventually defeated by U.S. airstrikes and Kurdish forces on the ground. Although the allied forces were successful in repelling the assault, dozens of Kurdish Peshmerga fighters died in the battle. Intelligence officials estimated that 180 Islamic State fighters were killed during the attack.
Philadelphia resident Edward Archer walked up to a stopped police car with an officer sitting inside on January 7, 2016, and shot the officer at point-blank range. When taken into custody Archer told officers that he carried out the attack in the name of Islam, and was inspired by actions of the Islamic State group.
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for a pair of attacks in Iraq on January 11, 2016, that killed a combined 29 people. One of the attacks took place at a crowded mall, where multiple attackers detonated a car bomb and a suicide vest, and then proceeded to lob grenades into crowds of shoppers. The mall attack was coordinated, with simultaneous explosions. Later that evening an improvised explosive device was detonated outside a popular cafe in Muqdadiya, North of Baghdad, and a car bomb was detonated near the crowd that gathered after the first explosion. Twenty people were killed in the cafe bombings.
An Islamic State suicide bomber detonated himself and killed 10 German tourists in Istanbul, Turkey on January 12, 2016. The bomber was identified later as Nabil Fadli, a 27-year old Syrian who had registered as a refugee with Turkish immigration officials and not set off any red flags just one week prior. Turkish officials delved deeper into Fadli's background after the attack, and learned that one of his brothers had carried out a suicide attack at a Syrian airport against government forces a few months prior.
Two suicide bombers detonated themselves inside a Jakarta, Indonesia Starbucks on January 14, 2016, after which their accomplices engaged in a violent gun-fight with police that left two bystanders and all of the attackers dead. Indonesian police said that the attack imitated the Paris assault in November that left 129 people dead. One of the bystanders who was killed was a Canadian citizen, and the other was a local Indonesian. This was the first time that the Islamic State terror group carried out an attack in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country.
Satellite photos released by the Associated Press on January 20, 2016, confirmed that Islamic State militants had destroyed St. Elijah's monastery, the oldest standing monastery in Iraq. St. Elijah's monastery was a 1,400 year old house of worship near Mosul, which had recently provided sanctuary for U.S. troops. The 27,000 square foot stone building had been partially restored but lacked a roof, when it was destroyed sometime between August and September 2014.
The Islamic State transformed Syria's largest dam into an unofficial local headquarters, hiding valued prisoners and protecting senior officials and weaponry within the walls. Syria's 200-foot tall and 3-mile long Tabqa Dam has been under Islamic State control since 2013. The dam holds back Lake Assad and has been used as a strategic weapon by the ISIS fighters, shutting off the water supply on many occasions to civilians still living in Anbar province. Coalition forces are hesitant to carry out air strikes anywhere near the dam, out of fear that they will damage the structural integrity and cause a massive flood. When Mosul dam was taken back, Iraqi and Kurdish ground troops spearheaded the mission, avoiding direct air strikes that could have damaged the dam.
In late January 2016 Rob Wainwright, head of the EU law enforcement agency Europol, told The Gaurdian that they were preparing for and expecting a Paris-style attack to be carried out in England in the future. Wainwright stated that ISIS had, during 2015 “developed a new combat-style capability to carry out a campaign of large-scale terrorist attacks on a global stage, with a particular focus in Europe.”
Twenty people were killed by Islamic State attackers as they struck a checkpoint in Homs, Syria with explosives and firearms on January 27, 2015.
A triple suicide bombing struck a revered Shiite Muslim shrine in Damascus on January 31, 2016, leaving at least 50 people dead and scores more wounded. A car bomb initially detonated at a bus stop located in front of the shrine, and when pedestrians gathered to see what had happened two suicide bombers detonated themselves among the crowd.
Groups in Libya alligned with the Islamic State claimed responsibility for bombing oil pipelines on February 2, 2016, according to Libyan Petroleum Facilities Gaurds. In late 2015 and early 2016 the Islamic State in Libya tried to expand it's territory and seize oil refineries around the Libyan city of Sirte.
Seventy-three people were killed in back-to-back market bombings in Eastern Baghdad during the weekend of February 27, 2016. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for these brutal attacks as well as other smaller bombings throughout the weekend, bringing the total death toll to 92.
A group of four Islamic State jihadis infiltrated an army headquarters in Iraq's Anbar province on February 29, 2016. The group wore disguises to hide their identities and once inside detonated suicide bombs, killing two high ranking members of the Iranian military including Staff Brigadier General Ali Aboud and injuring seven others.
A report released by the United Nations on March 10, 2016, claimed that the Islamic State had “significantly expanded” territory under their control in Libya. The report detailed how the Islamic State was successful in recruiting marginalized minority communities in the central cities of Sirte, Sabratha, and Tripoli. The city of Sirte is the Islamic State's largest stronghold outside of Iraq and Syria; they took over the city in August 2015 and have been imposing their brutal rule on the people ever since. At least 50 civilians in Sirte have been executed by ISIS forces in the city, who number approximately 1,800. More than 2/3 of Sirte's 80,000 residents have fled since ISIS arrived, without any refugee camps or emergency assistance of any kind. The Islamic State was finally driven out of their main Libyan stronghold, Sirte, by Libyan Misrata brigades backed by U.S. airstrikes on December 5, 2016.
Salah Abdeslam, the mastermind of the November 13, 2015 attacks on Paris who evaded capture for months, was arrested in Brussels, Belgium on March 18, 2016. Four days later, three individuals carried out massive coordinated suicide attacks at the national airport and the Maelbeek train station, killing 31 and injuring more than 250. The attackers were identified at brothers Ibrahim (29) and Khalid (27) el-Bakraoui, and Najim Laachraoui, all of whom had previous criminal records and were known extremists. The Bakraoui brothers were on U.S. terror watch lists, and had been detained by Turkey and deported to the Netherlands in mid-2015 under suspicion they were attempting to travel to Syria. In the week following the attack Laachraoui was identified through fingerprints as the bomb-maker who fashioned the explosive devices used in the Paris attacks the previous November. It became clear after this realization that one connected terror cell was responsible for both these attacks. One attacker captured on security camera footage is as of yet unidentified. Two explosions, nine seconds apart, rocked the Brussels National Airport at 7:58am on March 22, 2016, sending shrapnel flying and causing portions of the roof to collapse. Ten people died in these initial explosions. Approximately one hour later, a third explosion was detonated on a train leaving the Maelbeek subway station in central Brussels, killing 20. The airport attack was carried out by Ibrahim el-Bakraoui and Najim Laachraoui, and the subway attack was perpetrated by Ibrahim's younger brother, Khalid. Laachraoui was captured on security camera footage entering the airport with Ibrahim el-Bakraoui and leaving a large rolling suitcase unattended, which was later found to contain a large bomb which failed to detonate. Following the attack, a taxi driver who had driven the terrorists to the airport brought police to the apartment where he had picked them up. Inside the apartment Belgian authorities discovered 33 pounds of explosive material, detonators, suitcases full of nails and screws, Islamic State flags, and large amounts of both acetone and hydrogen peroxide. The Islamic State took responsibility for this attack in the immediate aftermath. The Jewish community of Brussels cancelled their Purim celebrations in the wake of this tragedy, originally scheduled for March 24, citing security concerns. Belgian police arrested six individuals they believed to be connected to the attack on March 25, 2016.
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for an attack on a football field in Baghdad, Iraq on March 25, 2016, that killed 31 people and injured more than 60.
Following a three-week seige, the Syrian army backed by Russian airstrikes pushed the Islamic State out of the Palmyra UNESCO world heritage site on March 27, 2016. The ISIS militants had controlled the city since May 2015, and over 100 jihadis were killed in the assault. Syrian archaeological officials stated that damage assessment and repairs would begin as soon as possible. Russian forces set up an operational base at the Palmyra site following the recapture, complete with an air-defense system to safegaurd the ancient ruins.
The United States military announced on March 29, 2016, that they would be withdrawing the majority of troops and diplomats families from military installations in Turkey, citing security concerns in the ongoing battle against ISIS. The U.S. State Department consulted with the government of Turkey and the decision was made to evacuate military and diplomat families stationed in the Turkish cities of Adana, Izmir and Mugla.
Soldiers stationed in the Sinai as part of the Multinational Force of Observers (MFO) were moved 300 miles South from their station to a safer location on April 23, 2016, as a result of recent attacks by Sinai Province militants associated with the Islamic State. This group included over 100 American soldiers, who are not authorized to fight against the militants and must let the Egyptian security forces engage hostile individuals. The MFO was established to monitor and keep the peace after the 1979 peace treaty was signed between Egypt and Israel.
Islamic State militants claimed responsibility for two devastating car bombs in Southern Iraq during the weekend of April 29, 2016. The blasts occurred in Samawa, 145 miles South of Baghdad. Local hospitals reported that 33 people were killed by the bombs, and an additional 50 people sustained injuries. The first bomb detonated near a bus station, and the second bomb was triggered a few minutes later as rescue workers were scrambling to get to the victims. A car bomb on the outskirts of Baghdad on April 30, 2016, killed 23 individuals.
Kurdish Peshmerga forces holding small towns outside of Mosul were overrun by ISIS forces on May 2, 2016, in a brutal assault that left a U.S. servicemember dead. “Many suicide bombers and suicide car bombs” were used by the Islamic State in the attack, according to local forces. The American killed was later identified as Navy SEAL Charlie Keating, who was serving as an advisor to the Kurdish Peshmerga forces. He was 2-3 miles behind the front lines of the assault when a group of ISIS militants were able to break the Peshmerga ranks and get close enough to kill him with gunfire. Keating was the third U.S. servicemember killed in the fight against the Islamic State.
In April 2016, Syria used chemical arms against ISIS. After Assad used chemical weapons against rebel groups in 2013, the Obama administration declared that Syrian President Bashar Assad had crossed a red line and threatened to attack Syria; however, the president reversed course after reaching an agreement with Russia to dismantle Assad’s stores of chemical arms. All of Syria's chemical weapons were supposed to have been removed in 2014; however, we now know that Assad retained some of the weapons and, in the absence of a credible threat from the United States to use military force in response, Syria has launched new chemical attacks.
The Islamic State claimed credit for a series of three massive bombings at markets and a police station in Iraq's capital on May 11, 2016. A car bomb detonated at a market in Baghdad killing 64 individuals and injuring more than 90, shortly before a suicide bomber in the al-Kadhimiya neighborhood detonated his device and killed 17. A second car bomb exploded outside of a police station in the al-Jamia neighborhood in Western Baghdad, killing 12 and injuring 31. The Islamic State expressly took credit for these attacks through their social media accounts.
Three gunmen fired into a popular cafe in Baghdad around midnight on May 13, 2016, killing 12 indivuals and wounding an additional 25. Hours after the gunmen fled the scene one of them detonated a suicide vest in the center of a nearby street market, killing four. The Islamic State took credit for this attack via their social media accounts, claiming that the attackers were ISIS loyalists. Later in the weekend ISIS launched coordinated attacks across Baghdad that killed 29, including a suicide car-bombing at a gas plant, and four seperate bombing attacks in the heart of the city.
Carnage in Baghdad continued, with three suicide bombs detonating at a crowded market in the Baghdad neighborhood of Shaab on May 16, 2016. The blasts in Shaab killed 38 and injured over 100, and in Sadr City, Baghdad, two separate suicide car bombs killed 20.
ISIS militants blew up the Shaer oil-fields 30-miles North of the Palmyra UNESCO World Heritage site on May 15, 2016. These explosions triggered an earthquake at the Palmyra site registering 4.4 on the Richter scale.
Seven simultaneous explosions targetted the Syrian cities of Jableh and Tartus on May 23, 2016, killing 148 Syrians at bus stations, hospitals, and markets. These were the largest attacks in Syria's coastal provinces since the begining of the war.
An Islamic State affiliate in Yemen carried out seven simultaneous attacks in Mukalla that tergetted intelligence offices, army barracks and checkpoints, on June 26, 2016. The attacks, including multiple suicide bombs and a bomb hidden in a box of food brought to a military checkpoint, killed 43 and wounded 10.
Three men wearing heavy jackets aroused suspicions of security guards at Ataturk international airport in Istanbul, Turkey, as they exited a taxi and walked towards the main entrance. The attackers began firing indiscriminately into the crowd of people waiting outside, and were engaged in a firefight by airport security forces. One of the three men detonated a suicide vest in a parking lot outside of the terminal, while the remaining two were able to get inside of the airport. Although the remaining perpetrators were shot by airport security personnel, they too managed to detonate both of their suicide vests. The attack injured more than 230 civilians and killed 44, including 13 foreign nationals. The Islamic State terror organization did not officially take responsibility for the attack, but it was revealed during the following week through Turkish intelligence services that the three attackers were indeed ISIS sympathizers, and the attack was planned in coordination with senior ISIS leadership. Spokesmen for the Turkish government told international media that they have “strong evidence” that the Islamic State was behind the attack on June 30, 2016. After spending time in the ISIS capital of Raqqa, Syria, the three attackers entered Turkey approximately one month prior to their attack, bringing with them all the equipment they needed, according to Turkish intelligence. The three terrorists were from Russia, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, and had rented an apartment in the Fatih neighborhood of Istanbul. Turkish police arrested 22 suspects in connection with the attack in the subsequent days. The attack could potentially cost Turkey billions of dollars in tourism revenue, having a negative effect on the economy and tarnishing the country's image as a tourist destination.
Five ISIS sympathizers in Bangladesh stormed the Holey Artisan Bakery café on July 1, 2016, taking over 30 patrons and employees hostage. The militants quizzed their hostages on their knowlege of Islam's holy text, the Qur'an, and spared the lives of those who could recite verses from the writings. According to survivors, those who could not recall verses from the Qur'an from memory were tortured, or “killed mercilessly by sharp weapons.” Nine Italians, seven Japanese, and one American were among the 22 people murdered in the café.
A explosives-filled vehicle detonated in Baghdad's Karrada neighborhood late on July 4, 2016, killing over 320 and injuring over 250. The blast ripped through a popular shopping street, and most victims died in fires that consumed the buildings following the explosion. As the death toll rose in the days following the attack, it was named the single deadliest bombing the Islamic State had carried out on a civilian target. In another attack later that week, a suicide bomber killed 37 in an attack on a Shiite shrine in Northern Baghdad.
Three Islamic State suicide attacks in one day defined the end of the holy month of Ramadan for residents of Saudi Arabia. The first attack occured outside of the U.S. Consulate in Jeddah, where security guards noticed a suspicious individual and began to approach. The bomber's suicide belt was detonated and security guards were injured, but nobody was killed. A second attack was attempted at a Shiite mosque in Qatif, but only the attacker was killed when his explosive belt detonated. A third terrorist detonated himself outside of the Prophets Mosque in the city of Medina, one of the holiest sites in all of Islam. Four security officers were killed and five wounded in the blast, which also killed the bomber.
At least 20 people were killed and many more injured in two separate attacks in Baghdad on July 12 and 13, 2016. The bomber in the first attack rammed an explosives-filled vehicle he was driving into a security checkpoint, and the second bomber detonated himself in a crowded fruit and vegetable market.
On July 14, 2016, revellers in Nice, France were celebrating Bastille Day, when a lone terrorist drove a large truck through over one mile of a popular promenade. Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, a Tunisian immigrant, killed 84 people and injured over 200 while driving a large white truck through crowds of spectators who had gathered to watch fireworks. After driving for more than a mile Bouhlel exited the vehicle and engaged in a firefight with French police, who killed the attacker. A hand-made Islamic State flag was found in his apartment, but no concrete ties to the group have yet been established. Bouhlel was not in contact with the terrorist organization, and five local accomplices were arrested during the week after the attack.
A 27-year old Syrian refugee recorded a video on his mobile phone in which he pledged allegiance to ISIS, and then detonated a suicide bomb outside of a music festival in Ansbach, Germany, on July 24, 2016. Only the bomber was killed in the blast, and 15 other people were injured. The perpetrator, Mohammad Daleel, arrived in Germany in 2014, and had been living in an old hotel converted into a refugee shelter for one year prior to the attack. Two weeks before the attack took place Daleel had learned that his application for asylum had been rejected, and he would be soon deported to Bulgaria.
On July 26, 2016, two men armed with knives entered a church in the suburb Rouen in Northern France and took five hostages, including nuns and an 86-year old priest. The attackers let three of their hostages go unharmed, but killed the priest and stabbed a nun, leaving her in critical condition. Upon exiting the church the attackers were engaged by French security forces and killed. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the assault on the church. One of the perpetrators, later identified as 19-year old Adel Kermiche, had been jailed in France while trying to travel to Syria in 2015 and was released in March 2016.
Two explosions struck a Kurdish security and government outpost in the Northern Syrian town of Qamishli on the Turkish border on July 26, 2016, killing at least 50. The attacks, which targetted Kurdish police forces, were claimed by the Islamic State.
A teenage suicide bomber, believed to be no older than 14, detonated his explosive device in the middle of a street ceremony for a wedding in Turkey's Gaziantep neighborhood during the weekend of August 20, 2016, killing over 50 civilians. The teenage bomber was led into the crowd by two men who then fled, and left the child to mingle with the wedding revellers before detonating his device. The Islamic State claimed credit for the attack in media releases during the following week.
For the first time during the conflict, in August 2016 the United Nations officially determined that Islamic State militants had used chemical weapons, specifically mustard gas, against civilians. A report released by the United Nations concluded that the Islamic State had shelled a Syrian village with mustard gas in Summer 2015, a claim that had been widely speculated but not confirmed officially until the report's publication.
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing attack at an Iraqi wedding in the town of Ain al-Tamr, on August 28, 2016. The blast and subsequent attack from five jihadis, claimed the lives of 15 wedding guests and injured 16 others.
A suicide bomber killed 55 and injured at least 67 others after detonating a car full of explosives near the entrance to a military base in Aden, Yemen, on August 29, 2016. The suicide bomber gained access to the military facility by blending in with a convoy of large vehicles entering the base. The Islamic State claimed credit for the attack in media released during the following days.
On August 31, 2016, the U.S. State Department confirmed news from ISIS that the organization's spokesman/propaganda chief and director of external operations, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, had been killed in a U.S. airstrike the week prior. Adnani was one of the last remaining original senior individuals of the jihadi group, as well as it's most recognizable member due to his constant appearances in propaganda videos.
The Islamic State's media arm claimed in September 2016 that the terror group had successfully carried out 729 suicide attacks, or “martyrdom operations,” during the first eight months of the year. Most of these suicide bombings, 59%, occured inside Iraq, while 37% terrorized Syria. The most frequent targets for these bombings were Iraqi security forces, who were hit 406 times, and the most popular method of attack was with vehicle-based explosive devices.
An attack in the Kenyan port city of Mombasa on September 13, 2016, in which three robed women gained entry into a police station before stabbing officers and setting fire to the building, was claimed by the Islamic State. The attack was the first on Kenyan soil claimed by the terrorist organization.
On September 17, 2016, a man shouting allegiance to the Islamic State and praises to Allah stabbed nine people at a Minnesota mall before being killed by police. The attacker entered the mall dressed in the uniform of a private security company, and allegedly asked customers if they were Muslims before he began stabbing. Security officers at the mall were not armed, and an off-duty police officer shopping in Macy's managed to shoot the suspect.
A bombing claimed by the Islamic State killed 25 individuals at a Syria-Turkey border crossing on October 5, 2016.
Twelve Egyptian security forces operating in the Sinai were killed in an attack claimed by the Islamic State on October 13, 2016. The attackers launched a surprise assault on a security checkpoint with assault rifles, explosives including mortar rounds, and vehicles. The Egyptian security forces engaged the terrorists, killing 15 of them.
As U.S.-backed Iraqi and Kurdish forces closed in on the Islamic State strongholds of Dabiq and Mosul, liberating surrounding towns and pushing ever closer, the group retreated deep into the cities and prepared to fight. Islamic State militants rounded up thousands of local villagers at gunpoint and forced them to march towards Mosul during their retreat, acting as human shields.
The battle for Mosul kicked into high-gear on October 31, 2016, as the Iraqi and Kurdish forces back by U.S. air support breached the outskirts of Mosul's city limits. The Iraqi military discovered a mass grave containing more than 100 decapitated bodies outside of a Mosul agricultural school on November 6, 2016.
Prior to President Obama's last international trip as President in November 2016, Republican U.S. Senator from Iowa Joni Ernst penned a letter to the President expressing concerns about and asking that the President address during his trip ISIS and other radical Islamic groups growing in Latin and South America. “Their increased used of messaging in Spanish and Portuguese,” Ernst wrote, “coupled with calls for terror in the region, exemplify ISIS's unwavering determination to change and imbed in new surroundings.”
According to independent London-based intelligence analysis organization IHS Conflict Monitor, chemical weapons including chlorine, sulfur, and mustard agents, had been used by ISIS 52 times since their rise to power in 2014. The analysis, published in November 2016, relied on local news, ISIS propaganda messages, and witnesses to formulate their conclusions. More than 30% of these chemical attacks occured in the city or in the immediate vicinity of Mosul.
ISIS-affiliated militants attacked Israeli positions from the Syrian side of the Golan Heights for the first time on November 27, 2016. Members of the IDF Golani Brigade were conducting a routine operation near the Nov Moshav, when they suddenly came under fire from a vehicle-mounted machine gun. Moments after the original ambush, the jihadis also launched mortar shells into Israel from an abandoned UNDOF post. The Israeli Air Force (IAF) carried out a strike on the positions in the immediate aftermath of the attack, killing all four assailants. This was the first ever interaction between the Israeli military and ISIS militants.
The ancient Syrian city of Palmyra was retaken by ISIS forces in early December 2016. The Islamic State had controlled the city from May 2015 until March 2016, when it was taken back from the militants by Syrian government forces. The OPCW received word that approximately 93 civilians were killed by a sarin gas attack during the battle for Palmyra. Islamic State militants destroyed a significant portion of the ancient Roman theater of Palmyra following their recapture of the area; the head of UNESCO referred to the destruction as “a new war crime.”
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the bombing of a Coptic Christian Church in Cairo, Egypt, on December 14, 2016. The attack wounded 50 and killed 25, and was the seventh carried out by ISIS in Cairo during 2016.
A suicide bomber disguised as a disabled man detonated his explosives at a gathering of Yemeni security officers near the port of Aden, Yemen, on December 18, 2016. The Islamic State claimed the allegiance of the attacker and credit for the blast, which killed 48 and injured dozens more.
On December 19, 2016, a man hijacked a large commercial truck and plowed it into crowds of people gathered for a Christmas market in Berlin. Twelve people were killed and over 50 injured, in a brutal attack that reminded the world of the Bastille Day 2016 attack in Nice, France. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, though no connection was established between the attack and the terror group. After arresting and detaining two men who were later released, a continent-wide manhunt was launched across Europe to find the driver. Tunisian national Anis Amri was named the prime suspect after his fingerprints were found on the inside of the truck, and police intercepted Amri in Milan, Italy on December 23, 2016. When stopped by Italian police Amri pulled out a pistol instead of his identification, and sparked a gun-battle which left him dead and one officer wounded.
An alleged ISIS militant staged a shooting attack on a crowded nightclub in Istanbul, Turkey, on New Years Eve 2017. The attacker, identified in the days following the attack as Uzbek national Abdulkadir Masharipov, killed 39 people and injured 65 others before fleeing the scene. Masharipov's actions were captured on security cameras, and a continent-wide manhunt begun the following day. Police in Istanbul apprehended Masharipov on January 16, 2016, and learned through interviews that he was inspired by the Islamic State and had been trained by terror groups in Afghanistan.
Islamic State militants began using commercially purchased hobby-drones to drop small munitions on Iraqi army troops in early 2017. During February 2017 alone, ISIS militants carried out more than 200 drone strikes.
The ancient city of Palmyra was once again wrestled from the hands of the Islamic State by U.S. backed forces on March 1, 2017. This was the fourth time in the previous 2 years that Palmyra changed control between government forces and ISIS fighters, the first being in May 2015.
Following a suicide bomb at the rear-door of the building that injured 66 civilians, ISIS militants dressed as medics stormed the 400-bed Sardar Mohammad Daud Khan hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan, on March 8, 2017. The disguised militants fought with local security forces for hours, and by the time the firefight ended more than 30 doctors, patients, and visitors in the hospital were killed.
Ten Islamic State militants dressed as police officers attacked a police checkpoint in the Northern Iraqi city of Tikrit during the night on April 4, 2016, killing 31 people including 14 police officers. Two suicide bombers detonated their explosives after attracting the attention of crowds of officers, and five of the attackers managed to flee the scene following the assault.
ISIS claimed responsibility for twin bombings in Egypt on Palm Sunday 2017, that killed 50 innocent Coptic Christians. The blasts occured during Palm Sunday services at a Coptic Christian church in Tanta, and outside of a church where services were taking place in Alexandria. The first explosion, in Tanta, killed 27 and injured approximately 80 others.
Islamic State affiliated gunmen attacked security forces at a checkpoint outside St. Catherine's Monastery in Egypt's south Sinai on April 19, 2017. The attack occured less than 1,000 yards from one of the holiest sites in all of Christianity. At least one police officer was killed in the attack, and many others were injured.
A known Islamic State sympathizer opened fire with an automatic weapon on police stationed on Paris's world famous Champs Élysées boulevard on April 20, 2017; the day before France's national elections. Tourists and locals ran for their lives as the gunman fired at police, killing one and injuring multiple others. The attacker, a 39-year old French national, was shot and killed as he ran from the scene of the attack. A statement published by the Islamic State's official news network claimed that the gunman was one of their fighters, but discrepancies in the claim of responsibility raised questions. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack significantly sooner than normal, and originally identified the attacker by the wrong name.
An Islamic State suicide bomber killed eight civilians and wounded 25, in an attack on a covoy of NATO armored vehicles on May 1, 2017. The blast ripped apart the still morning air during rush hour in one of the busiest neighborhoods of Kabul, Afghanistan.
On May 23, 2017, an ISIS and al Qaeda-affiliated suicide bomber detonated a backpack full of explosives and shrapnel outside of an Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena in England, killing 22 and injuring 116. The bomber was identified as Manchester native 22-year old Salman Abedi, who was of Libyan descent. Abedi had recently returned from Libya according to security officials, and his father and brother were arrested in Libya the day after the attack. While in police custody, his brother admitted to planning a terror attack in Tripoli. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, and raids in Manchester during the subsequent week resulted in the arrests of many individuals believd to belong to ISIS affiliated groups.
Philippine President Rordigo Duterte declared 60 days of martial law in the southern portion of the Philippines on May 23, 2017, after groups of ISIS affiliated militants banded together and seized control of the city of Marawi. Clashes erupted between the motley group of loosely affiliated jihadis and Philippine government forces, as Duterte's troops attempted to restore order. Thousands of citizens fled their homes due to the fighting, and the militants allegedly beheaded a local police chief. The de-facto leader of the militants is Isnilon Hapilon, a most-wanted international terrorist with a $5 million bounty on his head from the United States.
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