Accessibility links

Breaking News

Book on Islamic State Details Group’s Evolution

Hassan Hassan, shown in this photo illustration, is co-author of 'ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror.'

The terrorist organization that calls itself the Islamic State promotes an extreme brand of Islam, preaching an ideology of hatred and fear to recruit young Muslims and other followers to its intended caliphate in the Middle East.

"ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror" traces the group's evolution from a nearly defeated Iraqi insurgent faction into a jihadi army of local and foreign volunteers that controls a territory the size of Great Britain. ISIS is among the names by which the group is known.

The book, by Syrian analyst Hassan Hassan and U.S. journalist Michael Weiss, also reveals how ISIS recruits, governs and guards itself from potential bottom-up rebellions.

Hassan is an analyst with The Delmar Institute, a research center in the United Arab Emirates. He spoke with VOA last week at the Woodrow Wilson Center, a Washington think tank.

VOA: How did this terrorist group evolve?

Hassan: There is a tendency to think that ISIS was created one year or two years ago, but it has been in existence for 11 years, in fact.

It was a product of the Iraq War as it evolved from a small group within the Iraqi insurgency into a homegrown organization dominated by Iraqis. It was remodeled to be the Islamic State in Iraq ISI.

In 2007, the U.S. military and the Iraqi Sunnis worked together to fight against the group and successfully forced it out to the Anbar desert. Following the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, the Iraqi government became sectarian, so Sunnis start to drift toward such radical groups.

After the Arab Spring [which took off in early 2011], especially the Syrian uprising, ISIS [one of the acronyms for the group] benefited from the power vacuum, chaos and the grievances of the Syrian people to rebrand itself as an Islamic caliphate or the Islamic State.

What role did the Syrian regime play in facilitating ISIS’ expansion inside Syria?

FILE - A man holds a baby who survived what activists say was an airstrike by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Masaken Hanano in Aleppo, Feb. 14, 2014.
FILE - A man holds a baby who survived what activists say was an airstrike by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Masaken Hanano in Aleppo, Feb. 14, 2014.

[Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s] regime allowed ISIS to grow and prosper in Syria. For example: When ISIS controlled Raqqa province in 2013, Assad forces did not bomb ISIS bases even after its fighters painted government buildings with black. There is evidence that the regime had agreements with ISIS to share oil and service provision within the black market.

For a year, the Assad regime allowed ISIS to grow and operate. And when ISIS was fighting other Syrian rebels, the regime would seize the opportunity and start bombing the rebels.

Can you explain the relationship between ISIS and the former officers of Saddam Hussein?

The top leadership in ISIS is dominated by former Baathist officials who served with Saddam Hussein. They are either security or intelligence officers, so ISIS is benefiting from their expertise to create a formidable group able of sending spies and ears and eyes to neighboring countries to preempt any move against ISIL.

How did ISIS manage to recruit young Muslims even from Western communities?

For misled people, ISIS ideology is very invigorating and electrifying. It presents itself as the Islamic State promised by the Prophet Muhammad and the Islamic history. As a group that controlled areas in Syria and Iraq, ISIS has established itself as a resilient group.… So people outside the conflict zones are misled and they gravitate toward ISIS because they are detached from reality.