Isis caliphate defeated: A timeline of the terror group's brutal project

From its inception in Iraq to the attacks on the Bataclan, how one terror group captured the world's attention

Gemma Fox
Sunday 27 October 2019 09:40 GMT
The end of the Isis Caliphate: Timeline of their rise and fall

After the SDF announced in 2019 that Isis had been defeated, having lost their final area of control in Syria, we take a look at the group's origins and its defining moments.

At its peak, Isis controlled a vast swathe of territory across Syria and Iraq roughly the size of Britain, with a population of some 10 million. Over 40,000 are thought to have emigrated to the caliphate with the jihadists’ brutal and gruesome tactics inspiring numerous terrorist attacks around the globe. Where did the group come from and which acts defined its reign?


Abu Musab al-Zarqawi establishes al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). AQI carries out attacks against the country’s majority Shia community in the hope of sparking a sectarian war.

Zarqawi had moved to Iraq a year earlier - along with thousands of other insurgent volunteers - to fight against American and British forces that had invaded the country.

The Jordanian became an internationally recognised name after Colin Powell mentioned him by name during a speech to the United Nations in 2003.

June - October 2006

Zarqawi is killed in an US airstrike in Iraq on 7 June, and Abu Ayyub al-Masri becomes the new leader of AQI.

Masri announces the creation of Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) and appoints Abu Omar al-Baghdadi as the new leader.

April 2010

Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Masri are killed in a joint US-Iraqi operation and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi becomes the new leader of ISI.

April 2013

Baghdadi says that his group will now be known as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isil or Isis) after it absorbs an al Qaeda-backed militant group in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra, also known as the Nusra Front.

January 2014

Isis takes control of Syria’s Raqqa and declares it their capital.

February 2014

Al-Qaeda cuts ties with Isis after infighting between Isis and the Nusra Front.

June 2014

In the group’s largest offensive to date, Isis takes control of Mosul and Tikrit.

Iraqi forces manage to retake most of Tikrit with the support of Iranian forces but the UN warns that the fighting had displaced more than one million Iraqis. The jihadists continue to make territorial gains and seize the strategic border crossing between Syria’s Deir ez-Zor and Iraq. Having lost Mosul, Iraq asks the US to launch airstrikes against the militants.

29 June 2014

Baghdadi announces the establishment of the caliphate from the pulpit of the Great Nouri mosque in Mosul, rebranding the group as “Islamic State.”

Who is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi?

August 2014

Isis takes over Sinjar and Zumar in Iraq, killing and abducting thousands of Yazidis.

An estimated 5,000 Yazidi men were thought to have been killed and around 7,000 Yazidi women were sold to Isis fighters as sex slaves.

The UN later recognises the jihadists’ attack on the Yazidis as a genocide.

US President Barack Obama then announces the beginning of airstrikes against Isis in Iraq.

Isis begins to release a series of videos depicting the execution of a number of foreigners, including American journalist James Foley and British NGO worker David Haines.

September 2014

The US starts bombing in Syria. Over the next year the US conducts over 8,000 airstrikes in Iraq and Syria.

October 2014

The Pentagon names the campaign against the jihadists “Operation Inherent Resolve”.

January 2015

Isis’ network expands and the group is said to have affiliates in at least eight countries.

Under the cover of US airstrikes, SDF fighters force Isis out of the Syrian town of Kobani after a four month long campaign.

February 2015

Isis releases a video showing Jordanian military pilot Moaz al Kasasbeh being burnt alive, sparking widescale protests across the country.

March 2015

Isis-linked militants bomb two mosques in Yemen’s Sanaa, killing 137.

April 2015

Isis posts a video depicting its Libyan branch executing dozens of Ethiopian Christians.

May 2015

Isis takes control over Iraq’s Ramadi and Syria’s ancient city of Palmyra. The militants’ Libya affiliate takes Sirte.

June 2015

Isis claims responsibility for the attack on the Tunisian resort of Sousse, where 38 people were killed, including 30 Brits.

September 2015

Russia begins airstrikes in Syria, which it claims is a bid to fight Isis. The US accuses Russia of striking opposition groups and civilians.

November 2015

Isis carries out a number of attacks across Paris, killing 130 people. France begins to ramp up the number of airstrikes against Isis in Syria. Meanwhile in Iraq, Kurdish forces retake Sinjar.

December 2015

Iraqi forces seize Ramadi from Isis.

June 2016

Iraqi forces, with the help of US and coalition airstrikes, retake the strategic city of Fallujah after a month-long campaign. The city was under Isis control since 2014.

July 2016

An Isis suicide bomb attack on a busy shopping street in Baghdad kills over 200 people.

Carried out during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, it was the jihadists’ most deadliest bomb attack on civilians.

August 2016

US-backed forces in Syria retake the key north-eastern city of Manbij.

October 2016

Iraq and US-led coalition forces begin their campaign to liberate Mosul.

December 2016

Libyan forces liberate Sirte with the help of US airstrikes.

December 2016

Isis manages to retake Palmyra from Syrian government forces, despite intensive Russian bombing against them.

Despite territorial losses in Iraq and Syria, Isis carried out more than 1,400 attacks and killed more than 7,000 people in 2016 – a 20 per cent increase from 2015 – according to a 2017 report by the University of Maryland.

January 2017

Isis claims responsibility for an attack at the Reina nightclub in Istanbul, when a gunman opened fire on people celebrating New Year’s Eve and killed 39.

Iraqi forces liberate eastern Mosul from Isis, 100 days since the start of their campaign.

Iraq PM Haider al-Abadi hails 'big victory' in Mosul

February 2017

A suicide bomber attacks a Sufi shrine in southern Pakistan, killing at least 72 - including 30 children - and wounding dozens more. Isis claims responsibility.

May 2017

Isis claims responsibility for a suicide bombing attack at an Ariana Grande concert at the Manchester Arena, which killed 22, including children, and injured 59.

July 2017

Iraqi forces liberate Mosul.

In what Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi called “an official acknowledgement of defeat”, Isis blows up the Grand al Nuri Mosque – the place where al-Baghdadi declared the caliphate in 2014 – and the al Hadba minaret.

September 2017

A bomb explodes but fails to detonate on a morning commuter train at Parsons Green station in London. Isis claims responsibility, but British and US government sources later say there is no evidence to link the jihadist group to the incident.

October 2017

The US-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces liberate Raqqa, the caliphate’s former capital, after a four-month long campaign.

”The defeat of Isis in Raqqa represents a critical breakthrough in our worldwide campaign to defeat Isis and its wicked ideology,” US President Donald Trump says.

US officials say that some 60,000 Isis militants have been killed since 2014.

December 2017

Abadi says Isis has been defeated in Iraq.

The coalition estimates that fewer than 1,000 militants remained in Iraq and Syria – just one third of the figure from three weeks before. It has now lost 95 per cent of its territory.

July 2018

At least 200 people are killed in a suicide bombing and other attacks in Sweida in Syria. Isis claims responsibility.

August 2018

Isis releases a 55-minute audio recording that they say is from Baghdadi. The man in the recording admits Isis groups are losing and urges followers to continue the fight.

December 2018

In a shock announcement, Trump announces that US forces will be withdrawn from Syria and claims that Isis has been defeated.

February 2019

SDF announces “final battle” against Isis.

British-born Shamima Begum – the teenager who left Bethnal Green to join Isis – is found in al-Hol camp in Syria, sparking a nationwide debate on what the UK should do with returning jihadists. UK home secretary Sajid Javid strips the 19-year-old of her British citizenship. A few weeks later, her newborn son Jarrah dies.

March 2019

The British government claims that just one civilian was harmed in RAF airstrikes that killed more than 4,000 enemy fighters in Iraq and Syria. US President Donald Trump meanwhile scraps a policy requiring US intelligence officials to publish the number of civilians killed in drone strikes outside active war zones.

SDF say they have made "significant" advances against Isis, and that the militants are now trapped in small “pockets next to the river".

April 2019

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi appears on video for the first time in nearly five years.

In a speech released by Isis’ media arm, al-Baghdadi addressed the group’s territorial defeat in Syria.

October 2019

On 5 October, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warns Turkey is preparing a full-scale invasion of northern Syria.

Days later, the Trump administration announces that it will withdraw US forces from the area and permit the invasion to take place, which leads to hundreds of Isis prisoners escaping during the offensive.

October 2019

Al-Baghdadi is reportedly killed by a US military raid in northern Syria.

Officials from several countries say US special forces carried out an attack targeting the Isis leader, who has led the terrorist group since 2010.

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