By Mark Saunokonoko
Dec 30, 2019
This was Islamic State's time.
Over the past decade, everything lined up for Islamic State to rise and unleash its hellish brand of death and destruction on the world.
Islamic State (IS) needed the unrest of the Arab Spring. They needed the chaotic Syrian civil war. They needed the festering scab of the US invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. They needed the tentacles of Silicon Valley's social media to spread their propaganda. And they needed encrypted tech to recruit and instruct lone wolves to attack Western cities.
The world had never seen a group like Islamic State before.
Al-Qaeda seemed to be the masters of the meticulously planned attack on symbolic targets, like New York's Twin Towers or the USS Cole. But for most of us, the threat of Al-Qaeda was unsettling yet distant.
Islamic State, also known as ISIS or Daesh, brought the terror right to us.
At peak-IS, the extremist group was publishing a slick monthly magazine in multiple languages which was dispersed to a growing worldwide fanbase.
Inside the magazine were regular sections, like detailing terror tactics for lone wolf attacks in the West. The articles described what knives were most deadly, which vehicles should be used to ram into pedestrians and how fake Gumtree ads could lure innocent victims to their death.
The magazine also celebrated the group's attacks in Western cities, and there were many of those.
France, especially, was heavily targeted.
In November 2015, 10 heavily armed gunmen turned downtown Paris into a warzone, killing 130 people at the Stade de France, bars, restaurants and the Bataclan concert hall. Eight months later, on Bastille Day in Nice, a 19-tonne cargo truck fatally mowed down 86 people and injured 458 others.
In the US, a lone gunman who pledged allegiance to IS killed 49 people inside a gay nightclub, while the UK was rocked when a suicide bomber targeted a predominantly young audience at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, killing 22.
There were terrible attacks in Belgium, Tunisia, Turkey, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and other European cities. Australia was also targeted, with Sydney's Lindt Cafe siege, stabbing attacks in Melbourne and the killing of a NSW Police employee creating most fear and attention.
While attacks on the West grew in intensity from 2015, IS jihadists also killed hundreds of fellow Muslims in Syria, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan in a series of catastrophic bombings.
Jihadi John and The Beatles
Islamic State's now dead leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi aside, the group spawned several high-profile individuals who became synonymous with Islamic State's savagery.
A Briton nicknamed Jihadi John was a chilling masked executioner who beheaded captured journalists, aid workers and Westerners in carefully choreographed films made to shock and recruit.
Jihadi John had three helpers who became known as the Beatles, dubbed after the iconic English band by hostages because of their British accents.
Jihadi John's real name was Mohammed Emwazi, a Briton from a well-to-do family who grew up in West London.
In many ways, Emwazi was typical of the thousands of young men and women who left their homes to journey into Iraq and Syria, often entering across the porous Turkey-Syria border, to join the building of the so-called caliphate.
The reality of a self-declared caliphate set the group apart from Al-Qaeda, who had never delivered on this shared ambition.
It is estimated 40,000 foreigners were seduced by Islamic State's siren call. Since 2012, around 230 Australians are thought to have travelled to Syria or Iraq. The Department of Home Affairs estimates as many as 100 of that group have been killed.
Rise and fall of The Caliphate
In June 2014, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi entered a famous mosque in Mosul, Iraq and declared the establishment of a caliphate.
IS had rapidly seized large swathes of land in Iraq and Syria, geographically the same size as the United Kingdom. At its height, IS and al-Baghdadi governed 12 million people in a highly organised proto-state.
The so-called caliphate was no ramshackle pipe dream. IS collected taxes, upheld their version of law and order and performed all the typical tasks and functions of any regular local council. At its height, IS was raking in $80 million a month through black market oil sales and the selling of priceless artifacts.
Although IS was a group primed to rise in the modern age, their style of rule was medieval and based on fear and subjugation.
Thieves had limbs amputated, adulterers were stoned to death and suspected homosexuals were thrown off high-rise buildings.
The group's executions grew more and more barbaric. Underwater cameras sometimes filmed victims being drowned in steel cages, while others were set alight and burned to death.
Islamic State's religious police, the Hisbah, patrolled the streets and enforced strict punishments on anyone who violated the group's strict interpretations of Shariah law.
Around the world, provinces of the Islamic State caliphate, known as Wiliyats, sprang up in Africa, Libya and the Philippines.
Alarmed, a US-led coalition was formed and a sustained air and ground campaign lasting several years eventually overthrew the caliphate.
The fight to weed out IS from their defacto Syrian and Iraqi capitals, Raqqa and Mosul, was brutal and bloody.
Facing suicide bombers and block after block of booby-trapped homes, Iraq and Kurdish forces were instrumental in the hard-fought urban victory.
At the end of December, 2018 the last remaining stubborn pockets of the caliphate were vanquished.
Elusive al-Baghdadi blows himself up
Although the caliphate has - at least for now - been destroyed, IS remains a worrying threat.
A 2018 UN report warned 30,000 IS fighters could be hiding in Iraq and Syria. Until October this year, the fugitive IS leader al-Baghdadi was one of them.
On October 26 President Donald Trump announced al-Baghdadi had blown himself up after US special forces executed a daring raid on his hideout in Syria.
Several weeks later the group announced a new leader, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi.
Little is known about the new figurehead, who is now responsible for leading IS at what is a crucial juncture.
Analysts believe IS will transition into a more traditional terror organisation, like Al Qaeda.
It would be foolhardy to think we will not be discussing Islamic State or Al Qaeda in 10 years' time.
Original Headline: The rise and fall of the Islamic State caliphate
Source: 9 News. com