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3.5. Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)

Last update: February 2023

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as ISIS, IS and Daesh, was originally created by the wing of Al Qaeda in Iraq and by smaller Iraqi Sunni insurgent groups. It is an UN and EU designated terrorist organisation aiming to establish a global Islamic caliphate and fostering violent conflict between Muslims and non-Muslims [Actors, 6, p. 59]. ISIL’s strength has been estimated at between 6 000 and 10 000 fighters across Syria and Iraq. [Security 2022, 1.4.6, p. 32]

ISIL in Syria has its centre in the desert south of the Euphrates, called al-Badia, where ISIL militants are brought together and trained prior to being dispatched to Syria or Iraq. In 2022, the group mainly operated in Badia and across the northern and eastern governorates. In January 2022, ISIL carried out its biggest military operation since the fall of Baghouz in 2019, attacking al-Sina’a prison controlled by the SDF and the US-led Coalition. In April, they escalated attacks against GoS forces and their allies in Badia targeting big military convoys, barracks and oil fields. These new tactics inflicted heavy loss on GoS forces. [Security 2022, 1.4.6, pp. 28-29]

ISIL’s territorial control and governance in Syria ceased to exist in March 2019. ISIL is, however, actively present mainly in Deir Ez-Zor, with eastern Deir Ez-Zor described as its stronghold. The group is also actively present in Hama and Homs, but also in Damascus, Dara, Hasaka, Raqqa and Sweida governorates. The Idlib de-escalation zone provides a limited safe haven and serves as a strategic location for ISIL [Security 2022, 1.4.6, pp. 38-39, 2.1, p. 71].

In 2021 and 2022, targeted assassinations, kidnappings, extortions and intimidations by ISIL against civilians, GoS and SDF continued to be reported [COI Update 2022, p. 4; Security 2022, 2.9.3, p. 75].

For further information on human rights violations committed by various anti-government armed groups and their relevance as potential exclusion grounds, see 8. Exclusion.