Likes Al Qaeda ISIS


Ghiath Bilal

grew up in Damascus, studied in Germany and works in business development and as a strategic analyst.

The Islamic State has developed over the years. Unlike al-Qaeda, he is striving for local rule. And has developed appropriate structures to consolidate his power.

The IS caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, on December 2nd, 2014. (& copy picture-alliance / AP)

The origins and developments of the current jihadist organizations in the Middle East can be traced schematically through three interrelated processes. The most extreme form, the "Islamic State", arose in response to the US-led attacks on Iraq and as a result of the subsequent occupation. Under despotic regime cliques, the rampant anarchic conditions and human rights violations, armed combat groups with their Islamic liberation or retaliation rhetoric were able to emerge, flourish and gain following beyond their local context. In the various stages of development, certain leaders appeared in different places, who at the same time produced their own generations of jihadist fighters and set their own ideological accents, strategies and tactics. The leaders of the first generation include Abdullah Azzam and Osama bin Laden, who initially founded the al-Qaida organization. At the time, this was the result of the combination of three different components:
  1. The Wahhabi Salafism of Saudi Arabia (Osama bin Laden), coupled with
  2. adopting dynamic structures from the Muslim Brotherhood (Abdullah Azam) and to the
  3. Neo-Jihadist Movement from Egypt (Aiman ​​az-Zawahiri).
The result was the emergence of the first national jihadist organization. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi stands for the second generation of jihadists and has been an al-Qaida representative in Iraq since 2003.

The regional branch of al-Qaeda in Iraq developed in several successive stages until the organization "Islamic State in Iraq and Syria" emerged. In the summer of 2014 (June 29, 2014) she proclaimed the revival of the "Islamic Caliphate" in the regions that were under her control. Thus the IS or ISIS represents the third generation of the so-called jihadist groups.

How have these organizations evolved over time? What strategy have the respective management generations pursued and what structures have they created?

Development of the strategy and the goals

First generation
The former head and founder of al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, declared unceremoniously: "We are conducting a jihad against the crusaders and Jews". He was referring to the largely formerly colonized countries of the Near and Middle East, so-called "western and Zionist imperialism" and not the religions as such. Al-Qaeda thus hit a sensitive nerve that had turned into widespread dissatisfaction with the regimes there and outside interference.

To this end, al-Qaeda and its subsidiary organizations developed a clear strategy of dynamic attack based on the principle of mutual deterrence by setting up network-like and at the same time flexible structures through which they could painfully attack the enemy anywhere in the world and then quickly withdraw . This has become particularly clear in the following attacks and attacks carried out by al-Qaeda:
  • World Trade Center in New York in 1993
  • Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996
  • US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania 1998
  • US ship Cole in Aden, Yemen, in 2000
The type of attacks at the time had been made in direct response to the presence of American forces in the Gulf region, and because of the ongoing tyranny and undemocratic governance in the Arab region. In the years that followed, these framework conditions meant that the jihadist organizations were able to continuously gain strength with new members who initially wanted to support their attacks as - from their perspective - legitimate acts of defense and retaliation.

Second generation
In 2003 az-Zarqawi resorted to his old network from Herat / Afghanistan and founded a new group that was later called "al-Tawheed wa al-Jihad". On October 8, 2004, this group joined al-Qaeda. It was then renamed "Qaida al-Jihad in Bilad al-Rafedeen", in German "the base of jihad in Mesopotamia". Since then, this group has seen itself as a kind of branch of al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Zarqawi's objectives have gradually evolved over time: from the originally envisaged liberation of Iraq from American occupation to the overthrow of the Shiite government there. Ultimately, this has resulted in a far-reaching struggle to "establish an Islamic state". Much of the unscrupulous and unbridled nature of the struggle they waged has resulted in skirmishes with other Islamic groups, first between Sunni and Shiite camps and finally into an all-out struggle between various Sunni and Shiite factions.

In the course of time, therefore, it became increasingly questionable whether the group around az-Zarqawi still saw itself as a sub-unit of al-Qaeda or whether it was led and viewed as such. The evaluation of information from the PC used by bin Laden after his death provided numerous indications of the tense relations between the leaders of al-Qaeda and the movement with the self-designation "al-Tawhid wa-l-Jihad". The split initially persisted on an ideological level, was mostly carried out behind the scenes and therefore rarely appeared in public.

Nevertheless, the fighting among various Muslim groups diluted the originally proclaimed "fight against the crusaders and the Jews" and was superimposed by the fact that it had in fact become a bloody battle among various Muslim groups. Internal ideological conflicts also weakened the cohesion among the radical Islamist parties operating within the framework of the movement. Through this internal division of the individual jihadist groups, two further currents developed in 2012 and 2013, which we are currently familiar with under the names "Jebhet al-Nusra" and "Islamic State".

However, Zarqawi had already been killed in June 2006 and initially left behind a stable and agile organization. In October 2006 his successor (Abu Omar al-Baghdadi) announced the programmatic establishment of "the Islamic State in Iraq". The founding of a Sunni state on Iraqi soil was named as a strategic direction under his leadership in order to win further supporters among the Sunni population, which has been severely disadvantaged since 2003.

Third generation

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi took over after Abu Omar al-Baghdadi was killed by American forces in April 2010. During this phase, the focus of the fighters was primarily on gaining ground. The movement was increasingly concerned with gaining power, gaining influence and local resources. In doing so, they were directed against all other groups that were active in the corresponding areas. For a long time, the focus was no longer on Iraqi territory, but went beyond it, so that fighting on Syrian soil aimed firstly at the conquest of areas with larger oil or food resources or, secondly, at cities of strategic importance (administrative centers or proximity to border crossings) and thirdly, localities that could pave the way for future expansion. Al-Baghdadi finally declared war on all those jihadist fighters who did not share their own ideas. The consequence of this attitude was that one no longer wanted to attach importance to the cohesion with other Islamic currents in the fight against the foreign enemy.

Development history of the IS

The IS and its supporters are currently organized in a flexible manner. They are no longer hiding in the mountains and caves of Afghanistan and Yemen, but rather use structures that are made up of elements of modern government and ideological mafia groups and movements.

As stated earlier, the phenomenon of so-called "Islamic States" is the most recent development within jihadist groups in the Middle East. Its roots go back to the group of "al-Tawheed wa al-Jihad" founded in 2003 by Abu Musab az-Zarqawi. In order to adequately explain the current structures of the so-called "Islamic State", the lines of development of the group around az-Zarqawi are presented in the following section.
Overview: Islamic State (& copy bpb)

The Herat structure of "Tawheed wa-l-Jihad"

As already mentioned, az-Zarqawi used his old networks from Herat / Afghanistan to found a new group, which was later renamed "al-Tawheed wa al-Jihad". The ideological-religious source of ideas for this group was "Abu Abdullah al-Muhajer", who was known as the teacher of az-Zarqawi in Afghanistan. At that time the Zarqawi group had developed a simple structure with a so-called Shura council, which practically had the management and instruction function of the association and five The military, media, security, finance, and fatwa committee.

On October 8, 2004, this group officially joined al-Qaeda, which was to be reflected in the self-designation "Al-Qaeda al-Jihad in Bilad al-Rafedeen". In order to make the leadership of his organization independent of his person and to maintain its structure in the event of his killing, Zarqawi appointed his companion Abu Abd al-Rahman al-Iraqi as a deputy. Most of the most important posts were occupied by non-Iraqis, the so-called (immigrant) al-Muhajireen.

As a rule, the group management made its own decisions about military operations and other on-site operations, without consulting the overarching al-Qaida headquarters. The agility guaranteed in this way enabled the military apparatus to grow rapidly and to include various brigades and so-called specialist groups, such as the so-called strategy group, which was able to collect and process information about people and targets.

Although Zarqawi was killed two years later, in June 2006, the stability of the strengthened organization was not endangered. Quite the opposite: His followers, under the leadership of his successor Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, tackled major goals by proclaiming the so-called "Islamic State in Iraq" in October 2006, in which they proclaimed themselves the first government. In 2009 the group announced the second government. On closer inspection, working groups are hidden behind these grandiose proclamations and self-designations, whereby there is hardly any more detailed information about the actual construction of these so-called governments. In April 2010, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi (Hamed Dawood Mohammed Khalil al Zwai) was finally killed by US forces, so that one month later Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was named as his successor. He was known to have a clever human resource strategy. In addition, he drove the professionalization of large parts of the movement. He also proved to be a pragmatic leader and renamed the groups that were once declared as ministries as councils.

Under his leadership, the most important leadership positions within the organization were filled by Iraqis, the positions supporting them by the so-called al-Muhajireen. In this way, numerous old Iraqi Ba'ath officers of the overturned Saddam regime came to the head of the organization, such as Haji Bakr and Abd al-Rahman Bilawi, which was ultimately reflected in the general conduct of the movement. Because the administrator Paul Bremer, then appointed by the US government, had dissolved the Iraqi army and the secret service apparatus in one fell swoop, hundreds of thousands of government supporters employed there lost their posts. In the jihadist movements, not only ordinary soldiers but also important officers and strategists found refuge and new prospects for the future, especially in ISIS. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi gave very many former Ba'ath officers top positions so that they could now use their experience there and also take revenge for their demotion.

The muhajereen from the Arabian Gulf have meanwhile been placed in the Sharia body, most jihadists from the West can be found in the media sections of the organization. The following complex structure could develop from this:
Caliph (& copy bpb)


The so-called caliph is the decisive leading figure of the organization with far-reaching competencies and decision-making powers. He leads the council and brings together its various committees, which represent the most important members within the framework of IS and lead its work in the various fields of action. Baghdadi, as the current "caliph", thus decides in the last instance on the appointment and dismissal of the heads of individual bodies, after he has sought advice from the Shura, which does not seem to be binding.
Schura-Rat license: cc by-nd / 3.0 / de (CC)

The Shura Council

The council has between nine and eleven members appointed by al-Baghdadi. At the moment, the Shura Council is again headed by Abu Arkan al-Ammery, who also advises the caliph in general. In theory, the Shura Council can remove the caliph. One of the bodies of the Shura Council is a Sharia committee. The latter is made up of six members, who in turn are directed by al-Baghdadi. This committee can theoretically propose a caliph as his successor if he is no longer able to govern, and it monitors the work of the other bodies in the council.
Wise Men’s Council License: cc by-nd / 3.0 / de (CC)

The Council of Wise Men

This council represents a concept introduced by classical scholars within the Islamic tradition. Members include tribal leaders, great scholars, prominent leaders, and other influential people from various walks of life. The council plays an important role in the communication between the IS and the people. Its people provide the IS with the necessary legitimation and recognition within various circles of the population and carry its politics into the midst of the population.
Sharia Commission License: cc by-nd / 3.0 / de (CC)

The Sharia Commission

The Sharia Commission is responsible for maintaining the religiously bound ideological framework on which the legitimacy of the state is based. Details are given about their members
  • regulates the work of courts by nominating judges and by acting as a kind of high court in major disputes
  • supervised the work of so-called Sharia guards
  • the media area is monitored and the spread of their extremist Islamic ideology is controlled
. Its current leader is called Abu Mohamed al-Anie. Most of the key figures come from neighboring countries in the Arabian Gulf.
Media Commission License: cc by-nd / 3.0 / de (CC)

The media commission

The media commission must communicate the decisions of the IS internally and externally. Through her persuasive work, she ensures a constant supply of Mujahideen fighters and financial supporters. It also acts as a point of contact, e.g. for Western governments and various international actors.

Her widely ramified work comprises over 30 subunits, the most important of which are al-Furqan, al-Itissam and al-Hayat. In the past two years, several films have been produced in English about them with very high quality, which suggests that the work is professionalized.
  • Most of the supporters from the western world are employed in the media commission.
  • She regularly publishes online magazines such as al-Dabiq that reach far beyond her following.
  • Several radio stations are operated via them, such as "al-Bayan" in Mosul and al-Raqqa.
  • She maintains numerous online blogs, through which her messages are translated into several languages ​​worldwide.
Budget Commission License: cc by-nd / 3.0 / de (CC)

The budget commission
This commission, under the current leadership of Mustafa Mohammad Karmush, administers the income and monitors the organization's expenditure on monetary receipts. The income of the IS comes from different sources of money:
  • Taxes and Fees
  • donate
  • Management of conquered, still intact businesses
  • Oil resources: IS captured several oil and gas fields in al-Raqqa, al-Hassaka and Deir-A‘Zor.
  • Grain and cotton
  • Factories: IS captured several factories in Sheikh Najjar and Aleppo.
  • Ransoms and extortion of protection money
  • Art trade: IS stole antique statues from the National Museum in al-Nabak and sold them.
Military Council License: cc by-nd / 3.0 / de (CC)

The military council

The military council consists of 9 to 13 members and is headed by the second deputy of al-Baghdadi, since June 2014 Abu Muslim al-Terkmani (Fadel al-Hayali). He replaced Abu Abd Alrahman al-Bilawi (Adnan al-Bilawi), who was appointed from January-June 2014, previously Haji Baker (Samir al-Khliefawi), both of whom were killed in Syria in the fight against the rebels.
  • The council consists of so-called kateh leaders (قاطع). Each of the 9-13 Kateh consists of three brigades. Each brigade consists of 300 to 350 fighters.
  • The council also includes several specialist groups that are responsible for areas such as strategic planning, suicide bombings, women and weapons production.
Security Council License: cc by-nd / 3.0 / de (CC)

Security Council

Most of the members of the Security Council are ex-Iraqi intelligence officers. The head of this apparatus is now Abu Ali al-Anbari and instructs several specialist groups that take care of the following tasks:
  • Protection of the caliphate
  • Protection of the organization from infiltration
  • Observation of the actions of IS leaders
  • Postal services
  • A special unit for kidnappings and targeted assassinations
Civil director license: cc by-nd / 3.0 / de (CC)

The Civil Board of Directors
The territory conquered and administered by IS currently covers a wide area, which it divided into 16 so-called "Wilaya" in the sense of administrative units. Each wilaya was in turn divided into several "katehs" (circles). Each kateh manages multiple cities and suburbs.

For every Wilaya there is
  1. a wali who can be understood as a kind of governor
  2. a so-called military Amir, as a military leader
  3. a security amir
  4. a Sharia Amir
  5. a media office.
The same structure can also be found for the respective Katehs and in the cities, so that it fans out further and further downwards. There is a representative of the caliph for civil administration.

This apparatus manages the bureaucratic affairs of the daily life of the civilian population. Recently he even issued modern ID cards for the organization employees. There the marriage is documented, new births are registered and the prices and the delivery of the food are checked.

The IS tries to establish modern systems. For example, he contacted an expert in this area who works in the Syrian opposition government and offered him around three times his salary plus several privileges so that he could act as an advisor to them.


Overall, from a closer look at the current way of organization of IS and its leading figures, it can be concluded that this is an Iraqi organization that has taken its territorial anchor in Iraq and is gradually developing from there and spreading its rule over various countries could. The optimal framework conditions for their expansion did not arise for the IS until the growing instability and the bloody fighting in Syria.

The main leaders of today's IS are guided by the idea of ​​having to reintroduce "Islamic rule". This idea goes hand in hand with the conviction that this can only be achieved through recourse to a criminal law that is more than 1000 years old, including the drastic enforcements imposed at the time. At the same time, they make use of the instruments of modern nation-states that subject the individual to complete control and restrict his or her freedom of rights. Using appropriate power-maintaining tools, they create the possibilities and capacities to control the value system of the societies to be governed or to manipulate them with the modern tools available. To this end, ISIS uses the media, the education system and the local central legislation in an extremely effective manner to instill its ideas in the population groups it governs.

In its current form, the so-called Islamic State combines organizational structural elements of the bureaucratized and professionalized division of tasks in modern state systems on the one hand with mafia-like structures or a patronage and clientele system on the other hand that corresponds well with the existing tribal cultures of the region. Nevertheless, IS is not a regional phenomenon, but rather the product of instability and despotism there, a product of globalization, which in turn relies heavily on modern communication technologies and supraregional networks.

Literature / sources

The information in this article comes from various sources and is correct as of the end of 2014. The main sources are listed below:

Development of the strategy and the goals:
  1. "The Wikileaks phenomenon among jihadist groups", Ghiath Bilal’s blog, Sept. 29, 2014
  2. "Al-Qaeda was yesterday," Zenith-Online, August 31, 2014.
  3. "How Al-Qaeda is splitting in Syria", Zenith-Online, April 11, 2014.
  4. Information about ISIS leaked from social networks such as:
Development history of the IS:
  1. "The structure of IS", AL Jazeera center for studies, Hasan Abu Hanieh, November 2014
  2. "The Daily Life of a Jihadist", The Daily Book of Abu Anas AL Shami
  3. "The structure of ISIS", AL Mada newspaper ، June 15, 2014
  4. Information obtained from interviews with confidential anonymous sources that could not be published.