IS threat grows as 'caliphate' enters second year

IS threat grows as 'caliphate' enters second year
PHOTO: AFP

BEIRUT - The Islamic State group's "caliphate" enters its second year Monday with the jihadists expanding their territory in Syria and Iraq and their global reach by claiming attacks in Tunisia and Kuwait.

The extremist group headed by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced on June 29, 2014 that it was reviving a form of Islamic government known as the "caliphate", pledging it would "remain and expand".

In the year since, the group has gained more territory in Syria and Iraq despite an attempted fightback supported by a US-led coalition air campaign.

It has also attracted a string of affiliates - in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Pakistan and elsewhere - and sought to project fear on an international scale.

Last week, the group claimed responsibility for the attack in Tunisia in which 38 people, mostly foreign tourists, were killed at a seaside resort.

And it said it was behind a suicide bomb attack against a Shiite mosque in Kuwait that killed 26 people.

IS also appeared to be the inspiration for an attack in France in which a man rammed his van into a gas factory and beheaded his boss.

"It's not clear that these actions are centrally planned or coordinated by IS," said Yezid Sayegh, a senior associate at the Carnegie Middle East Centre think tank.

"That said, we may be seeing the start of a long campaign conducted by IS members or sympathisers who have been trained and then sent back home to their countries to take their own initiative in planning and conducting attacks, depending on their abilities, resources, and opportunities."

Thousands killed by IS

Already, IS has inspired fear and horror with its rule over territory in Syria and Iraq, where mass killings and brutal executions have become its hallmarks.

The group controls about 50 per cent of Syria's territory, though much of it is uninhabited, and perhaps a third of Iraq.

In Syria alone, it has executed more than 3,000 people in the year since announcing its "caliphate," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said on Sunday.

Nearly 1,800 of them were civilians, including 74 children, it said.

They include more than 200 people killed in the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobane during an IS attack last week, and over 900 members of the Sunni Muslim Shaitat tribe who were killed in 2014 after opposing the jihadist group.

There are no reliable figures in Iraq, but the group is believed to have executed thousands there, including as many as 1,700 mostly Shiite recruits at the Speicher military base near Tikrit.

Thousands more have died battling IS in Syria and Iraq, including Syrian rebels and government forces, Kurdish fighters in both countries, and Iraqi government troops and Shiite militias.

But few of those forces have had much success against the group, with the Iraqi army in particular facing criticism for abandoning territory to IS during a push by the jihadist group in mid-2014.

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