Nation & World

The fight against ISIS: 10 things to know

Justin Hughes from Atlanta holds a sign during a WWE Survivor Series performance at Philips Arena on Sunday, Nov. 22, 2015 in Atlanta. Reports surfaced several days ago that the terrorist group ISIS had planned a terrorist attack at the show, as well as in several other U.S. cities.
Justin Hughes from Atlanta holds a sign during a WWE Survivor Series performance at Philips Arena on Sunday, Nov. 22, 2015 in Atlanta. Reports surfaced several days ago that the terrorist group ISIS had planned a terrorist attack at the show, as well as in several other U.S. cities. AP

ISIS is on a lot of minds after the deadly attacks in Paris and the recent debate about the plight of Syrian refugees.

Sixty-three percent of Americans in a Reuters poll said they’re afraid a Paris-like attack could happen near them.

Seventeen percent of the 1,483 people polled named terrorism as their biggest concern — compared to 9 percent who worried about it in October.

Here’s a quick ISIS primer to bring you up to speed on the organization that New York magazine has described as “so vicious Al Qaeda wants nothing to do with them.”

ISIS is responsible for nearly 1,000 civilian deaths outside of Iraq and Syria since January.

1. The last two months have been particularly deadly

ISIS attacks have killed more than 500 people outside Syria and Iraq in just the last two months, according to NBC.

The death toll: More than 120 in the Paris attacks, 224 in a Russian plane above Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, more than 100 in Turkey and almost 40 in Beirut.

Including the Paris killings and the explosion of the Russian plane, ISIS would be responsible for nearly 1,000 civilian deaths outside of Iraq and Syria since January, according to The New York Times.

Among intelligence experts, the choreographed Paris attacks signal a dangerous departure from the group’s typical low-tech, lone-wolf assaults.

2. Why President Obama referred to ISIS as “Daesh”

After the Paris attacks, several world leaders, including French President Francois Hollande, used the term “Daesh” to refer to ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria), which is also known as ISIL.

They’re poking the bear by using that word.

Daesh is a loose acronym for the Islamic State's proper Arabic name and was used by ISIS members until the group “rebranded” over the summer. Now the group apparently considers the word so offensive that anyone who uses it risks having their tongue cut out.

“I will be calling them the ‘Daesh cutthroats,’ ” said France’s defiant and angry Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.

3. What the world is doing about ISIS

Since August 2014, the U.S. military and an international coalition of nations have conducted more than 8,125 targeted airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, according to Department of Defense statistics.

The United States has conducted the majority of those strikes - more than 6,000 — at a cost of $5 billion, according to government figures.

At least a dozen nations have participated in the strikes, including Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Jordan, the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and France.

Since the Paris attacks, the French have conducted three waves of airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria. French officials have promised more strikes against Raqqa in Syria, the group’s de facto capital.

Raqqa has been under heavy bombardment over the last three days; raids by the U.S.-led coalition and Russia have reportedly killed close to three dozen militants.

Twitter, Facebook and YouTube have become a cyberspace battleground used by ISIS and its foes.

4. Anonymous hackers are “at war,” too

Turning Twitter into a cyberspace battleground, the hacking collective Anonymous declared “war” on ISIS after the Paris attacks and launched its “biggest operation ever.”

It says it has already shut down more than 5,000 Twitter accounts and websites belonging to the extremists. The group has also begun leaking personal information about suspected terrorists and ISIS recruiters.

ISIS responded by proclaiming themselves the “owners of the virtual world” and by calling Anonymous hackers “idiots.”

Tech-savvy ISIS uses the Internet and mainstream platforms including Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to distribute information and market the group’s work. Members know how to write code, and hack, too.

ISIS sent out a call to its followers on the messaging app Telegram — apparently popular with the terrorists — “to unite (their) profile pictures on Twitter” with an image of a black shoe print on the French flag.

ISIS also sent out a message in Arabic promising more response to Anonymous and its helpers.

Game on.

5. Anonymous wants your help

Anonymous is recruiting the public’s help in finding and reporting ISIS websites and ISIS-affiliated Twitter accounts.

The group hopes that crowdsourcing will make some of its more time-consuming work go faster.

“Your contribution means a lot and we encourage you to partake in all of the Op’s activities if you can, the more the merrier,” one Anonymous member told Yahoo! News.

For more info, click here.

6. How big is ISIS?

The group’s size is unclear, though a universal estimate suggests there are 10,000 ISIS fighters. The group claims to have thousands of foreign volunteers, some from Europe and the United States.

British media have reported that ISIS is recruiting non-Arab members with English-language videos and magazines.

7. Who leads ISIS?

Several of the group’s top leaders have been killed, including the No. 2 man in charge, Haji Mutazz, who died in a mid-August drone strike near Mosul, Iraq.

The group’s current leader is a 40-something Iraqi named Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who assumed control in May 2010. He was rumored to have been killed in a March air strike by the U.S.-led coalition, but those reports appear unfounded.

His nickname is “the invisible sheikh” because he wears a mask when he addresses his commanders.

The Belgian jihadi suspected of masterminding deadly attacks in Paris was killed in a police raid on a suburban apartment building, the Paris prosecutor’s office announced Thursday.

ISIS has declared itself a caliphate, a form of Islamic government led by a caliph.

8. What does ISIS want?

One goal is to create a new radical Islamist state, combining parts of Syria and Iraq.

Today it controls hundreds of square miles — “a nation-sized tract of territory,” according to The Washington Post —all the way from Syria’s Mediterranean coast to south of Baghdad.

ISIS runs its own version of “government” in the towns it has seized, running its own courts, schools and services.

Odd note: CNN reported that in Raqqa, ISIS launched its own consumer protection agency to monitor food standards.

The group’s black-and-white flag flies over much of what it it controls.

9. What else does it want?

Some believe ISIS wants to create chaos.

Harleen Gambhir, an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, tells the New York Times that not only does ISIS want to build relationships with jihadists who can carry out military operations across the Middle East and Africa, it wants to inspire its sympathizers to attack the West.

“The goal is that through these regional affiliates and through efforts to create chaos in the wider world, the organization will be able to expand, and perhaps incite a global apocalyptic war,” said Gambhir.

10. Where it could strike next

Authorities in Belgium virtually locked down Brussels on Sunday as fears of a ISIS attack mounted.

And NBC reports that some intelligence officials are concerned that ISIS has targets in Germany, the United Kingdom and possibly the United States. Top tourist sites in Italy have also been mentioned as targets.

“ISIS has, for whatever reason — whether because they are taking some hits in Iraq and Syria — has made a significant turn to focus on external operations,” one anonymous American intelligence official told NBC. “That's what we're seeing in terms of Sinai, in terms of Beirut and certainly in terms of Paris.”

So far there is little evidence that ISIS operatives are trying to launch attacks here, but security at American targets overseas, including embassies and multinational companies, are being beefed up.