Why ISIS is Different
By Kathryn Chaney
The Islamic State or ISIS, as the world has come to know the extremist group operating in Iraq and Syria, has become the most influential terrorist organization since the 9/11 attacks by Al-Qaeda. ISIS grabbed the world’s attention with its online broadcasted executions and has since carried out attacks, operations, and implemented policies that have altered the foreign policies of countries throughout the international community. However, ISIS’s structure, strategy, and goals differentiate from those of other terrorist organizations, specifically those of its predecessor Al-Qaeda.
Unlike Al-Qaeda, ISIS has a more compact and centralized structure. ISIS established territory in both Syria and Iraq. Moreover, ISIS has the ability to take advantage of the resources within that territory. For example, Foreign Affairs reports that ISIS currently controls approximately 60 percent of the oil in Syria, as well as a large amount of businesses in Syria and Iraq, upon which it levies taxes. According to The Hill, ISIS pulls in funding of one to two million dollars per day. The international community has also seen ISIS’s ability to not only recruit support from within its territory, but from the populations of other countries as well.
ISIS also differentiates from Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations in its strategies. Al-Qaeda’s objectives for their operations were mainly political targets in the western world. These targets were chosen to express Osama bin Laden’s disgust at the continued presence of Western powers in the Middle East following the invasion of Kuwait. In turn, Al-Qaeda targeted attacks on significant buildings in the United States, including the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the Capital.
However, ISIS has taken a different approach from Al-Qaeda and has made a much different statement. As seen in the recent attacks in Paris, ISIS has the tendency to target public places in coordinated simultaneous attacks. Such targets include a concert hall in Paris, a German Soccer Game, and an American Hotel in Mali; all of these attacks targeted an international audience, as citizens of different countries were present at each incident. As a result, ISIS sends the message that no country or person is unreachable. ISIS is able to prey off the feeling of widespread public terror that this message creates.
Furthermore, as seen in their strategies, Al-Qaeda’s goal was to send a message to the western world to stay out of the Middle East. However, the overall goal of ISIS is to create a caliphate that upholds its interpretation of “true” Islamic beliefs. ISIS is one of the first terrorist organizations to attempt to form a caliphate, and the amount of territory and resources under its control makes it a very real possibility.
Therefore, it is imperative that the international community begins to see ISIS not only as a terrorist organization, but as an established and working quasi-state. ISIS is not simply an extremist organization hiding out in the hills of Pakistan, like Al-Qaeda. The Islamic State is an established territory operating on the borders of Europe. They have made quite clear to the
international community their availability of resources and power, and their intention to use them both.