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Black Flags

The Rise of ISIS

By Joby Warrick
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Black Flags by Joby Warrick

Black Flags (2015) tells the origin story of the infamous terror organization known as the Islamic State or ISIS. These blinks detail a history that begins with a fledgling insurgency in Iraq following the US invasion in 2003 and ends with one of the most powerful and frightening terrorist groups of all time.

Key idea 1 of 8

ISIS can be traced back to the release of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi from a Jordanian prison in 1999.

Have you heard the name Zarqawi? This al-Qaeda leader shaped the course of recent history.

He was born in 1966 in the city of Zarqa, Jordan, earning him the name “al-Zarqawi,” or “the one from Zarqa.” The vicious terrorist network that he went on to lead would eventually form the basis of ISIS, after a complicated journey that begins in the mid-1990s. Here’s the story:

Earlier in that decade, Zarqawi went to Afghanistan to join the “holy war” against the pro-Moscow government installed by the Soviet Union. Following his return to Jordan, he was arrested on March 29, 1994 and locked up in al-Jafr prison with 12 other men, all of whom had been found in possession of illegal weapons that they intended to use in a terrorist attack on an Israeli outpost. They had planned to avenge the killing of 20 Muslims by a Jewish extremist on February 25 that year.

However, prison did little to weaken Zarqawi’s resolve or that of his fellow Islamist inmates. Rather than spending their time in jail with the common criminals, the group pored over the Koran, hardening their hatred for those they saw as enemies of Allah – namely the United States and Israel.

Then, in 1999, King Abdullah II of Jordan released Zarqawi – at that time the most dangerous inmate in al-Jafr – along with many of his associates. King Hussein had passed away and his son, Abdullah, was hellbent on repairing the damaged relations between the kingdom and various political factions.

It was high time to pacify the Islamists, and he offered a gift: the release of 16 Muslim Brotherhood members from prison. Little did the king know that, while in prison, Zarqawi had become a father figure to those around him. Upon his release, this leadership paid dividends as Zarqawi found himself surrounded by a group of loyal followers who would unquestioningly obey his every word.

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