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.

Latest news

Syrian opposition rules out future role for President al-Assad

The Syrian opposition said Friday it would not accept any role for President Bashar al-Assad in the future of the war-torn country, reacting to a recent US shift saying that removing al-Assad is no longer a priority for Washington.

Russian Army integrates breakaway forces of Georgian province

Parts of the small fighting forces of the Georgian breakaway province of South Ossetia have been placed under Russian military control, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Friday.

Czech Republic's Pilsner Urquell beer is now Japanese

Japanese brewing company Asahi completed its takeover of the Czech brewery Pilsner Urquell on Friday, Asahi said in a statement.

Judge approves 25-million-dollar settlement of Trump University case

A US district judge on Friday approved a 25-million-dollar settlement of lawsuits and state fraud allegations against Trump University, the US president's now-defunct business venture.

Former Thai premier Thaksin to junta on reconciliation: 'Cut me out'

Former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra on Friday announced that he is not interested in the junta-led reconciliation process, three days after the junta handed him a half-a-billion-dollar tax bill for his past business deal.

Dalic: We welcome possible deal between Agrokor and banks

The government welcomes the possibility of an agreement being concluded between the Agrokor food company and creditor banks, and the bill on vitally important companies is not a fallback plan but the result of the government's care for the overall economic and financial stability of Croatia, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy Martina Dalic told a press conference in Zagreb on Friday.

Croatia, China sign action plan for cooperation in agriculture

The Croatian and Chinese ministries of agriculture on Friday signed an action plan for cooperation in the field of agriculture for the period 2017-2018, the Croatian ministry said in a statement.

ZSE indices up, Agrokor shares in focus of investor interest

The Zagreb Stock Exchange (ZSE) indices on Friday rose by more than 1.8%, with stocks of the Agrokor food and retail concern being in the focus of investor interest again.

Berlin police defend handling of Berlin market attacker

Berlin police defended themselves on Friday against accusations that they stopped surveillance on Berlin Christmas market attacker despite knowing in June 2016 he was dangerous.

Croatia, creditors tailor emergency measures to save tottering giant

Croatia's tottering retail and food giant Agrokor reached an agreement with its creditors, putting its debts standby and allowing it to continue working during emergency restructuring, the Croatian branch of Austria's Erste Bank said Friday.

Agrokor's creditors say standstill agreement to go into force today

A standstill agreement regarding the Agrokor concern's existing financial obligations to banks will take effect on Friday, additional capital will be injected into the concern in the coming days and the concern will be actively restructured, which includes a change of its management, it was said on Friday after a meeting between Agrokor's suppliers and creditor banks.

Palestinians, UN slam Israel's new settlement plan

Palestinians, Israeli activists and the UN lambasted the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday, a day after it gave the go-ahead for the first new West Bank settlement in a quarter of a century.

South Sudan rebels release three abducted foreign oil workers

South Sudanese rebels have released three foreign engineers they abducted in early March in the oil-rich Upper Nile region, Foreign Affairs Ministry official Mawein Makol Arik said on Friday.

Turkish opposition: Imprisoned party chief has gone on hunger strike

The head of Turkey's pro-Kurdish opposition party has launched a hunger strike from prison.

European leagues threaten Champions League schedule clashes

The European Professional Football Leagues (EPFL) on Friday threatened schedule clashes on Champions League matchdays in an ongoing dispute with the governing body UEFA.

Danish court revokes citizenship of IS volunteer

A Danish appellate court on Friday stripped a man of his Danish citizenship for volunteering to fight for the extremist Islamic State in Syria.

Banks and Agrokor agree on key elements of standstill agreement

Member banks of the coordinating committee of financial creditors and representatives of the Agrokor food company have in principle agreed on key elements of a standstill agreement, which is expected to be signed later today, announcing changes in the company's management team, Erste Bank said in a statement on Friday afternoon.

Syrian man on trial in Sweden; mosque attack labelled terrorism

A Syrian man went on trial Friday in the southern Swedish city of Malmo, charged with terrorism and arson after an attack last year on a building used as an assembly hall by Shiite Muslims.