The past year has witnessed the dramatic rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS/ISIL) from anonymity to infamy, amplified by the group’s calculated use of media to promote its actions while increasing recruitment. By leveraging social media, this PR campaign has included videos of beheadings of Western hostages, mass executions of Iraqi and Syrian soldiers, the destruction of Shia mosques, as well as the parading of American weaponry (captured from the Iraqi Army) through its stronghold of Raqqa.
This has understandably led to a sensationalizing of the Islamic State by international media, providing it with yet another platform from which to espouse its rhetoric and increase its following. That is not to say the media attention is unwarranted — far from it. In addition to the public executions of journalists and aid workers, Islamic State fighters have murdered thousands of innocent civilians, many of those belonging to ethnic or religious groups that do not conform to its rigid, extremist ideologies.
The Islamic State has also conquered large amounts of territory in Syria and Iraq, with fighting now extending to the Turkish border, regions of Kurdistan, and the outskirts of Baghdad. All the while the group continues to generate millions of dollars of revenue by selling captured crude oil. This money is in turn funding additional arms and fighters, and ensuring the Islamic State’s continued existence.
Given the threat, it’s critical to understand the group and its origins, history and stakeholders. The challenge is that much of today’s coverage is centered on its current exploits, while overlooking the roots of the group itself. The group’s sensational victories and disturbing videos have drawn extensive media attention, but the actual rise of the group itself has been over a decade in the making.
To that end, Ntrepid analysts decided to leverage Timestream to visually organize the Islamic State’s long-term evolution in the hopes of informing the discourse surrounding the group and the conflicts in Syria and Iraq more broadly. The resulting analysis, which is publicly available, highlights a number of key elements that precipitated the Islamic State’s rise. Moreover the data-rich Timestream case, also publicly available, can serve as the basis for future analyses on the Islamic State as it continues its dramatic rise this year and in the years to come.