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What is Islamic State?

What is Islamic State?
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What is Islamic State? Under its former name Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis), the IS was formed in April 2013, growing out of Al Qaeda in...

Under its former name Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis), the IS was formed in April 2013, growing out of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). It has since been disavowed by Al Qaeda, but has become one of the main jihadist groups fighting government forces in Syria and Iraq.

Its precise size is unclear but it is thought to include thousands of fighters, including many foreign jihadists. The organisation is led by Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi. Little is known about him, but it is believed he was born in Samarra, north of Baghdad, in 1971 and joined the insurgency that erupted in Iraq soon after the 2003 US-led invasion. The group has seen considerable military success. In March 2013, it took over the Syrian city of Raqqa - the first provincial capital to fall under rebel control.

In January 2014, IS capitalised on growing tension between Iraq's Sunni minority and Shia-led government by taking control of the predominantly Sunni city of Fallujah, in the western province of Anbar. It also seized large sections of the provincial capital, Ramadi, and has a presence in a number of towns near the Turkish and Syrian borders.

In recent months, the Islamic State has been establishing a foothold in Iraq. The group swept in from Syria and captured a number of key areas, including Mosul, Iraq's second largest city. In addition to putting American personnel at risk, the IS has led a bloody campaign against religious minorities.


Thousands of Yazidis refugees remain trapped in the Sinjar mountains with dwindling supplies of food and water. The US has since begun launching airstrikes against the militants.

However, reports of rising tensions between foreign and local fighters, aggressive and increasingly unsuccessful attempts to recruit local citizens for the front lines, and a growing incidence of guerrilla attacks against Islamic State targets suggest the militants are struggling to sustain their carefully cultivated image as a fearsome fighting force drawing Muslims together under the umbrella of a utopian Islamic state.

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