By Neville Teller
April 29, 2019
Just a few years ago the Islamic State (IS)
was only too real. Spread across Syria and Iraq, It covered more than 34,000
square miles and controlled millions of people. Its revenues came from oil
produced in the areas it had overrun, sold at bargain prices to dealers in
Turkey and elsewhere, augmented by taxes levied on its population, the sale of
stolen artifacts, ransoms from kidnappings, smuggling and extortion.
At its height IS had set up a system of
government that in many aspects paralleled that of a modern state. The ruler –
the self-styled caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi – headed a central structure of
advisory councils and administrative departments that were replicated
regionally, and then right down at local level. These departments oversaw a
range of functions and services including health provision, education, a legal
system, security, finance and media – services which came with a clear
ideological orientation, particularly the religious and educational
institutions it set up in newly acquired territory.
Once an area fell under its sway, IS
focused on getting the utilities and sanitation systems up and running, and
distributing food supplies, often providing better services than many of the
populations had previously enjoyed – and consequently sometimes winning their
IS reached its apogee at the end of 2014.
By February 2015 it had been driven out of the Syrian border town of Kobane by
Kurdish Peshmerga forces; in April of that year it lost the Iraqi city of
Tikrit. From then on, facing a military coalition bent on its destruction, it
began to disintegrate. Gradually but inexorably, as its forces suffered defeat
after defeat, its territory shrank Finally on Friday March 22, 2019, following
a lengthy battle around the small Syrian town of Baghouz on the banks of the
Euphrates, IS lost its final stronghold.
Al-Baghdadi’s dream of establishing a
Muslim caliphate spanning the Middle East was dead. His caliphate had lasted
less than five years. But the period of IS’s territorial decline also witnessed
an increase in Its global appeal to young Muslims, both male and female, who
came in their thousands to join the organization. Some, no doubt, have since
become disillusioned by IS’s military defeat, but many have not. They will be
aware that although the real on-the-ground caliphate has been obliterated, the
virtual Islamic State has remained as potent as ever.
Throughout the period 2014-2018 Islamic
State conducted or inspired a continuing series of terrorist activities across
the globe. The TV network CNN, which maintained a running tally, recorded more
than 70 such operations conducted in some 20 countries, resulting in a death
toll of nearly 12,000 people. In 2018 alone there were 25 IS-inspired terrorist
attacks, and the massacre of 2463 people.
Within a month of IS’s final defeat on the
ground, and as if to proclaim that a virtual version of the organization was
fully functional, IS claimed responsibility for the horrific killing campaign
in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday 2019. In a coordinated operation by suicide
bombers that simultaneously targeted three churches and three hotels in
Colombo, no less than 359 people were slaughtered and more than 500 injured.
What Motivates This Merciless
Determination To Attack, Bomb And Massacre People?
The progenitor of the modern Islamist
movement is the Muslim Brotherhood, founded in Egypt in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna.
Before becoming the leaders of IS and al-Qaeda, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Osama bin
Laden, and Ayman al-Zawahiri (the current head of al-Qaeda), all belonged to
In founding the organization Al-Banna
declared quite simply: “It is the nature of Islam to dominate, not to be
dominated, to impose its law on all nations and to extend its power to the
The ambition of the Muslim Brotherhood is
boundless. Its goal, stated quite openly by its leaders, is to create
situations in which Sharia law can be imposed on states, which can then unite
and expand. Mustafa Mashhur, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt from
1996 until 2003, set out its underlying philosophy in his 1995 book “Jihad is
“Jihad and preparation for Jihad are not
only for the purpose of fending-off assaults and attacks against Muslims by
Allah’s enemies, but are also for the purpose of realizing the great task of
establishing an Islamic state, strengthening the religion and spreading it
around the world.”
Islamic State strongly supports the
principles of the Muslim Brotherhood. At its heart is a ruthless obsession with
imposing its extremist version of Islam on the entire globe. If it cannot
achieve its aim by territorial conquest, it will do so by sowing ideological
dissension within societies that will not accept its concept of Islam. This
purpose, in its view, is of such paramount importance that its achievement must
not be deflected by normal human sentiments. The end justifies the use of any
means, however extreme.
During the period that al-Baghdadi held his
territory; he used it to provide thousands of young recruits from around the
world with a radicalizing education, combat training and experience. To this,
as far as the male recruits were concerned, he added a taste for rape,
ultra-violence, and martyrdom.
The danger these recruits pose does not end
when they leave Iraq or Syria, or because the caliphate has been destroyed. The
threat of terrorist violence by returnees, by local terrorist groups that
affiliate with IS, or from individuals radicalized online by the group’s
jihadist propaganda remains a toxic global threat.
Meanwhile the virtual Islamic State lives
on. On top of the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka, IS recently claimed
responsibility for a suicide bombing in Afghanistan, an attempted attack in
Saudi Arabia, and on 18 April the IS news agency claimed that its soldiers had
assaulted a military barracks in the democratic Republic of Congo, killing
As one US news site put it: “The Caliphate
is defeated, but Islamic State is just getting started.”