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Just where did ISIS come from?


Historical and Investigative Research – 23 Nov 2015
by Francisco Gil-White

(research assistance: Ricardo Sánchez Ambrosi & Arnulfo Quintero)


  Leer en español


ISIS attacks Paris, all eyes on ISIS: a gang of terrorists that lord a chunk of the Middle East and claim to be ‘a State.’ Out of nowhere they came, it seems. But any hat trick needs misdirection—the magician’s trade. Now you see it, now you don’t. Case in point: strike terror in Paris, capture the attention, erase history. ISIS was US policy. It was brewing since 2003, when the US invaded Iraq and ‘gifted’ Iraqis with jihadist terrorism that set the US-military prison system to overflowing, becoming a “jihadi university,” as the general in charge called it. When “jihadi university” graduates produced ISIS, and ISIS produced the Syrian Civil War, the US helped them again. Pay attention, or you won’t see the next trick coming.

“JIHADI UNIVERSITY”: Inmates in Camp Bucca, a US prison in Iraq,
doing their daily Muslim prayers
(Dusan Vranic/AP)


After ISIS claimed responsibility for a massive terror attack in Paris, Margot Wallstrom, on Swedish television, explained the radicalization of European Muslims thus: “Palestinians see that there isn’t a future.”[1] A conditioned response, as old as the West. Something bad happened? Blame a Jew. And don’t you worry about making sense.

Wallstrom can do better. It is her job to do better: she is the Swedish foreign minister. If she would only deputize someone from her staff to do a few hours research she would find—in the publicly available sources—the real cause of ISIS and its violence. (But perhaps she’s done that already...)

I shall here briefly summarize what a few hours of research taught me.

The American “jihadi university” and the emergence of ISIS

Under Saddam Hussein, Iraq was not the best place in the world but neither was it an apocalyptic cauldron of jihadist terror activity. It became the latter in the wake of the US invasion. As the Iraqi desert boomed and bloomed in red flames and black plumes, a rather large US-military prison system grew to provide accommodations for the culprits—and many others.

These confused jihadists had obviously never heard the Western media gospel that Islam is the religion of peace. In August 2007 Newsweek reported that Maj. Gen. Douglas Stone, responsible for US ‘Detainee Operations’ (prisons) in Iraq, had begun trying to ‘re-educate’ his charges at Camps Cropper and Bucca into this kinder, gentler Islam.

Success was improbable: “Even General Stone admits that the jury is out on how well the religious [re-education] classes may work on juveniles.” Sheik Jabbar, the hapless cleric in charge, spoke with more candor: “If they let them out, they would all become suicide bombers.” He meant his own students!

Jabbar’s program was small and weak. He had noticed only a small improvement in “some” of his students, and “he’s not sure it’s going to last.” And what did “some” mean? Just three or four kids, because “the religious education classes target a focus group of 10 young men.” That was out of “approximately 3,800 detainees at Cropper.” The rival jihadist education program, running concurrently, was more ambitious: “detainees are now being brought into Cropper at the rate of roughly 60 a day. As the detainees come in, the [jihadi] insurgents already in custody fan out, looking for new recruits.”[2]

Poor Jabbar. His reeducation program seems like nothing more than a bit of political correctness, displayed just to give the Newsweek reporter something positive to report. For Jabbar was to empty an Islamist ocean with a spoon—in the middle of a jihadi hurricane.

Was that hurricane US policy?

Nazim Al-Juburi, a prominent Al Qaeda defector, seemed to be of that opinion. In a May 2008 interview he said:

“We have spoken to the Americans more than once and told them that they make a big mistake by giving many of our detained people in Camp Bucca and other prisons a chance to be educated on this [jihadist] ideology.”[3]

A month later, Stone told the New York Times that he was now separating ‘extremist’ from ‘moderate’ inmates so as to impede this. But his prison system, he admitted, had been (his words) a “jihadi university.”[4]

That is exactly how another former detainee from Camp Bucca, Adel Jasim Mohammed, described it:

“ ‘Extremists had freedom to educate the young detainees. I saw them giving courses using classroom boards on how to use explosives, weapons and how to become suicide bombers,’ Mohammed said.

‘For the Americans we felt it was normal. They did not stop them [the radicals].’ ”[5]

This “jihadi university” was running from 2003 until the US military initiated the process to dismantle the prison system in late 2008. Five years—a bachelor’s degree. So even if we believe that Stone really did begin a half-hearted attempt to fix the problem in mid-2008, the damage was already—utterly—done.

And at shut down, the prisoners were simply released!

As that process began in late 2008, the New York Times reported that local Iraqi sheiks, who were universally against the prisoner releases, were warning US officials that dangerous AQI (Al Qaeda in Iraq) murderers were among the freed. Those AQI murderers would soon produce ISIS.

Iraqi government officials, for their part, asked for “access to American intelligence in cases of potentially dangerous detainees so that they could issue arrest warrants and then either hold the detainees themselves or ask the Americans to continue to hold them.” The Americans refused, claiming they had to protect their sources (in order to protect sources, apparently, you allow the murderers they informed on to roam free).[5a]

The outcome? A universal consensus in the mainstream mass media now considers the US “jihadi university” in Iraq as the platform for ISIS.

Mother Jones, for example, published a piece with the title: “Was Iraq’s Top Terrorist Radicalized at a US-Run Prison?”[6]

The New York Times ran the headline, “How America helped ISIS,” charging that “The prisons became virtual terrorist universities: The hardened radicals were the professors, the other detainees were the students, and the prison authorities played the role of absent custodian.”[7]

And the Washington Post had an article titled “How the Islamic State evolved in an American prison,” stating that “nine members of the Islamic State’s top command did time at Camp Bucca,” including Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, the group’s top leader. The Post quoted a report by a US soldier that explained how the extremists ran the inmates according to Sharia law, and anybody guilty of ‘Western’ behavior was “severely punished.”

The US prisons in Iraq midwifed an important merger. At Camp Bucca, the fascist but secular Baathists got Islamist religion, and the Islamist but disorganized jihadists acquired Baathist organizational skills. And so, “from the ashes of what former inmates called an ‘al-Qaeda school’ rose the Islamic State.[8]

On all this, the media imposed the usual ‘mistakes were made’ and ‘impossible choices’ interpretations. But there is one small problem: after releasing its “jihadi university” graduates, the Pentagon directly assisted their offspring, the ‘Syrian rebels.’ But did they know who these ‘Syrian rebels’ were? And where they came from? Yes they did.

The ‘jihadi university’ graduates produced the ‘Syrian opposition’—and the Pentagon always knew this

On August 2012, US military intelligence produced a secret report since obtained and published by Judicial Watch.[9] The report, which makes clear what the Pentagon knew, states:

“The Salafist[s], the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI [Al Qaeda in Iraq] are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria.”

Some definitions:

Salafist = influential jihadist, terrorist ideology

Muslim Brotherhood = Salafist organization

Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) = Salafist organization that, in August 2012, was still making public statements “through the spokesman of the Islamic State in Iraq” or ISI, later to call itself Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

According to this Pentagon report, the main sponsor of the “Syrian opposition” was AQI—the “jihadi university” graduates! The report says:

“AQI is familiar with Syria. AQI trained in Syria and then infiltrated into Iraq. AQI supported the Syrian opposition from the beginning, both ideologically and through the media. ...AQI conducted a number of operations in several Syrian cities under the name of Jaish al Nusra (Victorious Army), one of its affiliates.” (emphasis added)

What would probably happen? According to the Pentagon,

“If the situation unravels there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in Eastern Syria (Hasaka and Der Zor), and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want...” (emphasis added)

Who are these “supporting powers to the opposition”? As the same document explains, “the West, Gulf countries, and Turkey support the opposition” (emphasis added). “The West” here means the US, British, and French power elites (at least).

The Pentagon perceived

“ ideal atmosphere for AQI to return to its old pockets in Mosul and Ramadi, and will provide a renewed momentum under the presumption of unifying the jihad among Sunni Iraq and Syria, and the rest of the Sunnis in the Arab world against what it considers one enemy, the dissenters [= Shias]. ISI could also declare an Islamic State through its union with other terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria...” (emphasis added)

What happened? It really is uncanny: exactly what the Pentagon predicted. AQI returned to Mosul and Ramadi and ISI joined with other terror groups and declared an Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Is this what the Pentagon wanted?

One hypothesis—always preferred by the media, and never presented as a hypothesis but as an axiom of correct thinking—says no: this was all a mistake. I call it the ‘Establishment hypothesis.’ The alternative hypothesis, never considered, says yes: this was all quite intentional.

Let us consider the evidence, and then decide.

The CIA was reported to be running a program to arm the ‘Syrian opposition’ as early as June 2012. “The arms themselves,” it was said, “are coming from Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.” Since Turkey is run by an Islamist party, and the regimes in Saudi Arabia and Qatar are both ‘Wahhabi’—a virtual synonym of ‘Salafi’—it follows that all parties sponsoring this CIA weapons program for the ‘Syrian opposition’—except for the US sponsors—were openly Islamist. And as the August 2012 report makes clear, the Pentagon knew that the weapons were going mainly to its “jihadi university” graduates.

Of course, officially, it was claimed that the weapons were for “opposition groups seen as most friendly to the U.S.”, which is code for democratic, secular moderates.[10] To be fair, we must consider this claim.

Every time someone in the US power elite made a public call for assistance to the ‘Syrian opposition,’ Ausama (or Osama) Monajed—or some substitute spokesman for something calling itself the Syrian National Council (SNC)—was trotted out to echo agreement and give legitimacy. For good measure, Monajed or some other SNC stalwart would complain about “ ‘the militiamen of Assad,’ ” who allegedly do nothing but visit terror on Syrian civilians: “ ‘who come and rape their women, slaughter their children, and kill their elderly.’ ” This supported the US official line because the SNC was “generally recognized” by the Western media as “ ‘the main opposition coalition’ ” and portrayed as a group of pristine, freedom-fighting, liberal democrats.

So the hypothesis that the US really was supporting moderate democrats in Syria would appear to be as good as the democratic purity of the SNC. Two problems. First, accusations against the Assad regime always came from the same doubtful source, and were never verified. Second: “the SNC... includes the Muslim Brotherhood.”[11] An additional problem is that the CIA weapons for the ‘Syrian opposition’ were “funneled mostly across the Turkish border by way of a shadowy network of intermediaries including Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood.”[11a]

From its inception, the SNC and its powerful US ‘handlers’ acted as a lobbying front in the West for the Free Syrian Army (FSA),[12] which claimed to be a group of former Syrian Army officers fighting the Assad regime in order to stop what they alleged were Assad’s attacks against civilians. And this, I will allow, sounds good, and supports the US official line.[12a]

However, in November 2012, “under Western pressure” (underline those words), the ‘Syrian opposition’ was “reorganized...,  into a new National Alliance,” or National Coalition, in meetings held in Doha, Qatar.[13]  One third of the seats went to the SNC; the other two-thirds to committed and proud Islamists.[14]  In December, with “security officials from the United States, Britain, France, the Gulf and Jordan” watching over, the FSA was also reorganized.

“The unified command [of the new FSA] includes many with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and to Salafists… It excludes the most senior officers who had defected from Assad’s military.

Its composition, estimated to be two-thirds from the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies, reflects the growing strength of Islamist fighters on the ground and resembles that of the civilian opposition leadership coalition created under Western and Arab auspices in Qatar last month.[15]

A pithy summary goes like this: just three months after the Pentagon recognized in its August 2012 report that the ‘Syrian opposition’ movement was basically an Islamist jihad, US powerbrokers purged non-Islamists from those ‘Syrian opposition’ groups they had pledged themselves to support, pushing to one side the founders of the FSA.

This was no mistake.

There was more money, weapons, and training for the new FSA. And just a few months later, much of the FSA, now chock-full of Islamists, did the natural thing and joined ISIS, taking their US-supplied weaponry and training with them.[16]

“For a long time, Western and Arab states supported the Free Syrian Army not only with training but also with weapons and other materiel. The Islamic State commander, Abu Yusaf, added that members of the Free Syrian Army who had received training—from the United States, Turkey and Arab military officers at an American base in Southern Turkey—have now joined the Islamic State. ‘Now many of the FSA people who the West has trained are actually joining us,’ he said, smiling.”[17]

A good many other ISIS jihadists also received US training during the ‘Arab Spring,’ when US powerbrokers claimed—as they always do—that they were training democratic ‘freedom fighters.[18]


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In light of this evidence, I would not know how to begin defending the Establishment hypothesis. So perhaps the alternative hypothesis, which has the US power elite favoring the growth of violent Muslim radicalism—deserves a fair hearing. Especially since that hypothesis, which HIR has defended for some time, led to predictions, made back in May 2011, now confirmed by the US-sponsored rise of ISIS.

But why did the US power elite create ISIS? That is an interesting question, to be addressed in a future piece.

Related readings

Here Comes the Muslim Brotherhood
Courtesy of Barack Hussein Obama

The religion of peace?
What, exactly, is 'moderate Islam'?

Dhimmitude and slavery
The fates of non-Muslims (and Muslims, too) in Islamic society

Footnotes and further reading

[1] “Israel condemns ‘hostile’ Swedish comments linking Paris attacks to Israeli-Palestinian conflict”; Jerusalem Post; 16 November 2015; by Tovah Lazaroff 

[2] “Iraqi Prison Tries to Un-Brainwash Radical Youth”; Newsweek; 8 August 2007; By Babak Dehghanpisheh

[3] BBC Monitoring Middle East – Political; Supplied by BBC Worldwide Monitoring; May 2, 2008 Friday; “Iraq: TV carries second part of interview with former Al-Qa’idah member”; LENGTH: 2860 words; ["Death Industry" programme, presented by Rima Salihah recorded]

[4] “U.S. Remakes Jails in Iraq, but Gains Are at Risk”; The New York Times; June 2, 2008; SECTION: Section A; Column 0; Foreign Desk; Pg. 1; LENGTH: 2798 words; DATELINE: BAGHDAD; By ALISSA J. RUBIN; Thom Shanker contributed reporting from Washington.

[5] “US Iraq jail an ‘al-Qaeda school’ ”; 12 December 2009;

[5a] “A Puzzle Over Prisoners as Iraqis Take Control”; The New York Times; 25 October 2008; SECTION: Section A; Column 0; Foreign Desk; Pg. 1; LENGTH: 1665 words; DATELINE: CAMP BUCCA, Iraq; By ALISSA J. RUBIN

[6] “Was Iraq’s Top Terrorist Radicalized at a US-Run Prison?: A former US military compound commander at Camp Bucca suspects ISIS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's extremism was fostered (or bolstered) at the facility”; Mother Jones; 11 July 2014; by Jenna McLaughlin

[7] “How America Helped ISIS”; New York Times; 1 October 2014; by ANDREW THOMPSON and JEREMI SURIOCT

[8] “How the Islamic State evolved in an American prison”; Washington Post; 4 November 2014; by Terrence McCoy


[10] “Report: US Helping Syrian Rebels Arm, Fight”; VOA News; June 21, 2012.

[11] “The Syrian opposition: who’s doing the talking?”; The Guardian; 12 July 2012; by Charlie Skelton

Question: Were the accusations against Assad true?

The media never bothered to check these allegations, reporting behind the convenient formula of “we cannot confirm,” and basically letting the accusations stand. They didn’t seem to care, either, that such accusations almost always came from one—and only one—source: the august-sounding Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), which turns out to be (mostly) one man, Rami Abdulrahman (who runs a clothes shop in Coventry, UK). [See the above referenced Guardian article.]

[11a] “C.I.A. Said to Aid in Steering Arms to Syrian Opposition”; New York Times; 21 June 2012; Page A1; by Eric Schmitt

[12] “Syria opposition groups agree to coordinate efforts: The Free Syrian Army agrees to scale back its campaign of attacks on Syrian forces after talks with the Syrian National Council, which advocates nonviolence”; Los Angeles Times; 1 December 2011; By Alexandra Zavis and Rima Marrouch

[12a] Monajed and other senior SNC ‘spokespeople’ look every bit the part of US power-elite puppies, often seen at the White House, and shuttling back and forth between the Council on Foreign Relations, the Ford Foundation, the Bilderberg meetings, the Henry Jackson Society, and other powerful think tanks in the US and Britain chock-full of intelligence, military, and diplomatic honchos such as Brent Scowcroft (former National Security Advisor), Zbigniew Brzezinski (same), and James Woolsey (former CIA Director).


“The Syrian opposition: who’s doing the talking?”; The Guardian; 12 July 2012; by Charlie Skelton

[13] “Syria Rebels Create New Unified Military Command”; The World Post; 8 December 2012; BYLINE: Bassem Mroue and Ben Hubbard, Associated Press

[14] “Syrian opposition groups reach unity deal”; Los Angeles Times; 12 November 2012; BYLINE: Abdullah Rebhy, Associated Press

[15] “Syrian rebels elect head of new military command”; 8 December 2012; Reuters

[16] “FREE SYRIAN ARMY REBELS DEFECT TO ISLAMIST GROUP JABHAT AL-NUSRA: The well-resourced organisation, which is linked to al-Qaida, is luring many anti-Assad fighters away, say brigade commanders”; The Guardian; 8 May 2013; by  Mona Mahmood and Ian Black

[17] “THE TERRORISTS FIGHTING US NOW? WE JUST FINISHED TRAINING THEM: No, the enemy of our enemy is not our friend”; Washington Post; 18 August 2014; By Souad Mekhennet

[18]  “...Some European and Arab intelligence officials also voiced their worries and frustration about what they call the mistakes the United States has made in handling the uprisings in Arab states. “We had, in the early stages, information that radical groups had used the vacuum of the Arab Spring, and that some of the people the U.S. and their allies had trained to fight for ‘democracy’ in Libya and Syria had a jihadist agenda — already or later, [when they] joined al Nusra or the Islamic State,” a senior Arab intelligence official said in a recent interview. He said that often his U.S. counterparts would say things like, “We know you are right, but our president in Washington and his advisers don’t believe that.” Those groups, say Western security officials, are threats not only in the Middle East, but also in the United States and Europe, where they have members and sympathizers.

The official’s account has been corroborated by members of the Islamic State in and outside the Middle East, including Abu Yusaf, the military commander. In several interviews conducted in the last two months, they described how the collapse of security during Arab Spring uprisings helped them recruit, regroup and use the Western strategy — to support and train groups that fight dictators — for their own benefits. “There had [also] been … some British and Americans who had trained us during the Arab Spring times in Libya,” said a man who calls himself Abu Saleh and who only agreed to be interviewed if his real identity remained secret.”

SOURCE: “THE TERRORISTS FIGHTING US NOW? WE JUST FINISHED TRAINING THEM: No, the enemy of our enemy is not our friend”; Washington Post; 18 August 2014; By Souad Mekhennet









































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