Origins of the Islamic State
early terrorist beginnings to the current Islamic State War
The Islamist Jihadist group now known as The
Islamic State, had its origins in the radical Sunni Jihadist
movement fostered by Osama bin-Laden and his al-Qaida group.
What is now called The Islamic State has had many names as it
evolved from a minor off-shoot of al-Qaida to become the central
belligerent in the current regional Middle East War.
In 1989, a Jordanian-born Islamist militant named
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, like many other Jihadist militants, travelled
to Afghanistan, intending to fight against the occupying Soviet
Union. Arriving too late to
participate in the fighting (the Soviets withdrew from that war in
1989), Zarqawi instead befriended Osama bin-Laden, who had been
instrumental in recruiting and supplying Jihadists from the Arab
nations who went to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets.
Soon after meeting bin-Laden, Zarqawi returned home to Jordan
in the early 1990s and founded a local militant group called Jund
al-Sham (Soldiers of Sham) in 1991.
(NOTE: the word "Sham" is Arabic for the region encompassing,
generally, modern Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine/Israel.
In English, Sham is often translated as the word Levant).
Arrested in 1992 for militant activities involving
weapons and explosives, Zarqawi was released from a Jordanian prison
in 1999. He continued his active
militancy, and was implicated in the "Millennium Plot" to bomb
Jordanian hotels and several targets in the United States.
Zarqawi fled Jordan, returning to Afghanistan where he again
connected with bin-Laden. The
al-Qaida leader provided money and resources for Zarqawi to open up a
militant training camp in Afghanistan.
It was during this time period that he set up the group Jama'at
al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (Organization of Monotheism and
Jihad), also known by the initials JTJ.
the al-Qaida attack on the United States, American forces invaded
Afghanistan, Zarqawi and his group fought alongside al-Qaida and the
Taliban against American forces. After being wounded in the
Afghanistan War, Zarqawi left Afghanistan, reportedly moving between
Iran, Iraq, and Syria. Zarqawi and his followers had
camps in Iraq and in Syria, and his presence in Iraq (which most
likely was not with the permission of Saddam's government), was one
of the justifications for the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, as his
group was considered (rightfully so) as an off-shoot of al-Qaida.
the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, Zarqawi and
his JTJ became the best known and most violent of the Sunni
resistance groups, quickly earning a reputation for brutality,
JTJ used suicide bombers, improvised explosive devices, video-taped
beheadings of foreigners, bombings of Shi'ite mosques, and many attacks on U.S. and
17, 2004, JTJ pledged allegiance to bin-Laden and al-Qaida, and
changed its name to Tanzim Qaidat
al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn, but is best known by the name
al-Qaida in Iraq.
In January, 2006, al-Qaida in Iraq joined with
five other Sunni groups to form the Mujahideen
Shura Council, to further coordinate their resistance to the U.S.
forces and to the Shi'ite-dominated Iraqi
United States attempted to kill or capture Zarqawi multiple times,
and June 7, 2006, a targeted U.S. airstrike destroyed Zarqawi's safe
house in the Iraqi city of Baqabah, killing him and others.
In October of 2006, the Mujahideen Shura
Council re-organized and renamed itself as the Islamic State of
Iraq (ISI), now led by Abu Ayyub
al-Masri and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, due to the death
of Zarqawi. The Islamic State of Iraq
continued the tactics begun by Zarqawi, with beheadings and bombing
attacks on civilian targets. This
newly named group retained allegiance and connections with
After the death of al-Masri
in 2010, al-Baghdadi became the sole leader of ISI and, in
conjunction with al-Qaeda, sent Abu Mohammad al-Golani
to Syria in 2012 to start a Syrian branch of al-Qaeda
to take part in the new Syrian civil war.
This Syrian branch of al-Qaida became known as Jabhat
as-Sham (Support Front for the People of the Sham).
The shortened version of the name, The Nusra
Front, is the best known name for this group.
On April 8, 2013, al-Baghdadi declared that his
group, al-Qaida in Iraq, had merged with the Nusra
Front to form the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (known
both as ISIL and ISIS). Al-Golani disputed
this merger, and appealed to the leader of the main branch of
al-Qaida, Ayman al-Zawahiri
(who had taken over following bin-Laden's death), to resolve the
dispute. The al-Qaida
leader sided with al-Golani and the Nusra
Front, and told al-Baghdadi to confine his activities to Iraq.
Al-Baghdadi and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham then broke away
from al-Qaida, launching attacks on the Nusra
Front in Syria.
On June 29, 2014, al-Baghdadi declared himself the
leader of a worldwide caliphate (claiming authority of all the
world's Muslims), and renamed his group as The Islamic
Thus, we can trace the lineage of the current
Islamic State from the beginnings of al-Zarqawi's Jund
al-Sham to the JTJ, to al-Qaida in Iraq, the Mujahedeen Shura
Council, to the Islamic State of al-Sham to the Islamic State.
So, while the American intervention in Iraq that began in
June, 2014 to stop the military advances of the Islamic State was the
first official action against the current Jihadist organization, in
reality, the U.S. has been fighting this group since the 2001
Invasion of Afghanistan in a military sense, even though the U.S. and
her allies have been targets of the terrorist activities of this
group since 1999. Looked
at through the prism of the history and origins of the Islamic State
all the way back to the beginning of Zarqawi's terrorism in 1999 and
2000, and his leadership of Jund al-Sham in the Afghanistan War, the U.S. has
been battling this organization since before the start of the
so-called "War on Terror."