flag_of_the_islamic_state_of_iraq_islamska država, zastava.png
Photograph: hr.wikipedia.org

Islamic State, which has claimed the deadly attacks in Brussels, started as a small terrorist group in the late 1990s and came to prominence around the time of the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.

The bombings in Belgium are the latest the extremists claimed in Europe and reaffirm that the group's potential to cause harm in otherwise peaceful locations. The attacks in Paris last year were their deadliest outside of the Islamic world.

The United States organized an international anti-Islamic State coalition in 2014 after the radical group seized Mosul, Iraq's second city, and declared itself the modern-day caliphate to which all Muslims owe allegiance. The group also appeared set to massacre and enslave the country's Yezidi religious minority and aimed to advance further.

The coalition, with the aid of Kurdish and Iraqi forces on the ground in Syria and Iraq respectively, has begun to take back chunks of territory from Islamic State, but it is far from defeated. Meanwhile, it has set up wings in other countries, such as chaotic Libya.

Many top Islamic scholars and community leaders have thoroughly denounced the organization.

However, it continues to mesmerize disenfranchised Muslim men and women, especially youths, who see through it a path to salvation. Furthermore, it attracts talented individuals, from military commanders to doctors.

Islamic State's slogan, often translated as "lasting and expanding," hints at its ambitions, to hold territory and branch outward, trying to mimic the early achievements of the Prophet Mohammed and his followers.

The group is primarily based out of Syria and Iraq, but has a number of affiliates who control pockets of land from south-east Asia to West Africa, often taking advantage of anarchic situations in areas populated by Sunni Muslims.

The extremist Sunni group, which once informally held the name al-Qaeda in Iraq, was originally headed by Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who had previously spent time with jihadists in Afghanistan.

He led a murderous campaign in Iraq, intentionally stoking sectarian strife between the country's Sunni and Shiite Muslims, helping to provoke the civil war after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders, from the onset, expressed concern about al-Zarqawi killing fellow Muslims.

Moreover, at a theological level, al-Qaeda supported the creation of a caliphate, but felt this was a far-off dream. Al-Zarqawi's gang insisted the right time is the present day.

Already in 2005, al-Zarqawi organized suicide attacks in Jordan, killing dozens, including guests at a wedding ceremony. This indicated not only a disregard for civilian lives, but a direct intention to kill the innocent in any country, including Muslims.

A US airstrike north of Baghdad eight months later killed al-Zarqawi. His group, which regularly changed names, faced a serious decline in the following years.

However, its fortunes were reversed under a new leadership in 2010, including the current chief, or self-styled caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The Syrian civil war acted as a rallying call for the group, which claimed it would overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, who it described as a despot and denounced with sectarian language, as he is an Alawite, a Muslim minority sect.

In 2014, the group, the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, formally split with al-Qaeda and later in the year rebranded itself, dropping the extra words and declaring itself the one true Islamic State to which all Muslims must immigrate.

Islamic State espouses a tough "with-us-or-against-us" ideology, denouncing anyone not fully on board as a disbeliever.

It uses ultra violence and slick media productions depicting its acts of horror, such as beheadings, not only to scare enemies but to recruit new followers.

Among its followers are European Muslims who counter-extremism experts say feel disenfranchised and out of place, especially in poor, urban areas.

Related stories

Latest news

Mosque attended by Berlin attacker Amri closed, police confirm

The mosque in Berlin attended by Berlin truck attacker Anis Amri has been closed. The mosque is permanently closed, read a note in German and Turkish on the door of the prayer rooms which was seen on Tuesday.

German army to expand to almost 200,000 soldiers

Germany's Bundeswehr, plans to expand its number of professional soldier to 198,000 by 2024 because of increasing duties, the German Defence Ministry announced on Tuesday.

Fired Audi engineer says he was 'sacrificed' for emissions scandal

A fired Audi engineer was "sacrificed" amid the ongoing VW group diesel emissions scandal, his lawyer claimed in court on Tuesday as he contested his client's dismissal.

French police arrest three over suspected terror plans, source says

French authorities have arrested three men in relation to suspected plans to carry out attacks in the country or travel to Syria, a source close to the investigation told dpa on Tuesday.

UN: Trial against Gaddafi regime was unfair, flawed

Former members of the Gaddafi regime did not get a fair trial in Libya because the proceedings were so seriously compromised, the United Nations criticized in a report on Monday.

Croatia remains Bosnia's biggest trade partner in 2016

Croatia is still the most important foreign trade partner to Bosnia and Herzegovina, according to figures released by the BiH Chamber of Foreign Trade which show that in 2016 the two countries' trade had gone up.

Red Cross: Bodies of 74 migrants wash ashore in Libya

The bodies of 74 migrants washed ashore in Libya, in the north-western city of Zawiya, a spokesman of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said Tuesday.

Ancelotti makes charity donation after middle finger gesture

Bayern Munich coach Carlo Ancelotti has agreed to donate 5,000 euros (5,200 dollars) to a charity run by the German football federation DFB following his middle finger gesture towards Hertha Berlin fans.

Azerbaijan's long-time leader Aliyev appoints wife as vice president

The long-time president of the oil-rich, Caspian Sea nation of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, appointed his wife, Mehriban Aliyeva, as vice president on Tuesday.

HSBC reports 62-per-cent fall in annual profit, blames one-off costs

Banking giant HSBC on Tuesday reported a 62-per-cent fall in its annual profit last year, blaming losses incurred from the sale of HSBC Bank Brazil and other one-off costs.

Le Pen quits meeting with Lebanon's Sunni cleric over headscarf row

France's far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen walked away from a meeting on Tuesday with Lebanon's senior Muslim Sunni cleric after she refused to wear a headscarf.

Podravka revenues up 15 pct, profit up 54 pct

The Podravka Group that operates in two main business segments: food and pharmaceuticals, generated a net profit in 2016 of HRK 182.4 million, which is 54.7% more than in 2015 without taking into account the one-off effect of consolidating the Zito company or deferred tax returns of Belupo in 2015, according to the company'y unaudited financial statements released on Tuesday.

Chinese prefecture requires all cars to install tracking devices

A prefecture in China’s troubled north-western province of Xinjiang is requiring all vehicles to install satellite tracking devices, a move that comes just weeks after authorities warned against cars being used for terrorist attacks.

Rohingya activist urges companies to stop investing in Myanmar

Foreign companies need to stop investing in Myanmar in order to stop the country's discrimination against its Muslim minority Rohingya, a prominent Myanmar activist said Tuesday.

ASEAN concerned about militarization in disputed South China Sea

South-East Asian countries are concerned about growing militarization in the disputed South China Sea and stressed the need for dialogue to ease tensions, the Philippines’ foreign minister said Tuesday.