Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
“IS you ISIS or ISIL you ain't my baby?”
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), or alternatively the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), recently abbreviated to The Islamic State (IS), or what Snoop Dogg called For ISIL My Nizzle, or what some Muslims propose calling the Un-Islamic State, previously known variously as the State, as well as al-Qaeda in Iraq, not to mention the Islamic State of Iraq, and it would be rude not to include the Game of Thrones-esque The Organization of Jihad's Base in the Country of the Two Rivers, and then there was the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, the short-lived Organisation of Monotheism and Jihad, the more bureaucratic-sounding Mujahideen Shura Council, the somewhat more intuitive al-Qaeda Separatists in Iraq and Syria, the minimalist $ and the rather more plagiaristic 15px ... is the least decisive terrorist group in Jihadi history.
Origins in Pennsylvania
The group was formed in 1965 by half brothers James and Timothy Bradman in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was founded in response to the growing civil rights movement in the US, and largely espoused white separatist policies.
Timothy originally proposed calling the group Penn State, but James had been abused by the football coach at the college of the same name during a fraternity dance, and so the two settled on, simply, The State.
Matters were complicated a week later when the brothers' mother died. Julia Bradman revealed on her deathbed that Timothy was actually the product of an extra-marital affair she had had with a black steel-miner.
James immediately disowned his brother and barred him from the group.
Activities during Cold War
The State rumbled on for several years, with its numbers (number) in no danger of swelling. After the assassination of various black leaders, however, its focus on protecting Pennsylvania shifted from black people to Communists. James Bradman began preaching outside the local shopping mall about the imminent danger of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union, and met Burhanuddin Najibullah, an Afghan-American immigrant with a deep-seated loathing for all things Russian.
Najibullah's role in the organisation was initially small - chiefly consisting of bringing Bradman a complimentary Little Tree air freshener from the carwash where he worked, and swapping Russian reversal jokes over coffee. However, towards the end of the decade, when Bradman was hit by a stroke in 1979 - the same year in which the Soviets invaded Najibullah's native Afghanistan - the State's destiny changed.
Najibullah single-handedly represented the State against the Russians in Afghanistan. Despite fighting bravely, he was always treated by the Afghans as an "American" outsider. They even mockingly gave him a tacky gold-plated dollar sign necklace. As Najibullah did not know of an effective way to translate "State" into Pashto, the organisation briefly adopted the $ sign as its name as a bold riposte to his comrades' teasing, although he failed to recruit any new members.
It was here that Najibullah met Sammy, a Saudi Arabian volunteer who spoke English. The two got on like a
house skyscraper on fire, and Sammy explained that the Americans were supplying weapons and intelligence to Pakistan, who in turn were using contacts within Sammy's family, the Bin Ladens, to bring everything to the front line.
During the 1980s, Sammy would become a big cheese in Afghanistan. He formed Maktab al-Khidamat, an organisation which funnelled money, arms and fighters from around the Arab world into Afghanistan. Sammy was a growing influence on Najibullah's group's views. When Najibullah explained to Sammy that he was primarily in favour of keeping Russians out of a) Pennsylvania and b) Afghanistan, Sammy replied that this was a start, but what he really should work towards was a kind of Muslim super-state, called a caliphate.
Place at the formation of al-Qaeda
Sadly, Sam's vision was not shared by the Afghan soldiers he was helping. They insisted all foreign volunteers - Sammy and Najibullah included - fight in their own ethnically divided divisions while Sammy wanted a more inclusive approach. Well, except for non-Muslims. And non-Shias.
As a result, Sammy decided to abandon the cause and form his own group, al-Qaeda. Sammy was reluctant to join up without first getting in contact with old Jimmy Bradman, but he did go so far as to accompany Sammy in his desertion, and agreed to change his organisation's symbol from the undesirably American $ to the more ambiguous 15px symbol, which Sam had told him was a mix of a sword and the Muslim crescent moon sign.
Historians often blame the adoption of this symbol, whose pronunciation remains disputed, for the consequent confusion over Najibullah's group's name. When Sam secured Najibullah and three friends a passage into Iraq so they could a Shia uprising in a village of 500 people, many local news authorities chose differing names to describe group which inflicted numerous wedgies and noogies on the locals, including al-Qaeda in Iraq.
1990s: deaths in the family
James Bradman finally gave up the ghost 21 March 1990, with Jerry Sandusky at his bedside, presumably making sure he didn't spill the beans. The following year Najibullah was hit by a lawsuit by American pop sensation Prince who accused him of breach of copyright over his group's logo. The case was ultimately settled out of court, but it took its toll on Najibullah, now 64, and he died of a heart attack in Iraq's only Taco Bell.
The group was thus inherited by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was only vaguely aware of being one of its three surviving members. Unconvinced by its name, he redubbed it The Organization of Monotheism and Jihad (JTJ) in 1999, believing the group could benefit for "a new name for the new millennium".
2000s: 9/11 and civil war
The group lost contact with Sammy, the reason for which became apparent in September 2001. The JTJ had a hard time reconciling their rather old-fashioned suppression of Iraqi shias with their old friend's more outlandish crashing-of-planes-into-American-buildings, but they were impressed by his ambition.
In October 2004, the group leader managed to get Sam's email address, and swore loyalty to him on MSN. They changed the name of the group to Tanẓīm Qāʻidat al-Jihād fī Bilād al-Rāfidayn, The Organization of Jihad's Base in the Country of the Two Rivers after Sam pointed out that "monotheism" ran the risk of making the group sound overly-inclusive, and could lead to Jews and Christians trying to join.
However, Sam's relationship with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was strained. It turned out that Abu - while competent at beating country peasants with sticks - was not made for the volatile state that was Iraq in the 21st century. A number of tactical blunders - including the assassination of a Liberian dignitary when al-Qaeda were gunning for folks from Libya, meant that the group was absorbed into an union of Iraqi insurgents called the Mujahideen Shura Council.
Al-Zarqawi was killed in June 2006 after falling down an open manhole, and the group's direction shifted again.
2010s: rise and rebranding
The Mujahideen Shura Council joined with four more insurgent factions and the representatives of a number of Iraqi Arab tribes, bringing the combined group to a total of 21 men. Together, they swore to:
a) free Iraq's Sunnis from what they described as Shia and foreign oppression,
b) further the name of Allah and restore Islam to glory and
c) watch - in a nod to their origins - as many Pittsburgh Steelers games as possible.
After a tiresome day of squabbling, games of backgammon and the drawing of straws, the group agreed upon the name: Islamic State of Iraq (ISI).
Abu Abdullah al-Rashid al-Baghdadi became ISI's figurehead leader, with the real power residing with the Egyptian Abu Ayyub al-Masri. Both were killed by poisoned sausages during a hotdog-eating contest in April 2010.
US intelligence suggests it was an internal matter committed by members who were concerned that too many people called "Abu" were at the top.
The next leader of the ISI was, however, called Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He is also the current leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which is the same thing. He deflected attention from "Abu" based criticism, by referring to himself as "The Baker" - a play on his name Bakr. He is often photographed with his ceremonial baguettes, and sporting a Pittsburgh Penguins jersey.
On 8 April 2013, the group adopted the name the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), but were also increasingly known as Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham. The group began to gain notoriety around the world after a number of high-profile beheadings of white people, and both names were used by the media.
While these names still remain in use by some news agencies, many group members pointed out that, given their goal is to set up a Muslim caliphate, such a name would have to be expanded with each conquered country (e.g. Islamic State of Iraq and Iran and the Levant or Islamic State of Iraq and Iran and Egypt and the Levant.)
As a result the group resorted to paying millions to a New York-based PA company, which changed the organisation's name to Islamic State (IS). The move was widely criticised for its cost and the inherent Googling problems of "IS", but at the time of writing remains the group's name.
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