Most Americans consider acts of radical Islamic terrorism a relatively recent problem. They aren't. In fact, America has been dealing with radical Islamists for over 200 years.
In this four-part series, we'll cover the beginnings of America's troubles with Islamic terrorism, specific terror groups like Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab and ISIS, and why terrorism increases when nations fail to recognize its threat.
Terrorism Part IV: ISIS Success & Expansion
There are many vicious, bloodthirsty terrorist organizations operating today in the Middle East and Africa. But now, a decade and a half into the 21st century, even the dreaded al-Qaeda, which killed 3,000 Americans on 9/11, has been somewhat supplanted in the minds of those in the West by a group called ISIS.
ISIS stands for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or ISIL, which stands for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. To them, the Levant also includes Israel, a very important distinction. They are by far the most well-funded terror group in the history of mankind, with an annual revenue between $2-$3 billion. That would put ISIS ahead of the GDP of 31 nations on earth.
No one had ever heard the name ISIS or ISIL before 2011. ISIS began its rise in 2011, as American troops were leaving Iraq. For U.S. soldiers, the war in Iraq had come to an end. For Iraqis, the country was still extremely volatile. Yet, President Barack Obama celebrated the withdrawal and touted the now "self-governing" Iraqi government.
The very day of the announcement, the leader of Iraq --- Prime Minister al-Maliki --- received a message that some of his vice president's Sunni bodyguards might be planning an uprising. He arrested the six vice presidential bodyguards the next day. The attacks on Sunnis only escalated from that time on.
Massive Sunni protests began to spring up. Although al-Qaeda had indeed been crushed by the U.S. military, the few surviving radicals banded together with the surviving members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, attacking Shia Muslims and Christians by the score.
The new leader of this emerging Islamic State --- Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi --- sent some of these hardened terrorists to Syria to recruit and fire up the Sunni population. It worked.
Al-Baghdadi vision was much larger than simply attacking targets and killing people. He declared a caliphate, attacking and holding territory without recognizing borders. As far as he was concerned, all territory in the Middle East was now a part of this new Islamic State.
With no one to stop them, ISIL ushered in a reign of terror in northern Iraq, overrunning towns and villages and offering Christians three choices: convert to Islam, pay a tax amounting to all of their yearly income --- or die. ISIL found vicious new ways to execute those who opposed them. Technologically savvy, they also distributed high production videos of their heinous crimes.
ISIL now controls an area larger than Great Britain. The vast majority of their revenue comes from oil wells seized in Iraq and Syria. Former CIA director Michael Morel once explained that the U.S. didn't destroy ISIL's main source of revenue because they "didn't want to do environmental damage and . . . destroy that infrastructure."
Men and women are being burned alive, drowned, executed and crucified in the name of radical Islam. Yet for the Obama administration, protecting the environment took precedence.
Listen to the Full Series on Terrorism