In January, President Barack Obama dismissed the Islamic State (ISIS) as merely a “JV team.” Last week, Obama reversed that position and told NBC News ISIS is “not a JV team.” Similarly, two weeks ago Obama said the Islamic State can be shrunk to “a manageable problem.” Then on Friday, as NBC News reported, “The Obama administration said for the first time Friday that the United States is ‘at war’ with ISIS militants.”
Given the Administration’s contradictory and muddled messages, here, then, are seven ISIS facts:
1. ISIS Began in the 1990s
While the Islamic State may be new to some Americans, as The Atlantic notes, “The group that recently renamed itself simply ‘Islamic State’ has existed under various names and in various shapes since the early 1990s.” The Washington Institute for Near East Policy notes that in its 1999 incarnation, ISIS was known as Jamaat al-Tawhid wa-l-Jihad (JTWJ).
2. ISIS is Led by a Man Released from a U.S. Detention Camp in 2009
The leader of ISIS is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Baghdadi was released from the U.S. detention camp named Camp Bucca near the Kuwaiti border in 2009. When he was freed, Baghdadi reportedly told U.S. Army reservists from Long Island, New York, “I’ll see you guys in New York.”
3. ISIS is the Richest Terror Organization in the World
Through its seizure of oilfields, banks, weapons, and other resources, ISIS has amassed a war chest estimated to total $2 billion, according to NBC News. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) warns that “the threat ISIS poses cannot be overstated.” Feinstein, who has criticized President Barack Obama for being “too cautious” in confronting ISIS, calls the terror group “the most vicious, well-funded and militant terrorist organization we have ever seen.”
4. The Number of ISIS Fighters Has Tripled to 31,500
On Friday, a CIA spokesman told CNN that the Islamic State “can muster between 20,000 and 31,500 fighters across Iraq and Syria.” Months prior, U.S. official put the figure at just 10,000.
5. ISIS has an Estimated 2,000 Westerners in its Ranks
Through its sophisticated social media recruitment and other means, ISIS has successfully recruited 2,000 Westerners–a key terror asset whose passports could allow re-entry into Western countries to carry out attacks. Intelligence reports indicate that over 100 Americans have enlisted as Islamic State fighters. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and other Republican members of Congress have advanced legislation to “revoke their passports and strip them of their U.S. citizenship,” reports the Houston Chronicle. Last week, the Daily Mail reported that at least three Minnesota women have traveled to Syria to assist ISIS fighters. Two American ISIS members have already been killed, both from Minnesota.
6. ISIS Now Controls 35,000 Square Miles in Iraq and Syria
In its drive to expand the caliphate, ISIS now controls 35,000 square miles of territory–an area roughly the size of Indiana. As former Pentagon official Janine Davidson told the New Yorker, “ISIS now controls a volume of resources and territory unmatched in the history of extremist organizations.”
7. In Addition to Beheadings, ISIS Has Carried Out Mass Executions and Rapes
In addition to ISIS’s videotaped beheading of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and British aid worker David Haines, the terror group has slaughtered innocents in mass killings, raped women, abducted thousands of women and girls for use as sex slaves, and, according to the State Department, has forced parents to watch as ISIS terrorists “beat their children to coerce the women into converting to Islam.”