Written by Shawna Chen
The Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIS) first gained major attention earlier this year when it executed U.S. journalist James Foley in an online video, but the extremist group formerly known as al Qaeda in Iraq had already committed multiple terrorist acts in the past, including kidnapping and enslaving minorities and persecuting peoples of different religions.
ISIS began as a product of three terrorist groups, al Qaeda, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) and Jabhat al-Nusra. Its first major terrorist act occurred in May 2014, when ISIS kidnapped more than 140 Kurdish schoolboys in Syria and forced the kidnappees to assimilate radical Islamic theology. A month later, militants seized Iraqi city Mosul’s airport, TV stations, and governor’s office; they later freed almost 1,000 prisoners from Mosul’s federal jails. In the following three days, ISIS invaded and gained control of five other Iraqi towns, all the while terrorizing its citizens and giving them the ultimatum of conversion to radical Islam or execution.
Soon, the exponentially increase in numbers of refugees fleeing the fighting reached a maximum, and Iraqi Kurdistan restricted border crossings on June 28. One day later, ISIS declared the creation of a caliphate that enforced its authority over the entire Muslim population in the world. This new caliphate would have no state borders and consist of one overarching kingdom. By this point in time, 1.2 million Iraqis had been forced from their homes.
In July, multiple Syrian cities fell to ISIS, and the jihadists took control of a major Syrian oil field, the world’s largest, by coercion. By mid-July, ISIS had seized the Shaer gas field and claimed to have killed 270 Syrians in the process. A week later, the militants continued their reign of terror and bombed a holy site in Mosul.
On Aug. 19, the first of multiple civilian beheadings was publicized in a YouTube vide. U.S. journalist James Foley, who had gone missing in Syria in 2012, was decapitated, and ISIS made further threats on the life of another U.S. journalist. Foley’s death brought ISIS to the attention of Americans across the nation, and multiple memorials were constructed in his honor. Within the next two months, another U.S. journalist and two British aid workers were also beheaded in publicized videos.
By the end of Oct., the number of militants fighting for ISIS has increased to a count between 20,000 and 31,500 fighters, according to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). At the same time, stories of sexual abuse and slavery have arisen in light of multiple accounts of Yazidi women subjected to the jihadists’ will.
The most recent act of terror that ISIS has committed involved lining up 600 Shia, Christian and Yazidi male prisoners in the middle of the desert and executing them at point blank range. According to Human Rights’ Watch, nine men were able to survive by playing dead and shielding themselves with nearby bodies. “After we said goodbye to each other, I took my daughter’s picture and kissed it, and I prayed to God to save me for her, because I have no one else,” one survivor said.
The U.S. and other United Nations countries have cooperated in executing airstrikes against ISIS. However, it is unknown what next steps of action ISIS will take as it continues propagate its radical Islamic theology by force.