Maloula, Syria; Photo by Christopher Davis
The vision of a globally dominant ideology has been around for thousands of years. To understand current affairs, we must understand the history that is the driving force behind terrorist operations throughout the Middle East today. To open a dialogue or debate about such issues we must educate ourselves about contributing factors that lead to terrorist activities and extremism. Key factors for creating extremism and terrorism are ideology, history, intervention, education and environmental factors. One simply cannot blame one specific factor without introducing the other key factors. In this article I will address historical events in a timeline with key contributing factors such as western intervention and radical ideology that morphed and created the world’s most sophisticated terrorist organisation to date. Who are the Islamic State that exploded onto the world stage in 2014? What is their declaration of the Caliphate? What are the historical events that shaped ISIS?
What is a Caliphate?
A Caliphate is an Islamic state under the rule of a warden or a steward who is given the title of “Caliph.” This person is considered to be a direct political and religious successor to Mohammed, and a leader for the whole of the Ummah (Islamic nation). The law which governs over all Islamic states is that which is laid out in the Quran. Man-made law has no jurisdiction under an Islamic caliphate.
After the early Muslim conquests of the Arabian Peninsula, the Gulf region became unified and most of its tribes adopted the Islamic religion. The first caliphate, known as the Rashidun Caliphate, was established immediately after Muhammad’s death in 632 AD and lasted until 666 AD. Abu Bakr, the father-in-law of Mohammed, became the first caliph. Three further caliphates followed: the Umayyad Caliphate (661-750), the Abbasid Caliphate (750-1362 / 1362-1517) and the Ottoman Caliphate (1517-1924). Then, on March 3rd 1924, Ataturk, the President of Turkey, abolished the Islamic caliphate which had lasted for 1,400 years.
Four years later, an organisation called the Muslim Brotherhood was formed and founded by Hassan al Banna with the sole purpose of resurrecting the Islamic Caliphate and establishing an Islamic government on Earth which would be constitutionally underpinned by Sharia law. Hassan al Banna strongly opposed the British/Western colonialism which was present in Egypt at that time.
The Muslim Brotherhood are the oldest Islamist terrorist organisation in the world. Members of the Muslim Brotherhood were and still remain very highly educated people. The founder of al Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden, was a member. The now leader of Al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who qualified as a surgeon, was expelled from Egypt for being a ringleader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Mohammed Attah, who was an engineer and in fact the mastermind behind the delivery of the 9.11 terrorist attack, was also a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Below is a timeline indicator of significant dates that took place, shaped history and formed the most brutal, sophisticated terrorist organisations known to date.
1979 – The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan to defend the president of Afghanistan Nur Muhammad Taraki from the rebel uprising. With tensions heighted due to the Cold War, America armed the rebels along with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. This was seen as a Cold war proxy group to prevent the Soviet Union having a strong hold in area.
Many men from the Middle East flocked to Afghanistan to participate in the war; they believed that this was a religious struggle of infidel invaders. Fighters carrying extremist views became known as المجاهدين al mujahedeen (Islamic guerrilla fighters).
One of the fighters who left Saudi Arabia to fight in Afghanistan was the billionaire Osama bin Laden. At the same time in Afghanistan was a Jordanian criminal known as Abu Musab al Zarqawi. They later became the founders of the words most brutal terrorist organisations, al Qaeda and the Islamic state.
After nine years of war and an estimated two million civilians killed, the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan, and the mujahedeen returned home. Osama bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia and started his organisation called al Qaeda (in Arabic this means the base or the foundation). Al Qaeda was formed to fight any further holy wars in Islamic lands.
Bin Laden was influenced and inspired by Ayman al-Zawahiri who he met in Saudi Arabia. Ayman al-Zawahiri was from a middle-class background and graduated as a surgeon. Al-Zawahiri was expelled from Egypt for his extreme views and political affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood, he later became the second in command of al Qaeda, after bin Laden. Many people say he was the master mind behind al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden was the financier.
Abu Musab al Zarqawi created his own group in Jordan in 1999 called Jama’at al Tawhid wal jihad. This organisation was created to overthrow the dictatorship of the king. Abu Musab al Zarqawi believed King Abdullah was an apostate and must be overthrown. After the Jordanian government foiled an attack just before the millennium new year, they realised al Zarqawi was behind this and Zarqawi then fled to Pakistan. The Pakistani government revoked his visa and he left for Afghanistan where he met Osama bin Laden. Al Zarqawi pledged full allegiance to al Qaeda and participated in the insurgency groups fighting in the 2003 Iraqi invasion.
1994 – In many areas of Afghanistan, the Taliban were in power. An extreme organisation which stoned women for adultery, performed public punishment to anyone caught listening to music – which is considered haram and is not allowed – killing of parents who educate their daughters, and beheaded people for performing homosexual acts. In this time period, the Taliban trained ten thousand al Qaeda members, preparing to attack what they considered infidel interests in Muslim lands. Osama bin Laden and al Zarqawi were often in Afghanistan training and preparing attacks.
2001 – al Qaeda attacked the United States of America directly on home soil for the second time, bringing down the World Trade Center and attacking the Pentagon using aeroplanes as human missiles, killing almost 3,000 Americans and paving the way to the war on terror. After this, the United States of America declared war on al Qaeda and the Taliban and invaded Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden left Afghanistan and sought refuge in Pakistan whilst al Zarqawi moved to a remote part of Iraq.
2003 – The full might of the American military invaded Iraq on the pretence that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. With no evidence to support this theory, members of the intelligence community in American and the United Kingdom – who knew there was no structural evidence that supported the claim – leaked reports to the media hoping to avoid a war which would cost the lives of so many people. In February 2003 Colin Powell, former Secretary of State, gave a lengthy speech at the United Nations Security Council. In it, he claimed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and tried to justify to the council false evidence that Hussein had close relations and support to the al Qaeda network. Katherine Gunn, who worked for the intelligence services in the UK, became a whistle-blower on the UK and American government trying to blackmail UN security members into voting for the war in Iraq.
During the war in Iraq, an estimated one million people died. The people of Iraq, along with the USA, toppled Saddam Hussein and disbanded the Iraqi army. During the invasion, different religious sects and tribal groups were fighting for power. Society started to break down with mass unemployment and the disbandment of the army and policing forces. The people, becoming frustrated with no income turned to insurgency groups to repeal the Western invaders. Jihadist movements saw this as another Afghan invasion and infiltrated the insurgency group.
Al Zarqawi joined this insurgency and eventually became the leader. Video footage shows Zarqawi giving televised reports before publicly performing the beheadings of captive journalists and Shia civilians. These acts of brutality shook the international community and the world started to watch the horrific brutality of Zarqawi unfold. Zarqawi, at first, wasn’t thought highly of in the al Qaeda network; he was even declined a meeting with Osama bin Laden because he was seen as irrelevant by the al Qaeda leader. It was actually former Secretary of State Colin Powell, at the UN security council, who thrust al Zarqawi into the international spot light. Before this speech Zarqawi was not known much at all. Zarqawi ramped up his brutality in Iraq by targeting the Shia sect of Islam who radical Sunnis believe are apostates.
2004 – The US State Department published a letter wrote by Abu Musab al Zarqawi to the al Qaeda leadership in Afghanistan expressing his plan to attack the Shiites in Iraq with the explicit intent of creating a sectarian conflict, hoping that this would expel the Americans from Iraq. Zarqawi wrote to bin Laden, stating “if you agree with us in targeting Shiites, we will be your readied soldiers. If things appear otherwise, we are brothers, and this will not spoil our friendship.”
2004 (December) – Bin Laden issues a press release recognizing Zarqawi as a key leader in the al Qaeda organisation. His organisation now becomes known as al Qaeda in Iraq.
2004 (2nd March) – one of the most brutal attacks for the Shiites took place in Iraq. Zarqawi and his group performed a series of simultaneous attacks throughout Iraq while the Shiites were celebrating the Ashura holiday, killing 185 people. Under the leadership of Zarqawi, the group were responsible for assassinations, kidnapping, bombing and multiple beheadings against Shiites, civilians, western journalists, and humanitarian workers.
2004 (14th September) – Zarqawi announced to the world that he had declared an all-out war against the Shiites in Iraq. His justification was on religious grounds, arguing that the Shia sect of Islam are apostates and the Shia government policy was un-Islamic and corrupt. The escalation of his genocidal campaign started to worry Sunni resistance leaders who believed that killing Muslim civilians would threaten public support for the insurgent movement. Zarqawi’s biggest critic was the second in command of al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
2005 (June) – al Zawahiri wrote to Zarqawi telling him to limit attacks on Muslims.
2006 – the United States kills Zarqawi in a drone strike. Many people thought that killing Zarqawi would destabilise al Qaeda in Iraq, but what morphed from this made al Qaeda look like a fairy tale.
2006 to 2011 – al Qaeda in Iraq began to shrink, and stability was looking ever more likely, in 2011 the United States pulled out of Iraq under the Obama administration.
2010: The Arab Spring – Started in Tunisia following the public suicide of Mohamed Bouazizi due to government corruption and bullying from local police. His death lead to mass protests and government change by revolution. This paved the way for the Arab spring to sweep through the Middle East and North Africa.
2011 – from Egypt to Syria there was one organisation behind the events – the Muslim Brotherhood.
This was not Syria’s first encounter with the Muslim Brotherhood. Founded in 1945, the Muslim Brotherhood were a political party that was opposed to the Ba’ath party which is an ideology of Arab nationalism, pan-Arabism and Arab socialist party.
In 1982, the Muslim Brotherhood captured the city of Hama declaring the city an Islamic State. The occupation of Hama lasted for 27 days and was quelled with the Muslim Brotherhood being expelled from Syria.
Abu Bakr al Baghdadi
Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, whose real name is Ibrahim al Badri, was a religious scholar who graduated with a PhD in Islamic Theology from Baghdad University. Al Baghdadi was a shy individual, who spent most of his time at his local mosque near Tobchi, a poor area of Iraq. Al Baghdadi strongly believed he was a descendant of Islamic prophet Mohammed. In February 2004 al Baghdadi was arrested in Fallujah by US Special Forces and detained at Abu Ghraib and camp Bucca. In prison he was detained with high profile members of al Qaeda and soon became the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in the prison. He was released in December of that year, being deemed low risk.
On 15th October 2006, al Baghdadi joined the Mujahideen shura council following the renaming of Islamic State in Iraq. Islamic State in Iraq was also known as al Qaeda of Iraq. Baghdadi was announced leader after the death of his predecessor Abu Omar al Baghdadi.
After becoming leader, he became the master mind of large-scale attacks, attacking a mosque in Baghdad during Ramadan. Some of the worst violence recorded in Iraq was during the month of Ramadan.
On 2nd May 2011, the world woke up to the news that Osama bin Laden had been killed at his home in Pakistan, by US Special Forces. Despite the major blow to the al Qaeda network, support for the jihadist movements worldwide grew. Terrorist organisations such as Hamas in Gaza, Boko Haram in Nigeria, al Shahab in Somalia, Lashkar-e-Tabia in India and Ansar al Sharia in Libya, all pledged to wage war against the west in retaliation.
Al Baghdadi issued a press release praising bin Laden and promising violent reactions in retaliation to his death. Many places of worship in Iraq, as well as government and public places were attacked by suicide bombings, small armed groups, road side bombs and IEDs.
Al Baghdadi also sent operatives into Syria. One such operative was Muhammad al Julani. Al Julani played a lead role in setting up an organisation to be a branch of Islamic state in Iraq. This organisation became known as Jabhat al Nusra and it was a front group for Islamic State in Iraq. Under the leadership of al Baghdadi, al Nusra became one of the most powerful rebel (terrorist) groups in Syria.
2013 – Al Julani refused al Baghdadis attempt to close down al Nusra as a front group, and emerged with his own group now called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. Refusing to give up control and power, al Julani pledges full allegiance to Ayman al-Zawahiri and al Qaeda, which al Zawahiri accepts and supports. With the shift of alliance al Qaeda now have a firm foundation in Syria.
Despite al Baghdadi swearing an oath of allegiance to Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Baghdadi rejects al Zawahiri’s authority and the two forces break. There would now be a conflict to see who the dominant power would be to hold Syrian territory.
2014 – the Islamic state shocked the world with their land grab and their ability to defeat and destroy the Iraqi and Syrian armies. On the 29th June 2014 the declaration of their caliphate was announced by the second senior leader of the Islamic State, Muhammad al Adnani. It was aired by Hayat media in Arabic, English, French, Russian and German. The Islamic caliphate had been resurrected, and its new Caliph was Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. Al Baghdadi gave himself this name because the Caliph after Mohammed was also called Abu Bakr and went on to successfully conquer territory throughout the Middle East.
Muhammad al Adnani was infamous throughout extremist movements around the world. He delivered many speeches which inspired extremists, especially here in the West. For example, he instructed followers to “kill the non-believers by stabbing them or driving cars into them.” Following this message there was a surge of knife and car attacks throughout Europe.
هذا وعد الله
The declaration of their caliphate bears the modest title هذا وعد الله, which translates in English to “this is the promise of God”. In this document they declare that God promised to Muslims “leadership of the world and mastery of the Earth.” This declaration of their caliphate revealed their governing philosophy:
“By Allah, if you disbelieve democracy, secularism and nationalism as well as all the garbage and ideas of the West and rush to your religion and creed, then by Allah you will own the Earth, the East and the West will submit to you.”
Note that their barbarity is not their strategy, it is an article of their faith. In this declaration they also mention the destruction of borders (between Syria and Iraq). They refer to the kuffer (infidels, Christians, Shia Muslims, Sunni Muslims who do not recognize the ISIS ideology, and also the Yazidi community) as “humiliated”. They announce that crosses and graves are destroyed, and that the jizya, a humiliation protection tax that non-Muslims (“the people of the book”) have to pay to stay alive under a Sharia state, has being implemented. They also mention prisoners being released by the edge of the sword.
With the caliphate being announced, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi declared that all Muslims must submit to Caliph. After this calling from Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, thousands of people from all over the world migrated to fight for the Islamic State in Syria. They entered Syria illegally and committed mass genocide to every religious, ethnic and nationalistic group they encountered which do not share their mind set. This scale of genocide has not been seen since World War II.
Now, although ISIS has been defeated by the military in Iraq and Syria, Boko Haram and other Islamist groups have emerged to continue the message of ISIS and carry their banner. They fall under the name ISCAP (Islamic State in Central African Province). The ISIS ideology lives on with their declaration set out as a blueprint of how they want the world to be. According to the United States of America, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi detonated a suicide belt he was wearing whilst being chased by the US Special Forces, killing himself and three of his children in the process (however, no evidence has been released to the public about this). In retaliation for the killing of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, Boko Haram killed 11 Christians over the Christmas period.
Inside Syria within the Kurdish controlled area there is a “refugee camp” which holds thousands of ISIS members. The intelligence community state that these members, both male and female, are the hard-line extremists who have been involved in and witnessed mass atrocities throughout the war. Many media companies have been inside the camps and interviewed the women and children who all still pledge allegiance to the ideology of the Islamic State and are waiting for the new Caliph to arise.