Ideology of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
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and the Levant
Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (1999–2004)
Tanzim Qaidat al-Jihad fi Bilad
Mujahideen Shura Council (2006)
Islamic State of Iraq (2006–2013)
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (2013–14)Islamic State (2014–present)
The ideology of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS or Daesh) has been described as being based on Salafism, Salafi jihadism, and Wahhabism. Through its official statement of beliefs originally released by its first leader Abu Omar al-Baghdadi in 2007 and subsequently updated since June 2014, ISIL defined its creed as "a middle way between the extremist Kharijites and the lax Murji'ites".:38
Important doctrines of ISIL include its belief that it represents the restoration of the caliphate of early Islam, and that all Muslims are required to pledge allegiance to it; that a "defiled" Islam must be purged of apostasy, often with bloody sectarian killings, that the final Day of Judgment by God is near and will follow the defeat of the army of "Rome" by ISIL; that a strict adherence to following the precepts "established by the Prophet Muhammad and his earliest followers" is necessary, surpassing even that of other Salafi groups.
Experts disagree on the importance of ideology in ISIL. According to Cole Bunzel, not all members of ISIL are aware of the ideology of the group they support. On the other hand, Princeton scholar Bernard Haykel, who specializes in the study of ISIL, argues that many Western observers fail to understand the passionate attachment of ISIL—including to its rank and file—to religion doctrine: "Even the foot soldiers spout" Quranic verses "constantly. They mug for their cameras and repeat their basic doctrines in formulaic fashion, and they do it all the time." Fawaz A. Gerges also writes "researchers have tended to underestimate the power of the Salafi-jihadist ideology"—which he identifies as ISIS ideology-"at their own peril".
Names used to describe the group
Names used to describe the group or its ideology vary.
USA Today writes that "The Islamic State is a group of Sunni militants" that "believes in the strict enforcement of Sharia law." In a conversation with a Western journalist (Thomas L. Friedman), a deputy crown prince of Saudi Arabia (Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud), described ISIL's message to Saudi and other Arab Muslims as: "The West is trying to enforce its agenda on you — and the Saudi government is helping them — and Iran is trying to colonize the Arab world. So we — ISIS — are defending Islam."
ISIL adheres to global jihadist principles and follows the hard-line ideology of al-Qaeda and many other modern-day jihadist groups. However, other sources trace the group's roots to Wahhabism. The New York Times wrote:
For their guiding principles, the leaders of the Islamic State ... are open and clear about their almost exclusive commitment to the Wahhabi movement of Sunni Islam. The group circulates images of Wahhabi religious textbooks from Saudi Arabia in the schools it controls. Videos from the group's territory have shown Wahhabi texts plastered on the sides of an official missionary van.
ISIL aims to return to the early days of Islam, rejecting all innovations in the religion, which it believes corrupts its original spirit. It condemns later caliphates and the Ottoman Empire for deviating from what it calls pure Islam, and seeks to revive the original Wahhabi project of the restoration of the caliphate governed by strict Salafist doctrine. Following Salafi-Wahhabi tradition, ISIL condemns the followers of secular law as disbelievers, putting the current Saudi government in that category.
According to The Economist, dissidents in the ISIL capital of Raqqa reported (in 2014) that "all 12 of the judges who now run its court system ... are Saudis". Saudi Wahhabi practices also followed by the group include the establishment of religious police to root out "vice" and enforce attendance at salat prayers, the widespread use of capital punishment, and the destruction or re-purposing of any non-Sunni religious buildings. Bernard Haykel has described al-Baghdadi's creed as "a kind of untamed Wahhabism". Alastair Crooke describes ISIS as adopting Wahhabi "puritanism," but denying the "Saudi Kingdom any legitimacy as founders of a State, as the head of the Mosque, or as interpreter of the Qur'an. All these attributes ISIS takes for itself."
The BBC defines the group's ideology as "radical Islamist," that "aims to establish a "caliphate", a state ruled by a single political and religious leader according to Islamic law, or Sharia." Furthermore, the BBC adds that "IS members are jihadists who adhere to an extreme interpretation of Sunni Islam and consider themselves the only true believers. They hold that the rest of the world is made up of unbelievers who seek to destroy Islam, justifying attacks against other Muslims and non-Muslims alike."
Australian National Security informs that "The Islamic State is an Iraq and Syria-based Sunni extremist group and former al‑Qa'ida affiliate that adheres to the global jihadist ideology."
Sunni critics, including Salafi and jihadist muftis such as Adnan al-Aroor and Abu Basir al-Tartusi, say that ISIL and related terrorist groups are not Sunnis, but modern-day Khawarij—Muslims who have stepped outside the mainstream of Islam—serving an imperial anti-Islamic agenda.
Some journalists, historians, writers and opponents of ISIS and totalitarian Islamism in Arabic countries have called ISIS and its self-proclaimed Caliphate's strictly ruled regime "Islamofascism" (other terms which have also been used are "Islamic fascism" and "Islamist fascism").
Similarities exist between the ISIS militias and fascist regimes, namely their structure, their romanticized images of death, their longing for a violent struggle, their glorification of war and sacrifice, their imperialistic goals, their machismo, their brutal war crimes and the methods of torture which they used against their opponents, their hatred of pacifism, and propaganda which mixes messages about "spirituality" with militant ideals about "forging a new man" through "warfare, action and religious discipline", etc, with the ideals and mentality of "ur-fascist" regimes, and the ideals and mentality of Clerical fascist movements and regimes, for example, WWII. For example, the fanatically extremist Orthodox Christian Romanian fascist Iron Guard movement and the Hungarian extremist Catholic fascist Arrow Cross movement both spread similar messages in order to unite the members of their death squads and paramilitary organizations, boost their morale and school them in ideals about becoming "higher" men through hardness, war, fanatic religious worship, and motivate them to commit acts of intolerance and brutality against members of other races and anyone else who opposed their ideas. Their methods of "punishing" non-believers, as well as political and religious opponents, have also been compared. For example, the Iron Guard hanged Jews on meat-hooks in slaughterhouses during pogroms in Bucharest during the 1940s, and it slaughtered them according to Jewish kosher methods and wrote the word "kosher" on their corpses, including the corpses of schoolchildren, in order to desecrate the victims and their religion. during its strict rule of Raqqa, ISIS published execution videos in which it murdered people on meat-hooks in a Syrian slaughterhouse according to Halal slaughter methods, during the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha. Forced participation in religious ceremonies was another indoctrination tool which was used by all of the Clerical fascist puppet-states and ISIS because they believed that forced participation in religious ceremonies was "necessary" in order to "teach the people" through force.
The modern ISIS regime and the old Fascist movements openly advocated genocide, and they also committed genocide against minorities and murdered anyone else who did not conform to their worldview, such as "traitors" to their faith or country, members of different ethnic groups, people who practiced different religions, atheists, members of progressive or secular groups (for example, socialists and Slavs in Nazi-occupied Europe and Kurds, Yazidis and members of non-religious Syrian groups in ISIS-occupied zones), people who their ideology considered "weak", "decadent", "pacifist", etc (see the Fascist & Nazi idea about "purity", supermen and subhumans).
In classical Italian Fascism, and the so-called "ur-fascist" weltanschauung, the belief in performing actions for the sake of actions, the idea that war was a "natural place for the worthy man" and the belief that conservative and extreme traditionalist values should be defended were all important parts of the movement's ideology and "culture of violence"; the same contempt for "weakness", and the glorification/romanticism of engaging in "actions that speak louder than words" (i.e terrorism and violence) and the belief that going to war is something which "the new man" should "naturally want to do" is just as central and important to ISIS' ideology, propaganda and recruiting tactics as it was to those of the European Fascists. Fascism and ISIS' variant of Islamism are ultra traditionalist and they also have goals and dreams of waging war in order to conquer territory and form an "empire". Fascists want to reconquer territory and restore the glory of the Roman Empire, while ISIS wants to conquer territory and create its own version of a Caliphate. This view which is based on machismo, the desire to rule over conquered lands and cities and impose a harsh regime on others with the right of might is central to both movements' ideologies.
Fascist and traditionalist writer Julius Evola, a strong supporter of "spiritual imperialism", tribalism, brutal machismo and what he saw as a strive for a "pure soul" and "higher ideals", wrote often about his contempt for "the Modern World", materialism, progress and its values, and in one of his works which was titled "The Metaphysics of War", he praised the so-called ancient "warrior soul" and claimed that he could still find it in the different religions of the world. He praised the Samurai lifestyle, Pagan spiritualism, and the "Islamistic warrior-ideals" which he believed existed in Islamism. The same simplistic ideas about Islamism were also shared by Heinrich Himmler. Since the rise of ISIS the book has been mentioned by authors and journalists in order to prove the claim that many Fascist thinkers and ISIS all hold the same views on this topic.
Tenets and sources
Fawaz A. Gerges believes that ISIS has drawn from Salafi-jihadists’ "repertoire of ideas and selectively borrowed whatever fits its unique worldview"., In particular, he believes ISIL has drawn from three works that share an advocacy of offensive jihad, opposition to any gradualism or political activity, attacking the near enemy not just the far, observing no limits in killing and brutalizing as extreme violence as this is following the way of the prophet (they assert in opposition to the scholarly consensus) and is the best way to bring the enemy to submission. Three works are:
- Management of Savagery (Idarat at-Tawahhush). Written under the pseudonym Abu Bakr al-Najji and published online around 2004. The most famous of the three works, it has been described by several journalists and analysts as influential to ISIL, and intended to provide a strategy to create a new Islamic caliphate. Among its important points are that earlier jihadists wasted time on preaching, neglecting killing and destruction. “We must drag all the people to battle and bring the temple down on the heads of everyone". After all, “the worst chaotic condition is by far preferable to stability under the system of apostasy”, and even "if the whole umma [community of Muslims] perishes, they would all be martyrs".
- An Introduction to the Jurisprudence of Jihad by Abu Abdullah al-Muhajjer. According to this interpretation of jihad (also against the consensus of other scholars) "killing kuffar and fighting them in their Homeland is a necessity even if they do not harm Muslims". It doesn't really matter if enemy killed are combatants or non-combatants because the main reason for "killing them and confiscating their property" is that "they are not Muslims".
- The Essentials of Making Ready [for Jihad] by Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, (also known as Abdel-Qader Ibn Abdel-Aziz or Dr. Fadl). This work focuses on hakimiyya or rule of God, and differs somewhat from the others in encouraging attacks on the far as well as near enemy. Its author asserts that jihad against near enemy—anyone who rules by non-sharia law—is fard ayn, an Islamic obligation for every Muslim male 15 and over. Anyone who avoids jihad in the path of God betrays God, Muhammad, and Islam.
Demands of the Caliphate
Having declared itself to be a new Caliphate, and al-Baghdadi to be the new Caliph, ISIL has declared "We inform the Muslims that, with the announcement of the caliphate, it has become obligatory for all Muslims to give Bay'ah and support him", and "O Muslims in all places. Whoso is able to emigrate to the Islamic State, let him emigrate. For emigration to the Abode of Islam is obligatory". This hold true for all other jihadi groups including Al-Qaeda which (ISIL believes) has lost its reason for existing independently.
Salafi Jihadists such as ISIL believe that only a legitimate authority can undertake the leadership of jihad, and that the first priority over other areas of combat, such as fighting non-Muslim countries, is the purification of Islamic society. For example, ISIS regards the (non-Salafi) Palestinian Islamist Sunni group Hamas as apostates who have no legitimate authority to lead jihad and it regards fighting Hamas as the first step before confrontation with Israel.
But ISIS goes further, ordering all jihadists everywhere that they obey and must pledge their loyalty to the commander of the faithful — i.e. their now deceased caliph Abu Bakr al Baghdadi — who had ordered his fighters to "split the head" and "strike the neck" of those who do not. That ISIL is serious about this demand for obedience is reflected in its attacks on the Al-Nusra Front in Syria, a group which declined to pledge loyalty to ISIL. The fight has involved "wholesale rapes, beheadings and crucifixions" and killed "thousands of skilled fighters from both sides".
According to Hayder al-Khoei, the central importance of the restoration of the caliphate of early Islam to ISIL's philosophy is symbolized by the Black Standard ISIS has adopted, a variant of the legendary battle flag of Muhammad displaying the Seal of Muhammad within a white circle, with the phrase above it, "There is no God but Allah".
Without a caliphate, there can be no offensive jihad, according to traditional Islamic law. According to jihadist preacher Anjem Choudary, "Hitherto, we were just defending ourselves," but now ISIL can fight to the forcible expansion into countries that are ruled by non-Muslims. Waging of war to expand the caliphate is an essential duty of the caliph, so according to its ideological supporters like Anjem Choudary, ISIL is not just allowed to fight offensively but forbidden not to.
The work The Management of Savagery describes three stages of jihad.
- In stage one ("vexation and empowerment") the "will of the enemy" would be broken by destruction of "vital economic and strategic targets such as oil facilities and the tourism infrastructure". Concentrating security forces to protect these sensitive targets will cause the state to weakened and its powers wither, bringing “savagery and chaos.” Salafi-jihadists would then take advantage of this security vacuum, by launching an all-out battle on the thinly dispersed security forces.
- Once the state has been overthrown, the "administration or management of savagery" (Idrarat al-Tawhush) will follow. The "law of the jungle" will prevail and survivors will "accept any organization, regardless of whether it is made up of good or evil people,” and jihadis will step in to provide organization, administering sharia law.
- The final stage, "empowerment" (Shawkat al-Tamkeen), will establish the Islamic state, ruled by a single leader who would then unify diffuse and scattered groups and regions of “savagery” in a caliphate. Despite the enormous suffering and loss of life caused by the forces of jihad, through a mixture of persuasion and coercion, they will (according to Najji) win hearts and minds and gain legitimacy and recognition for Islamic rule.
Importance of Salafism
Author Graeme Wood has noted the importance of the "governing precepts that were embedded in Islam by the Prophet Muhammad and his earliest followers", from which ISIL insists it "cannot waver".
Virtually every major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls, in its press and pronouncements, and on its billboards, license plates, stationery, and coins, "the Prophetic methodology," which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail.
While other jihadis are salafist in doctrine, ISIL been more exacting in following early practices by "embrac[ing] slavery and crucifixion without apology," as well as a jizya tax on Christians. It has boasted about its enslavement of Yazidi women in its international magazine Dabiq.
The ideology of the Islamic State is based on Jihadi-Salafism, "a distinct ideological movement in Sunni Islam", according to Cole Bunzel of the Brookings Institution and Graeme Wood of The Atlantic. According to their works, and ISIS itself, it unites two streams of Islamic thought that are the original Moslem Brotherhood and Salafism, though ISIL regards the modern Moslem Brotherhood and Hamas as traitors and apostates. "We believe that jihad in God's path is an individual obligation, from the fall of al-Andalus until the liberation of [all] Muslim lands, and [that it is an individual obligation] in the presence of a pious person or an impious person." British newspaper The Guardian defines the organisation's ideology as "generally viewed as identical to al-Qaida's or the Saudi version of Salafism – adherence to fundamental Islamic tenets."
The Takfir (declaring self-proclaimed-Muslims apostates who must be killed) of large numbers of Muslims has been a point of difference between itself and other jihadis such as Al-Qaeda. ISIL is "committed to purifying the world by killing vast numbers of people". From about 2003 to 2006, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the head of ISIL predecessor group, al‑Qaeda in Iraq, expanded "the range of behavior" that could make large number of self-proclaimed Muslims infidels (kafir) -- including "in certain cases, selling alcohol or drugs, wearing Western clothes or shaving one's beard, voting in an election—even for a Muslim candidate—and being lax about calling other people apostates".
One example of the willingness to takfir is a statement not only calling for the revival of slavery (specifically of Yazidi) but takfiring any Muslim who disagreed with that doctrine.
Yazidi women and children [are to be] divided according to the Shariah amongst the fighters of the Islamic State who participated in the Sinjar operations … Enslaving the families of the kuffar and taking their women as concubines is a firmly established aspect of the Shariah that if one were to deny or mock, he would be denying or mocking the verses of the Koran and the narrations of the Prophet … and thereby apostatizing from Islam.
Importance of violence
ISIS has been noted for what many observers have called "appalling" or "horrifying" brutality, its release of videos and photographs of beheadings, shootings, caged prisoners being burnt alive or submerged gradually until drowned. Among other effects, the group's mass killings and publicizing of them led to a split between it and Al Qaeda.
ISIL's violence is "not some whimsical, crazed fanaticism, but a very deliberate, considered strategy", according to some analysts, who often quote from the tract Management of Savagery This work asserts that "one who previously engaged in jihad knows that it is naught but violence, crudeness, terrorism, deterrence and massacring." While "savage chaos" is unpleasant it has to be remembered that even "the most abominable of the levels of savagery" are better "than stability under the order of unbelief," i.e. any regime other than ISIL. 
One observer has described ISIL's publicizing of its mass executions and killing of civilians as part of "a conscious plan designed to instill among believers a sense of meaning that is sacred and sublime, while scaring the hell out of fence-sitters and enemies." Another describes it purpose as to "break" psychologically those under its control "so as to ensure their absolute allegiance through fear and intimidation", while generating "outright hate and vengeance" by its enemies. (That this doctrine has been embraced by at least some lower level ISIL fighters would seem to be corroborated by German journalist Jürgen Todenhöfer, an opponent of Western intervention in Iraq who spent ten days embedded with ISIS in Mosul, and noted "something that I don't understand at all is the enthusiasm in their plan of religious cleansing, planning to kill the non-believers ... They were talking about hundreds of millions. They were enthusiastic about it ...")
One difference between ISIL and other Islamist and jihadist movements, including al-Qaeda, is the group's emphasis on eschatology and apocalypticism—that is, a belief that the final Day of Judgment by God are near, and specifically, that the arrival of one known as Imam Mahdi is close at hand. It has been described as "a major part" of ISIL's "recruiting pitch." The ISIL caliph, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi and other leaders have depicted themselves as battling the “antichrist” (Al-Masih ad-Dajjal?) according to Fawaz A. Gerges.
ISIL believes that it will defeat the army of "Rome" at the town of Dabiq, in fulfilment of prophecy. Following its interpretation of the Hadith of the Twelve Successors, ISIL also believes that after al-Baghdadi there will be only four more legitimate caliphs. The noted scholar of militant Islamism William McCants writes:
References to the End Times fill Islamic State propaganda. It is a big selling point with foreign fighters, who want to travel to the lands where the final battles of the apocalypse will take place. The civil wars raging in those countries today [Iraq and Syria] lend credibility to the prophecies. The Islamic State has stoked the apocalyptic fire. [...] For Bin Laden's generation, the apocalypse wasn't a great recruiting pitch. Governments in the Middle East two decades ago were more stable, and sectarianism was more subdued. It was better to recruit by calling to arms against corruption and tyranny than against the Antichrist. Today, though, the apocalyptic recruiting pitch makes more sense.— William McCants, The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State
Differences with Al-Qaeda
Bin Laden believed in Muslim unity (i.e. sectarianism was discouraged) and aimed the war of “vexing and exhausting” at the “far enemy” (United States).
ISIL focuses on "grievance (heavily grounded in the feelings of a displaced and impoverished rural class)" which involve a "near enemy". In the wake of the fall of Saddam Hussein, not only were Sunni's removed from power but the capital Baghdad and the Iraqi army were ethically cleansed of Sunni. This created a "sense of Sunni loss of privilege" and power; "a deep desire for revenge against “usurpers” specifically the "cosmopolitan, affluent elite" and "above all" the Shi’a and Iran. ISIL absorbed the Wahhabist belief that Islam should be "cleansed" or purged of deviant groups that "defiled" the religion.
Alastair Crooke sees "two elements" to the difference between ISIL and Al-Qaeda:
- ISIL believes the original historic Islamic state was formed by “fighting-scholars” and their armed followers, (which "is NOT the conventional reading").
- ISIL follows Wahhabi "puritanism," while denying the home of that sect (the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) "any legitimacy as founders of a State, as the head of the Mosque, or as interpreter of the Qur’an. All these attributes ISIS takes for itself. In its view ISIS itself is the State."
Women and sex roles
ISIL publishes material directed at women. Although women are not allowed to take up arms, media groups encourage them to play supportive roles within ISIL, such as providing first aid, cooking, nursing and sewing skills, in order to become "good wives of jihad".
A document entitled Women in the Islamic State: Manifesto and Case Study, released 23 January 2015 by the media wing of ISIL's all-female Al-Khanssaa Brigade, (issued in Arabic and not translated by ISIL but by an anti-Islamist Quilliam Foundation) emphasized the paramount importance of marriage and motherhood (as early as nine-years-old) for women. Women should live a life of "sedentariness", fulfilling their "divine duty of motherhood" at home: "Yes, we say 'stay in your houses,' ....." Under "exceptional circumstances," women may leave home—doctors, teachers, women studying Islam are exempt from confinement, as are women if they are needed to fight jihad and ordered to do so by religious leaders when there are not enough men around to protect the country from enemy attack.
In education, the document author envisions a system where girls complete their formal schooling by age 15. Women are encouraged to study, provided the content is not "worldly" knowledge, but religious, for example Shari'ah, (Islamic law). The proper Muslim women should not study
these worthless worldly sciences in the farthest mountains and the deepest valleys, ... She travels, intent upon learning Western lifestyle and sitting in the midst of another culture, to study the brain cells of crows, grains of sand and the arteries of fish!
If instead she studies fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), "there is with no need for her to flit here and there to get degrees and so on, just so she can try to prove that her intelligence is greater than a man's."
The treatise decries Western feminism and the blurring of lines between the roles of each sex, which has caused Muslims to forget how to worship God properly. "Women are not presented with a true picture of man", and men have become emasculated.
Equality for women is criticized on the grounds that
Women gain nothing from the idea of their equality with men apart from thorns ... Under 'equality' they have to work and rest on the same days as men even though they have 'monthly complications' and pregnancies and so on, in spite of the nature of her life and responsibilities to their husband, sons and religion."
Residents report that the ISIL dress code for women was both very strict and strictly enforced. Shortly after tasking control of Mosul in 2014 residents reported that ISIL distributed from door-to-door a "Bill of the City," detailing its plans for governing the city, and declaring that women should wear a "wide, loose jilbab, stay in your homes and leave them only in cases of necessity." 
The dress code was implemented gradually and completed with the requirement that every part of the female body including the eyes be covered in public. Some former female residents complained that this prevented them from such basic tasks as seeing where they were going; or when shopping seeing what they were buying and what change was being given them.
Thousands of sets of niqab were distributed to shops in Mosul after the ISIL takeover and decrees ordered that women wear them along with gloves. ISIL billboards gave details of required apparel for women stating that outer gowns should be "thick and not reveal what is beneath" and should "not draw attention." Regulations on dress are enforced by Diwan al-Hisba or "morality police" who issue citations and confiscate IDs. According to the New York Times, "depending on the offense, he was forced to pay a fine, or else either he or his wife was sentenced to a whipping, recent escapees said." In one case a woman resident complained that she was arrested by a vigilant morality police officer who spotted her lifting her veil to let food enter her mouth while on a family picnic. She was sentenced to 21 lashes administered with "a cable that had metal spikes on the end" and had to be hospitalized afterwards.
The Diwan al-Hisba also enforced laws on behavior for men in Mosul, who were fining and flogged for infractions such as "incorrect beard length, for failure to pray at the sanctioned time, for possession of cigarettes and alcohol".
Following the announcement of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISIL's predecessor) in 2006, there was much celebration on Jihadist websites. A number of popular forums added counters that counted the number of days that had passed since the Islamic state's establishment, with a statement underneath: "[a certain number of] days have passed since the announcement of the Islamic State and the [Muslim] community's coming hope…and it will continue to persist by the will of God." However, outside of jihadists online, it was not considered by people as an official state. Abu Umar al-Baghdadi and Abu Hamza al-Muhajir both insisted that the Islamic State of Iraq was not simply a new name for Al Qaeda in Iraq, but was an actual state. When other Iraq-based Salafi factions like the Islamic Army in Iraq refused to recognize it as a state and give it their allegiance, Abu Umar al-Baghdadi called them "sinners".
U.S. Secretary Of State John Kerry said in a statement that "[ISIL] is not Islamic", and denied it was a state, instead calling it a terrorist organization. Neither governments nor peoples recognize it as legitimate government.
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