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Understanding The Situation With ISIS

Isis, Isis threat, Islamic state news

Coalition forces in Iraq, 2015; Spin Palace blogSource: U.S. Department of Defense, Wikimedia

For the past two decades, the situation in the Middle East has been front and center on worldwide news outlets. But many people find themselves still a little foggy on what exactly is going on, and why it matters. If you don’t want to sort through endless articles about the subject, here’s your briefing.

Once you’re up to date on current events, you may want to take some time to unwind with your favorite Spin Palace online games.

What is ISIS?

First of all, it’s important to understand the name ISIS. It stands for the “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria”. You may also hear it referred to as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or simply the Islamic State.

The Islamic State splintered off from al Qaeda, the militant Sunni Islamist organization founded by Osama bin Laden in the late 1980s. This terrorist group was responsible for attacks like the 1998 US Embassy bombings, the September 11th attacks in the United States, and 2002 bombings in Bali. The group is still active today, though less centralized after the death of bin Laden.

In recent years, al Qaeda has been less prevalent in the news due to the rise of other threatening organizations like ISIS. The two organizations share a similar ideology of Sharia Law, a concept derived from eighth-century Islam teachings. This concept is based on a rejection of so-called “man-made laws”, which they want to replace with strict Sharia Law. These beliefs not only pit them against western Christian and Jewish groups, but against other sects of Islam that reject their violent ideology.

A memorial after the attack in Brussels; Spin Palace BlogSource: Ashley Bayles, Wikimedia

The threat of ISIS

ISIS is known for their terrorist activities, including attacks against any group they see as a threat to Sharia Law. This has resulted in mass killings, public executions, and acts of torture. In addition to this, they have fought for control of physical territory. In 2014, ISIS was in control of large portions of Syria and Iraq ranging from the Mediterranean coast to south of Baghdad. Coalition war efforts have fought their expansion, and eradicated ISIS from this territory in early 2016.

ISIS has mainly gained support and funding through radicalization. It’s important to note that the beliefs of the Islamic State are in no way in line with mainstream Islamic beliefs, but build on select parts of teachings, putting an emphasis on the code of Sharia Law and using it to justify their terroristic violence. However, through radicalization, the Islamic state has recruited sympathizers using social media and propaganda campaigns.

The propaganda campaigns have centered on the distribution of news and images on platforms like Twitter, including the release of videos and photographs of executions and torture. They try to appeal to potential followers by emphasizing a “belonging” to the state. This propaganda campaign has not been contained to the Middle East, with sympathizers around the world being radicalized and even plotting or carrying our terrorist activities worldwide.

A timeline of the development of ISIS

Here are some of the main milestones in the emergence and resistance of ISIS. You can find more details from CNN.

  • 2004: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi founds al Qaeda in Iraq, which would eventually be the seed for ISIS.
  • 2006: When Zarqawi is killed, Abu Ayyub al-Masri takes over as leader and creates the Islamic State of Iraq, with Abu Omar al-Baghdadi as leader.
  • 2010: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi takes over as leader after a US-Iraqi operation kills his predecessor.
  • 2014: Now ISIS, the organization has grown and seized control of Falluja. They break with Al Qaeda and begin radicalizing new members, including hundreds of kidnapped schoolchildren. They expand to take control of more Iraqi regions. In August, US President Obama authorizes airstrikes against ISIS. ISIS retaliates by beheading US journalist James Foley and distributing a video. Executions continue throughout the year, and the US continues air strikes.
  • 2015: ISIS continues to torture and execute prisoners. In March, Boko Haram, a radical Islamist group from Nigeria, pledges allegiance to ISIS, expanding their influence through Africa. ISIS continues to take territory throughout Iraq, including the largest western city, Ramadi.
  • 2016: ISIS attacks spread through Europe, including the March attack on a Brussels subway station. Iraqi troops to fight against ISIS and retake Falluja in June. Terrorist attacks continue in Turkey, Bangladesh, and Baghdad. Iraq launches a mission to retake Mosul, the last ISIS holding in Iraq.
  • 2017: The US continues to bomb ISIS holdouts, while ISIS continues to kill civilians. Mosul is liberated, as well as the self-declared capital of ISIS in Raqqa, Syria. Iraq announces that their campaign to defeat ISIS is complete.
  • 2018: ISIS has mostly disappeared, but terror attacks continue, and Baghdadi encourages followers to keep up the fight for ISIS control. By the end of the year, a report still estimates the number of ISIS members in Iraq and Syria to be around 30,000.
  • 2019: ISIS loses control in Syria. However, by August, the Pentagon reports a resurgence of ISIS in contradiction of US President Trump’s unfounded claim that they had been completely eradicated. Baghdadi is killed and a new leader is announced, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Quarashi.

US Operations in the Arabian Gulf; Spin Palace BlogSource: National Museum of the U.S. Navy, Wikimedia

What’s being done

While most ISIS strongholds have been eradicated by this point, there is still a significant threat of resurgence, as attacks in the Middle East continue. With a new leader, the organization has changed but is still dangerous. Rather than the organized attacks of the past, ISIS seems to have turned to more suicide attacks by radicalized members, including attacks outside of their main area.

It’s worth mentioning that while ISIS often claims involvement with terrorist attacks, the link is not always clear. There have been instances of attacks perpetrated by other terrorist groups being claimed by ISIS. However, even a weak ideological link to the terror organization is enough to contribute to their strength. As extremists flee Iraq and Syria, and spread their ideologies through propaganda, they have gained followings in other areas such as the Philippines, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka.

The United States-led coalition led air strikes through the fight against ISIS beginning in 2014, and has been joined by forces from Australia, Belgium, Denmark, France, Jordan and the UK. BBC estimates that 74 different countries have joined in the fight against ISIS. Recently, the US has slowly withdrawn from Middle Eastern involvement and turned over operations to local militaries in Iraq and Syria.

The future of the fight against ISIS

While the downward trend in ISIS influence throughout the Middle East is encouraging, governments and militaries around the world have not let their guard down quite yet. The US has pledged to seek “enduring defeat” of ISIS in Syria to avoid resurgence. Radicalization remains a large threat, and many warn that special attention must be paid to avoiding radicalization of young people through social media.

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