13 intense images of the rise and fall of ISIS, the feared terror group that has re-surged from previous defeats

  • US President Donald Trump declared victory over ISIS on Wednesday, a controversial claim that he used to justify an abrupt and immediate withdrawal from Syria.
  • Though he later walked back this claim, his position is a break from his own State and Defence departments, as well as the US-led coalition in Iraq and Syria.
  • Although the Islamic State caliphate holds nowhere near the territory it once held in Syria and Iraq, it retains a presence in the Middle East.
  • ISIS has weathered previous defeats and gained a loyal, global following of individuals and organisations who have pledged allegiance.
  • This is a short history in images of the rise and decline of the Islamic State.


The origins of the ISIS caliphate stretch back to the US invasion of Iraq, when the destruction of Saddam Hussein’s government fostered the rise of militant groups throughout the country

The US invasion, which caused the government to topple, led to civil disarray. Militant groups became more powerful as a result.

One of the militant groups, led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, is said to have pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden in 2004, and called itself al-Qaeda in Iraq.


Al-Zarqawi orchestrated strings of attacks against coalition forces in Iraq. Up to $US10 million was offered as a reward for his death.


Al-Zarqawi was killed by a US airstrike in 2006, and the group was rebranded by his successors as the Islamic State in Iraq.

Abu Omar al-Baghdadi led the newly formed Islamic State in Syria, also known as the Islamic State in the Levant.


In 2007, US forces overtook the neighbourhood of Baqouba, the then-capital of the IS caliphate, in a weeklong operation.

300 to 500 members of the insurgent group were believed to be operating in Baqouba when US forces overtook the IS in Iraq capital.


IS rebranded again in 2010 under the new leadership of self-proclaimed caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and expanded to become the Islamic State in the Levant.

Also known as the Islamic State in Syria, the IS caliphate in Iraq had suffered major losses before its rebirth.


IS numbers swelled as the militants freed thousands of prisoners throughout Iraq, starting in 2012.

US troops withdrew from Iraq at the end of 2011. This departure and Iraq’s weak and ill-trusted security forces allowed a security vacuum to form that fostered the rise of ISIS.

In 2013, the militants freed at least 500 prisoners from Abu Ghraib, and in 2014 released some 1,500 from prisons in Mosul and Tikrit.

By this time, ISIS had expanded its territory, merging with Al Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda linked terrorist organisation in Syria.


By early 2014, the group made considerable gains: ISIS held Fallujah in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria.

The Islamic State had sprouted tentacles in Iraq and Syria, but was still struggling to gain control, especially in Syria, where it also wrestled with al-Qaeda affiliate Al Nusra Front.


In summer 2014, ISIS controlled Mosul, declared itself a caliphate and proclaimed al-Baghdadi as its caliph.

AP File photoA video posted on a militant website on July 5, 2014 reportedly showed its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi delivering a sermon in his first public appearance in a mosque in Iraq.

The Caliphate of the Islamic State was at its territorial peak in late 2014 through 2015.


In August 2014, ISIS releases a shocking video showing the beheading of American journalist James Foley. It would be the first of many to surface that year.

euronewsISIS released a video showing the execution of American journalist James Foley in August 2014.

In September, ISIS released videos showing the beheadings of American-Israeli journalist Steven Sotloff and British aid worker David Haines.

In October, a video is released showing the beheading of British hostage Alan Henning.

In November, Iraqi officials say ISIS militants executed 322 members of a Sunni tribe. ISIS also released a video showing the beheadings of a dozen Syrian soldiers and American hostage Peter Kassig.


At its territorial height, the Islamic State controlled nearly every major city near the Iraq-Syria border, and had accepted allegiance from satellite groups in Southeast Asia and throughout Africa.

Business Insider / Institute for the Study of War

In 2015, ISIS continued to use graphic brutality to recruit and to threaten foes, releasing several videos depicting executions.

One video showed a Jordanian pilot as they burned him alive in a cage. Another showed a man, accused of being gay, thrown off of a building.


Throughout 2015, Iraqi troops started retaking major cities: Ramadi, Fallujah, and Tikrit paved the way for the Battle for Mosul


By October 2017, US troops and Kurdish allies regained control of Raqqa, Syria

By late 2017, both Iraqi and Syrian officials had declared victory over ISIS.


On Wednesday, US President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of American forces from Syria, proclaiming ISIS had been defeated

Trump withdrew the claim the next day, saying that all remaining ISIS threats would be handled by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

His position breaks from those of his own Defence and State departments, as well as the US-led coalition in Iraq and Syria. The withdrawal order also reportedly provoked Defence Secretary Jim Mattis to tender his resignation.

The militant group may have lost its territorial caliphate, but it retains a presence in the Middle East and a loyal following around the globe. Many experts agree that its days as a terror organisation are far from over.

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