Collaboration with ISIL

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Collaboration with ISIL refers to the cooperation and assistance given by governments, non-state actors, and private individuals to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) during the Syrian Civil War, Iraqi Civil War, and Libyan Civil War.

Allegations of state support[edit]


Proportion of attacks by ISIL on other groups in Syria, during the period from March 2016 – April 2017 according to IHS Markit.[1]

  Syrian Army (43%)
  Sunni rebels (40%)
  SDF (17%)

During the ongoing Syrian Civil War, President Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian government have been accused by many opposition and other anti-Assad parties of collusion with ISIL.[2][3][4]

Many Islamist prisoners were released from Syrian prisons at the beginning of the Syrian Civil War in 2011, which many sources have suggested indicated a strategic attempt to strengthen jihadist factions over other rebels, which eventually contributed to forging ISIL.[5][6][7][8][9][10]

The Syrian government has reportedly bought oil directly from ISIL,[11][12] and the Syrian government and ISIL jointly ran a HESCO gas plant in Tabqah. The facility supplied electricity to government-held areas, while government-run power plants supplied ISIL-held areas.[13] A report on 25 June 2015 said that ISIL kept gas flowing to Assad regime-controlled power stations. Furthermore, ISIL allowed grain to pass from Rojava to government-controlled areas at the cost of a 25% levy.[14] In 2017, US and European officials said that oil sales to the Syrian government were ISIL's largest source of revenue.[15][16]

Several sources have said that the Syrian government has tactically avoided ISIL forces in order to weaken opposition such as the Free Syrian Army (FSA).[4] According to United States Secretary of State John Kerry the Syrian government purposely ceded territory to ISIL.[17] An IHS Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Center database analysis showed that only 6% of Syrian government forces attacks were targeted at ISIL from January to November 2014, while in the same period only 13% of all ISIL attacks targeted government forces.[18]

The National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces has stated that the Syrian government has operatives inside ISIL,[19] as has the leadership of Ahrar ash-Sham.[20]

On 1 June 2015, the United States embassy in Syria stated that the Syrian government was "making air-strikes in support" of an ISIL advance on Syrian opposition positions north of Aleppo.[21] The president of the Syrian National Coalition, Khaled Koja, accused Assad of acting "as an air force for [ISIL]",[22] with the Defence Minister of the SNC Salim Idris stating that approximately 180 Syrian government officers were serving in ISIL and coordinating the group's attacks with the Syrian Army.[23]

According to Sharmine Narwani in The American Conservative, an April 2017 report by UK information provider IHS Markit stated that the Islamic State fought Syrian government forces more than any other opponent between 1 April 2016 and 31 March 2017. According to the report, "43 percent of all Islamic State fighting in Syria was directed against President Assad's forces, 17 against the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the remaining 40 percent involved fighting rival Sunni opposition groups".[1]


The Turkish government has been criticised for allowing ISIL to use Turkish territory for logistics and channelling recruits.[24][25][26] It has also been accused of selling arms and intelligence to ISIL, as part of its campaign against the People's Protection Units (YPG).[27][28][29][30] Turkey denies the allegations of assisting ISIL, pointing to multiple terrorist attacks ISIL has committed against civilians in Turkey, as well as multiple military confrontations between ISIL and the Turkish government.[28] The Kurdistan Democratic Party in Iraq similarly deny the claim that Turkey is providing aid to ISIL.[27] According to an intelligence adviser quoted by Seymour Hersh, a "highly classified assessment" carried out by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 2013 concluded that Turkey had effectively transformed the secret U.S. arms program in support of moderate rebels, who no longer existed, into an indiscriminate program to provide technical and logistical support for al-Nusra Front and ISIL.[31]

Saudi Arabia[edit]

In June 2014, former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki accused the government of Saudi Arabia of funding ISIL.[32] The Saudi Arabian government rejected the claims.[33]

Some media outlets, such as NBC, the BBC, The New York Times, and the US-based think tank Washington Institute for Near East Policy have written about individual Saudi donations to the group and the Saudi state's decade-long sponsorship of Salafism and Wahhabism around the world, but concluded in 2014 that there was no evidence of direct Saudi state support for ISIL.[34][35]

In July 2014, Richard Dearlove, former head of Britain's Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), said that the Saudis were "deeply attracted to any militancy that can effectively challenge Shia-dom [Shia version of Islam]."[36] Dearlove stated that, "For ISIS to be able to surge into the Sunni areas of Iraq in the way that it has done recently has to be the consequence of substantial and sustained funding."[37]

In an August 2014 email leaked by WikiLeaks, apparently from former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to then counselor John Podesta, a memo states that the governments of both Saudi Arabia and Qatar "are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the region."[38][39][40]


Qatar has long been accused of acting as a conduit for the flow of funds to ISIL. While there is no proof that the Qatari government is involved in this movement of funds, it has been criticised for not doing enough to stem monies sent by private donors in the country.[41][42] According to some reports, US officials believe that the largest portion of private donations supporting ISIS and al Qaeda-linked groups now comes from Qatar rather than Saudi Arabia.[43]

In August 2014, German minister Gerd Müller accused Qatar of having links to ISIL, stating: "You have to ask who is arming, who is financing ISIS troops. The keyword there is Qatar." Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid bin Mohammad Al Attiyah rejected this statement, saying: "Qatar does not support extremist groups, including [ISIL], in any way. We are repelled by their views, their violent methods and their ambitions."[44][45][46][47]

United States[edit]

Rand Paul, junior U.S. Senator from Kentucky, has accused the U.S. government of indirectly supporting ISIL in the Syrian Civil War, by arming their allies and fighting their enemies in that country.[48] The US assisted the Syrian opposition from 2013 to 2017 (see CIA-led Timber Sycamore program) and according to some authors some of the US proxies worked with ISIL.[49]


Former President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai accused Pakistan for supporting ISIS during interview with ANI that Afghanistan has evidence of Pakistan's support to ISIS.He added that there is no to the above statement.[50]

United States accused Pakistan for supporting ISIS in Syria.[51][52]

Foreign nationals[edit]

A United Nations report from May 2015 showed that 25,000 "foreign terrorist fighters" from 100 countries had joined "Islamist" groups, many of them working for ISIL or al-Qaeda.[53] The US-trained commander of Tajikistan's Interior Ministry OMON police special forces, Gulmurod Khalimov, has been raised to the rank of "Minister of War" within the Islamic State.[54][55]

One of the most prominent commanders of ISIL in Syria, Abu Omar al-Shishani, served previously as a sergeant in the Georgian Army before being medically discharged, later imprisoned, becoming radicalized, then fleeing the country.[56]

A 2015 report by the Program on Extremism at George Washington University found 71 individuals charged in the United States with supporting ISIL, 250 travelling or attempting to travel to Syria or Iraq from the United States to join ISIL, and about 900 active domestic ISIL-related investigations.[57]

An October 2016 World Bank study found that "ISIL's foreign fighters are surprisingly well-educated."[58] Using the fighters' self-reported educational levels, the study concluded that "69% of recruits reported at least a secondary-level education"[58] of which "a large fraction have gone on to study at university"[59] and also that "only 15% of recruits left school before high school; less than 2% are illiterate."[58][59] The study also found that foreign fighters are often more educated than their countrymen where those "from Europe and in Central Asia have similar levels of education to their countrymen" while those "from the Middle East, North Africa, and South and East Asia are significantly more educated than what is typical in their home nations."[58] The report notes that its conclusions that terrorism is not driven by poverty and low levels of education which conforms with previous research.[58] However, the report did find a strong correlation "between a country's male unemployment rate and the propensity of the country to supply foreign fighters".[58] Many European countries have allowed their citizens that joined ISIL to be prosecuted by Iraq.[60]

Foreign nationals by country[edit]


In August 2018, Australia stripped the Australian citizenship from five terrorists who had travelled to fight with the Islamic State and barred them from entering Australia again.[61] This was only possible because they had double citizenships because international law stops the measure from being used on individuals with only one citizenship. The five brought the total to six.[62]


Up to 2018, an estimated 450 individuals had travelled from Belgium to join the civil war in Syria and Iraq.[63] Of those, 75 were linked to the Sharia4Belgium network.[64] In July 2018, courts announced that Belgium had no obligation to bring children of Islamic State members to Belgium.[65]


In November 2017 stripped a Turkish man of his Danish citizenship after having been sentenced for terror offenses related to the Islamic State, which left him with a citizenship of Turkey.[66]


Up to 2018, an estimated 1700 individuals had travelled from France to join the civil war in Syria and Iraq.[63]


Up to 2018, an estimated 940 individuals had travelled from Germany to join the civil war in Syria and Iraq.[63]


The Parliament of Netherlands voted in 2016 for legislation to strip Dutch citizens who join ISIL or al Qaeda abroad of their citizenship, also if they have not been convicted of any crime.[67] The law can only be applied to individuals with double citizenship. Justice Minister Ard Van der Steur stated the legal changes were necessary to stop jihadists from returning to the Netherlands.[68] In September 2017, four jihadists were stripped of their citizenship.[69]

In the 2012 to November 2018 period, more than 310 individuals had travelled from the Netherlands to the conflict in Syria and Iraq. Of those 85 had been killed and 55 returned to the Netherlands. Of the surviving Dutch foreign fighters in the region, 135 are fighters in the conflict zone and three quarters are members of ISIL. The remaining quarter have joined Al-Qaeda affiliated groups such as Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham or Tanzim Hurras al-Deen.[70]


Up to 2018, an estimated 300 individuals had travelled from Sweden to join the civil war in Syria.[63] In March 2018 Kurdish authorities reported they had captured 41 IS supporters with either Swedish citizenship or residence permit in Sweden, of which 5 had key positions in the organisation and one was the head of the ISIL propaganda efforts.[71]

United Kingdom[edit]

Cabinet minister William Hague stated in 2014 that up to 400 UK citizens had joined ISIL.[72] The government instituted a practice where if those who had joined had double citizenships were stripped of their UK citizenship to prevent them from arriving back in the UK. By 2017, 150 individuals had been stripped of citizenship and were thus unable to enter the United Kingdom again.[73]

Groups expressing support for ISIL[edit]

The Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium (TRAC) has identified 60 jihadist groups in 30 countries that have pledged allegiance to or support for ISIL as of mid-November 2014. That many of these groups were previously affiliated with al-Qaeda suggests a shift in global jihadist leadership towards ISIL.[74]

Members of the following groups have declared support for ISIL, either fully or in part:

In Islamic State territory[edit]


In response to the effort to take Raqqa by the Syrian Democratic Forces, whose main component is the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), some Syrian Arabs in Raqqa sided with the Islamic State.[93]


"Do I regret it? I don't know if I'd use that word. They had become the government and we now worked for them. We wanted to work so we could get paid."

Suleiman al-Afari, Iraqi scientist who helped ISIL in producing chemical weapons (sentenced to death at the time of the interview)[94]

Sunni Arabs in Iraq have been accused of collaborating with ISIL against Assyrians, and Yazidis, and Shias. ISIL marked Christian homes with the letter nūn for Naṣārā[95][96] and Shia homes with the letter rāʾ for Rāfiḍa, derogatory terms used to describe Christians and Shias by some Sunni Muslims. Properties were confiscated and given to local ISIL supporters or foreign fighters.[97] Local Sunnis were reported to have betrayed Yazidis once ISIL arrived, or colluded in advance to lure them into staying put until the ISIL invaded.[98]

57 members of the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party – Iraq Region participated in the massacre of at least 1,566 Shia cadets from the Iraqi Air Force on 12 June 2014.[99][100]

See also[edit]


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