Islamic State Update

By Eric Shih

It has been awhile since we heard about the Islamic State on the news. The last time when ISIS received a large amount of U.S. media and public attention was the Las Vegas shooting that took place on October 1, 2017. The tragic event left 58 people dead and more than 500 people injured. Since then, the terror group has not yet made any public statements or threats. That is certainly a good thing but not knowing what is going on can make the public worried. Many are wondering what is happening in the Islamic State currently, and why are people not talking about them as much anymore? Here are some possible explanations to those questions.

On November 21, 2017, the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani declared the defeat of the Islamic State in Syria. [1] The Syrian army had regained control over Albu Kamal, which is a city located in eastern Syria near the border with Iraq. Regaining control in the city of Albu Kamal is very significant in the war against the Islamic state because it is the last major ISIS territory in Syria. Even though the Islamic state has not yet lost complete control in the Middle East, their territory and military power have been reduced dramatically. Since 2015 the terror group has lost nearly all its territory in Iraq, and now only holds a shrinking patch of small desert villages in the southeast corner of Syria along the Euphrates River. [2]

On top of losing their last major city in Syria, the Islamic State seems to be facing a financial crisis. Unlike many of the other terrorist groups, ISIS does not generate their income internationally. Instead, they fund their “state” through criminal activities in their own territory. At their height of power, terrorist group earned most of its income from selling stolen oil from the territories it conquered. According to Business Insider in 2015, “The Islamic State rakes in up to $50 million a month from selling crude from oilfields under its control in Syria and Iraq”. [3] This substantial income was the main way the group had maintained its military power. They spend this money towards recruiting foreign fighters, buying weapons, and funding their government services. Since ISIS has lost most of its land in Iraq and Syria, however, they are no longer capable of generating massive amount of income from oil like in the past. They are now relying more on looting their own territory and other criminal activities, such as kidnapping and ransom, to bring in money. Though ISIS can no longer sustain their military power, they do not seem be giving up and going away.

Because it does not exist on a battlefield in the Middle East, ISIS continues to use the internet for propaganda and recruitment. Members of the terror group post videos to YouTube to draw public attention to their cause and their war efforts. They also exploit social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook to both communicate and recruit new members. After reaching out to interested individuals, ISIS promoters send contacts to an actual recruiter. According to NY Daily News’s Mike Rogers, recruiters either encourage individuals to fly to the Middle East and join the war, or direct them to launch individual terrorist attacks wherever they are. [4] The group has claimed several high profile suicide attacks by it member, such as Paris terror attack in 2015 and the Las Vegas shooting in 2017. There have been speculations that the news media are intentionally reducing coverage on ISIS for that reason. French new papers La Monde and La Croix decided to stop using images of the terrorist group, and European radio stations not longer broadcast about the group. These acts are in hope to stop the terrorist organization from receiving public attention, and the possible effects of posthumous glorification. [5]

Fortunately, major indicators suggest that the collapse of ISIS as a terror state is immanent. Since the group formed in 2011, the world has been restless and fearful. According to reports, more than 1,200 people have been killed outside of the ISIS war zone. These deaths are caused by terror attacks in different forms in all continents. More than 18,800 innocent civilians have been killed in Iraq because of the war up to 2016. [6] Until this point, we cannot get a close estimate of how many people in total have died because of ISIS. The number is surely going to be shocking and difficult to bear as a society. The Islamic State has brought nothing but evil, violence, and fear to our world. We pray that this war in the Middle East will end soon, and that others do not soon take its place. Millions of innocent people await peace.

[1] Dyfed Leosche and Felix Richter, “Iran’s President has Declared the End of the Islamic State,” Business Insider (November 21, 2017): Accessed November 29, 2017. http://www.businessinsider.com/iran-president-hassan-rouhani-isis-over-2017-11.

[2] “Islamic State and the Crisis in Iraq and Syria in Maps,” BBC News (November 28, 2017): Accessed November 29, 2017. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-27838034.

[3] Hamza Hendawi and Qassim Abdul-Zahra, “ISIS is Making up to $50 Million a Month from Oil Sales,” Business Insider (October 23, 2015): Accessed November 12, 2017. http://www.businessinsider.com/isis-making-50-million-a-month-from-oil-sales-2015-10.

[4] Mike Rogers, “How ISIS Uses the Internet to Recruit New Members,” NY Daily News (September 6, 2017): Access November 12, 2017. http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/isis-internet-recruit-members-hint-kittens-article-1.3473890.

[5] Julian Borger, “French Media to Stop Publishing Photos and Names of Terrorists,” The Guardian (July 27, 2016): Access November 30, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/media/2016/jul/27/french-media-to-stop-publishing-photos-and-names-of-terrorists

[6] Karen Yourish, Derek Watkins, Tom Giratikanon, and Jasmine Lee, “How Many People have been Killed in ISIS Attacks Around the World,” New York Times (July 16, 2016): Access November 26, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/03/25/world/map-isis-attacks-around-the-world.html.

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