Identifying and Structuring the Objectives of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Its Followers

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Detlof von Winterfeldt
Richard S. John
Johannes Siebert
This study addresses three questions: What are the objectives of the leaders of ISIL? What are the objectives of the followers of ISIL? How are the two sets of objectives related? To answer these questions, we analyzed the transcripts of interviews and presentations of 59 subject matter experts (SMEs) and conducted a separate analysis of speeches of ISIL leaders and selected Internet sources. In both efforts we identified and structured the strategic, fundamental, and means objectives of ISIL and its followers. The results indicate that ISIL’s leaders pursue four strategic objectives: (1) Establish a Caliphate in Iraq and the Levant, (2) Control and Govern the Caliphate, (3) Expand Islam and Sharia Law Worldwide, and (4) Recreate the Power and Glory of (Sunni) Islam. The followers’ objectives can be partitioned into three strategic objectives: Humanitarian Fulfillment, Religious Fulfillment, and Personal Fulfillment. The objectives identified from the SME interviews were similar to those identified from ISIL leaders’ statements and the Internet. However, the Internet search revealed many more personal objectives of ISIL followers. The results further indicate that ISIL’s leadership objectives are closely aligned with those of its followers. There also is a sharp contrast between the objectives of ISIL and those of Al Qaeda, particularly ISIL’s emphasis on occupying and controlling territories in Iraq and Syria versus Al Qaeda’s focus on worldwide jihad.