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This study addressed three questions: 1. What are the objectives of the leaders of ISIL? 2. What are the objectives of the followers of ISIL? 3. 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: Establish a Caliphate in Iraq and the Levant, Control and Govern the Caliphate, Expand Islam and Sharia Law Worldwide, and 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 vs. Al Qaeda’s focus on worldwide jihad.
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Identifying and Structuring the Objectives of the Islamic
State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Its Followers
Johannes Siebert, Detlof von Winterfeldt, Richard S. John
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Johannes Siebert, Detlof von Winterfeldt, Richard S. John (2016) Identifying and Structuring the Objectives of the Islamic
State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Its Followers. Decision Analysis 13(1):26-50. https://doi.org/10.1287/deca.2015.0324
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Decision Analysis
Vol. 13, No. 1, March 2016, pp. 26–50
ISSN 1545-8490 (print) ISSN 1545-8504 (online) http://dx.doi.org/10.1287/deca.2015.0324
© 2016 INFORMS
Identifying and Structuring the Objectives of the
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and
Its Followers
Johannes Siebert
Operations Management, Faculty of Law, Economics, and Management, University of Bayreuth, D-95440 Bayreuth,
Germany, johannes.siebert@uni-bayreuth.de
Detlof von Winterfeldt
Epstein Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, Viterbi School of Engineering, University of Southern California,
Los Angeles, California 90089, winterfe@usc.edu
Richard S. John
Department of Psychology, Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences, University of Southern California,
Los Angeles, California 90089, richardj@usc.edu
This study addresses three questions:
1. What are the objectives of the leaders of ISIL?
2. What are the objectives of the followers of ISIL?
3. 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.
Keywords: decision analysis; multiple objectives; terrorism; risk; ISIL
History : Received on April 7, 2015. Accepted by Editor-in-Chief Rakesh K. Sarin on August 18, 2015, after
1 revision. Published online in Articles in Advance November 13, 2015.
If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear
the results of a hundred battles. (Sun Tzu, Chinese philoso-
pher and military strategist, approximately 500 BC)
What precisely are we contesting, and what is it that fuels
the adversary’s power? (Major General Michael Nagata,
Commander, Special Operations Strategic Command
Central, 2014)
1. Introduction
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) began
in 2004 as an insurgency in Syria and Iraq. Ini-
tially affiliated with Al Qaeda, it developed a more
brutal form of terrorism and a different strategy,
which focused on the establishment of a regional
caliphate instead of worldwide attacks on Western
assets and people. After its former leader, Abu Musab
al-Zarqawi, was killed in a U.S. bomb attack in 2006,
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi took over as ISIL’s spiritual
and military leader. ISIL has a well-known organi-
zation chart, with a “cabinet,” a spokesperson (Abu
Mohammed al-Adnani), a military commander (Omar
al-Shishani), and regional governors.
ISIL’s followers come mostly from disenfranchised
Sunni youths in Iraq and Syria. ISIL has also attracted
26
Siebert, von Winterfeldt, and John: What Are the Objectives of ISIL and Its Followers?
Decision Analysis 13(1), pp. 26–50, © 2016 INFORMS 27
a large number of foreign fighters from Arab and
Western countries, including religious converts, crim-
inals, and adventurers. After the withdrawal of U.S.
troops from Iraq, ISIL became a military force to be
reckoned with, growing to an army of about 30,000
(Cockburn 2014), including approximately 5,000–
10,000 foreign fighters (Lund 2013, Ackermann 2014,
Altman 2014). At the end of 2014, ISIL occupied large
swaths of northern Syria and Iraq, including Mosul,
Iraq’s second largest city. It draws revenue from taxa-
tion, oil sales, and smuggling operations, exceeding at
times $1 million a day (Ackermann 2014). Using these
funds to support its military operations, ISIL also has
developed a semblance of governance in the occupied
territories.
Because of the growing threat that ISIL poses to
Iraq, Syria, their neighbors and the West, the U.S.
Special Operations Command Central (SOCCENT),
under the leadership of General Major Michael
Nagata, requested studies of ISIL to answer the ques-
tions: What does ISIL want, and why is it so attrac-
tive to its followers? To respond to these questions,
an intensive five-month effort was organized by the
Strategic Multilayer Assessment (SMA) office of the
U.S. Department of Defense involving multiple study
groups and over 100 researchers and subject matter
experts. One of these study groups was formed at the
Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism
Events (CREATE), and its primary goal was to iden-
tify the objectives of ISIL’s leaders and its followers.
This study and its results are reported in this article.
As in other studies, we started with a strategic
model, which is the dominant paradigm in terror-
ism (Abrahms 2008). Reflecting the views of many
authors (Tullock 1974, Hacker 1976, Price 1977, Corsi
1981, Waterman 1981, Sandler et al. 1983, Waugh
1983, Muller and Opp 1986, Sandler and Lapan 1988,
Lapan and Sandler 1993, Enders and Sandler 1995),
McCormick (2003) defined terrorism in terms of a
strategic model “as an instrumental activity designed
to achieve or help achieve a specified set of long-run
and short-run objectives” (p. 481).
The strategic model posits that terrorists are ratio-
nal actors who attack for political ends. As in other
organizations, individual members may have some-
what different objectives or assign different impor-
tance to a common set of objectives. When identifying
and structuring objectives, decision analysts therefore
emphasize the need to create, first and foremost, a
complete set of objectives that reflect the collective
sets of values of the organization. When structuring
objectives for ISIL’s leaders, we believe that their col-
lective objectives are internally consistent, although
individual military or religious leaders might have
slightly different priorities. With respect to ISIL’s fol-
lowers, we identified a broad range of objectives, col-
lectively describing what different followers might
want to achieve. Each individual will likely empha-
size a subset of these objectives and ignore others.
Waugh (1983) pointed out that “assessing the goals
and value priorities, as well as the capabilities and
strengths of commitment, of challenging terrorist
organizations, is clearly necessary for the determina-
tion of government bargaining strategies” (pp. 16–17).
Furthermore, Waugh argued, not “all terrorist orga-
nizations do 000have the same objectives” (p. 13).
Therefore, it is of utmost importance to identify
objectives of every terrorist group the world has to
deal with. The specific challenge is that it is not pos-
sible to interact directly with terrorists. It would be
highly difficult and maybe even life-threatening to get
access to terrorist groups. Keeney and von Winterfeldt
(2010) therefore developed a methodology for deriv-
ing objectives from open sources available on the
Internet. We extend this methodology to identify the
objectives of ISIL, the terrorist group that is deemed
to be the most dangerous for the world in 2014, and
its followers.
Characterizing the values of ISIL’s leaders and fol-
lowers is critical to understanding their future actions
and ISIL’s eventual success or failure. ISIL is an
adaptive adversary, and any strategic decision sup-
port model should include some representation of
ISIL’s values and objectives. The description of ISIL’s
objectives is a necessary step toward a prescriptive
analysis of counterterrorism and military strategies.
For example, if the conclusion is that ISIL leaders
want to establish a regional caliphate as opposed to
worldwide jihad, this suggests that military interven-
tions to reduce regional territory losses are important.
This distinction between descriptive adversary anal-
yses and prescriptive defender analysis is rooted in
basic concepts of decision and negotiation analysis
(see Raiffa 1968, Raiffa et al. 2003).
Siebert, von Winterfeldt, and John: What Are the Objectives of ISIL and Its Followers?
28 Decision Analysis 13(1), pp. 26–50, © 2016 INFORMS
We characterize values in terms of strategic objec-
tives, fundamental (ends) objectives, and means
objectives. Strategic objectives tend to be long term
and relatively stable over time. Fundamental objec-
tives are the ends to be achieved in a specific decision
context in a medium-term time frame. Means objec-
tives are the actions that help achieve ends and strate-
gic objectives, and they may evolve to fit the resources
and terrain of the moment. Any characterization of
these objectives are snapshots in time and should be
updated, especially after major events and leadership
changes. That adversary values may change over time
is, however, not a justification for not characterizing
and structuring adversary objectives. Decisions for
defending against terrorist groups have to be made
in real time, based on the information available and
the current understanding of the enemy’s values and
objectives.
Specifically, we address the following three
questions:
1. What are the objectives of the leaders of ISIL (i.e.,
what do ISIL’s leaders want to achieve)?
2. What are the objectives of followers of ISIL (i.e.,
why is ISIL attractive to followers)?
3. How are the two sets objectives related (i.e., do
they reinforce or each other or are they partially in
conflict)?
To answer these questions, we used a decision-
analytic methodology for identifying and structur-
ing strategic and fundamental objectives and related
them to means and actions to achieve these objec-
tives. In particular, we conducted two separate efforts,
one based on transcripts of interviews with 59 sub-
ject matter experts (SMEs) and a separate one based
on open source statements by ISIL leaders and other
open sources on the Internet. Findings from both
sources should be useful for developing plans and
strategies for countering ISIL’s efforts to establish and
expand a stronghold in the Middle East.
The methodology is similar to the one used in
Keeney and von Winterfeldt (2010), who identified
and structured the objectives of Al Qaeda using only
statements by Al Qaeda leaders and related Inter-
net sources. It extends this methodology in three
ways:
1. It utilizes two completely separate data sources
to identify and structure the objectives of ISIL’s lead-
ers and its followers: one based on the transcripts
of interviews with 59 subject matter experts and one
based on the speeches of ISIL leaders and selected
Internet sources.
2. Each effort was led by a different decision ana-
lyst to avoid cross-contamination of the sources and
findings.
3. It analyzed the relationships between ISIL objec-
tives and those of its followers to determine whether
and how they reinforce each other.
In the following sections, we first describe the data
sources and methodology used in this study, followed
by a description of the strategic, fundamental, and
means objectives of ISIL’s leaders and its followers.
We compare the results of the two separate efforts,
concluding that they are similar, though some details
in the followers’ objectives derived from the two
sources differ. The final sections provide some inter-
pretation of the results and suggest how the objec-
tives can be used to counter ISIL more effectively. The
appendix contains a detailed description of the state-
ments used to derive the objectives.
2. Methodology
Objectives are usually identified in personal inter-
views with decision makers and stakeholders (Keeney
and Raiffa 1976, von Winterfeldt and Edwards 1986,
Keeney 1992). However, direct personal interviews
with ISIL’s leaders and its followers were not avail-
able to us. Instead, we used an indirect methodology
of reviewing existing source materials, similar to stud-
ies that previously identified and structured the objec-
tives of Al Qaeda (Keeney and von Winterfeldt 2010)
and Hezbollah (Rosoff and von Winterfeldt 2015).
We distinguish between strategic objectives, funda-
mental objectives, and means objectives. As suggested
by Keeney and von Winterfeldt (2010), “Strategic
objectives provide guidance for all decisions. They
serve as the mechanism by which leaders can guide
decisions made by different individuals and groups
within an organization” (p. 1804). By contrast, “fun-
damental objectives concern the ends that decision
makers value in a specific decision context” (Keeney
1994, p. 798). Means objectives provide tactical guid-
ance to specific actions. Strategic, fundamental ends,
and means objectives come in a hierarchy: means
objectives guide actions to achieve fundamental objec-
tives, which, in turn, contribute to achieving strategic
Siebert, von Winterfeldt, and John: What Are the Objectives of ISIL and Its Followers?
Decision Analysis 13(1), pp. 26–50, © 2016 INFORMS 29
objectives. Decision analysts structure this relation-
ship in the form of an objectives hierarchy (Keeney
and Raiffa 1976) or value tree (von Winterfeldt and
Edwards 1986).
We used two completely separate approaches to
identify and structure the objectives of ISIL’s lead-
ers and its followers. The first approach used tran-
scripts of interviews with 59 SMEs, who were asked,
among other things, what are ISIL’s strategic objec-
tives, and why is ISIL so attractive to its followers?
Based solely on these transcripts, one of the authors
(von Winterfeldt) used standard decision analysis
concepts and techniques to highlight value statements
and subsequently structure them into an objectives
hierarchy, distinguishing between strategic, funda-
mental, and means objectives. The second approach
was based on open sources, primarily speeches of
the leaders of ISIL and selected Internet sources of
ISIL advocates and commentators. This effort was
conducted by another author (Siebert), using the
same decision analysis concepts and techniques. Both
efforts were conducted independently and separately
with no sharing of information between the two ana-
lysts.1Both analysts spent about the same amount of
time (approximately 160 hours, or 20 workdays) on
this effort between September and October 2014.
It is worth pointing out that both approaches relied
on standard decision analysis techniques for iden-
tifying and structuring objectives. These techniques
are different from many other text coding and anal-
ysis processes. First, it takes experience and substan-
tial training to identify value-relevant statements (as
opposed to statements of facts or opinions). Second,
and more importantly, structuring value statements
into an objectives hierarchy and separating strategic,
fundamental, and means objectives requires a signif-
icant amount of decision analysis training. Thus the
main manipulation in this study was that the two
1To be precise, there were two rounds of the SME-based effort.
The first round was completely independent of the open source
effort. After completing the first round, we received additional SME
interview transcripts. Rather than ignoring these, we decided to
add them to the SME effort, but we only made additions based
on specific statements in the new interviews. This resulted in some
minor additions to the objectives using the SME approach but no
changes in the combined set of objectives.
efforts were completed independently with two sep-
arate sources of data analyzed by two experienced
analysts, consistent with the manner analysts usually
identify and structure objectives. Of course, conduct-
ing this type of analysis with independent coders and
multiple analysts would be preferable, but the expe-
rience required for coding and the intensive effort
required by experienced decision analysts make this
difficult.
The 59 subject matter experts participated in an
effort conducted by the SMA office to support SOC-
CENT’s understanding of ISIL and its followers.
A summary report of these interviews (Canna and
Rieger 2015) lists 49 of these experts by name and
affiliation. Ten additional experts participated anony-
mously. Most SMEs were affiliated with U.S. and
international universities, think tanks, national secu-
rity services, and intelligence analysis agencies. Their
backgrounds varied, including specialties in
Islamic terror and jihadists movements;
Middle Eastern politics and international affairs;
the history, anthropology, sociology, and psychol-
ogy of terrorism; and
intelligence analysis of Islamic terrorism.
It is also noteworthy that seven SMEs had signifi-
cant counterterrorism experience in military and intel-
ligence agencies and five others had on-the-ground
experience in Iraq and other Middle Eastern coun-
tries, including a former Iraqi military officer.
The interviews were conducted and transcribed
by the staff of the National Security Institute (NSI),
resulting in a 554-page document. The main questions
related to the objectives of the leaders and followers
of ISIL were the following: What are ISIL’s strategic
objectives? Why is ISIL so inspiring to its followers?
And what motivates ISIL followers? The interviews
were, however, wide-ranging, and covered, in many
cases, a broad range of historical and political issues
related to ISIL. SOCCENT staff, in consultation with
a broader research team, identified and selected the
SMEs. Most interviews were with single subject mat-
ter experts; some were with small groups. In some
cases, presentations were intermingled with formal
interviews. The meetings lasted between 30 minutes
to more than 90 minutes. The interviews were tran-
scribed with no modifications of the wording and
Siebert, von Winterfeldt, and John: What Are the Objectives of ISIL and Its Followers?
30 Decision Analysis 13(1), pp. 26–50, © 2016 INFORMS
with only minimal editing of misspellings and gram-
matical errors. In some cases, summaries by the NSI
staff were also provided. The individual interview
transcriptions or presentations were between 5 and
23 pages long.
One analyst (von Winterfeldt) reviewed the SME
interview transcripts and highlighted 353 value-
relevant statements separately for ISIL and its follow-
ers. Subsequently, he separated the statements into
strategic, fundamental, and means objectives and cre-
ated an objectives hierarchy containing 24 ISIL orga-
nizational objectives and 26 follower objectives. The
wording of these objectives was taken mostly verba-
tim from the SME interviews to avoid any conscious
attempt to exaggerate or minimize the SME’s intent.
Another analyst (Siebert) identified objectives from
three different kinds of open sources available from
the Internet: (1) transcripts of 12 speeches by the
two most prominent ISIL leaders (al-Baghdadi and
al-Adnani) in English translation, (2) interviews with
experts and Internet articles dealing with ISIL in the
U.S. media (e.g., NYTimes.com, Vox.com, IBTimes.com,
Bustle.com, Breitbart.com), and (3) interviews with
experts and Internet articles dealing with ISIL in the
German media (e.g., Deutschlandfunk.de, FAZ.NET).
The selection of sources was guided by practicabil-
ity. All 12 speeches of al-Baghdadi and al-Adnani
that were available in English translation were ana-
lyzed. As a starting point for the open source media
search, we reviewed the leading media in the United
States and Germany (current TV news, newspaper
articles, and expert interviews) during the first week
of September 2014 to identify the status of infor-
mation on ISIL at this time. In the next step, older
material was analyzed using keywords and follow-
ing references in current sources. Furthermore, key
media were observed for new developments. Overall,
most of our sources were published between June and
October 2014. To ensure unbiased data, only sources
were considered in which the analyst felt that the
medium and/or the author did not pursue a specific
political agenda. For the same reason, American as
well as German media were used. The academic lit-
erature was not included because we did not find
any relevant current materials related to ISIL. Further-
more, we avoided drawing on materials by other ter-
rorist groups, although other groups may have sim-
ilar objectives. As in the SME analysis, an attempt
was made to stay close to the original wording of the
source material, including verbatim statements by al-
Baghdadi and al-Adnani, to avoid altering the mean-
ing or providing evaluations of ISIL’s own statements
as found in their English or German translations.
The decision analyst was aware that the open
sources could be biased by propaganda during the
identification of objectives and cross-checked several
sources in questionable cases. In some cases, it was
not easy to distinguish propaganda from true objec-
tives. For example, humanitarian causes are used by
ISIL to attract potential followers. It is true, however,
that some followers pursue these humanitarian objec-
tives, and therefore they too should be included in the
objectives hierarchy of the followers.
Having completed the separate efforts, the two ana-
lysts compared results and created a combined objec-
tives hierarchy. As in other instances of combining
objectives hierarchies from different stakeholders (see,
e.g., Keeney et al. 1987,1995; von Winterfeldt 1987),
this was just a matter of combining unique objectives
from both hierarchies into a single objectives hier-
archy. In some cases, there was a discussion about
naming objectives and separating strategic from fun-
damental objectives, but this also turned out to be a
straightforward task.
The study design allows us to compare and analyze
the sets of objectives with respect to two dimensions:
(1) ISIL leaders versus its followers and (2) SME inter-
view transcripts versus open sources. Our findings
can be used to understand more deeply why joining
ISIL is so attractive (see research question 3). Fur-
thermore, this design allows us to analyze potential
biases of different sources of information. For exam-
ple, we can investigate potential biases in both the
SME approach and the open source approach.
3. Results
3.1. Objectives of ISIL’s Leaders
Table 1shows an excerpt of the 353 SME statements
we identified related to the goals, values, grievances,
and objectives of ISIL. The shading was added after
the initial compilation of these statements, with strate-
gic objectives in dark grey, fundamental objectives in
light grey, and means objectives or other value-related
statements in white.
Siebert, von Winterfeldt, and John: What Are the Objectives of ISIL and Its Followers?
Decision Analysis 13(1), pp. 26–50, © 2016 INFORMS 31
Table 1 Excerpt of SME Statements About ISIL Objectives
Subject matter
expert ISIL objectives
SME 1 Lack of employment
Careful about interfering with tribes
Restoring a semblance of government
Unemployment youth bulge
SME 2 Revolutionary fervor
Preexisting grievances
Alienated by sectarian regime
Combating Shiite powers
More than Syria and Iraq
Representing all Sunnis
Deviation from the “right path”
Kill dissidents
Purify society
Totalitarian regime
Decadence of the West
Corruption of religion by minorities
Leader should be from the House of Prophets
Eliminating corrupters of their religion
Sunni Arabs effectively isolated
Pushed on the sideline
Control of large parts of the territory
Represent the entire Sunni population
Decline of secularism
Establish past Islamic glory
Purification of society
Totalitarian Islamic rule
Society declined
Deviated from the right path
Decadency of agents of the West
Corruption of religion
Alleviate Sunni grievances
Arab leadership of the Muslim community
Eliminate the agents of foreigners that corrupted religion
Absence of political authority
Islam is the way to go
Sunni Arabs alienated by the sectarian regime
Using this source list of 353 statements, 24 objectives
were identified, including 3 strategic, 5 fundamental,
and 16 means objectives. The resulting objectives hier-
archy is shown in Figure 1. The first strategic objec-
tive, Establish a Caliphate in Iraq and the Levant, can
be achieved by pursuing the fundamental objective
Eliminate Current Rulers in Iraq and Levant and, for
the regions ISIL already occupies, by the fundamental
objective Function as a State and Provide Services. The
second strategic objective, Expand Islam and Sharia Law
Worldwide, can be achieved by pursuing the funda-
mental objective Purge the World of Anti-Islamic Forces.
The third strategic objective, Recreate the Power and
Glory of 4Sunni5Islam, can be achieved by pursuing
the fundamental objectives Give Meaning to the Lives of
Sunnis and Implement a Pure and Strict Version of Islam.
From the open source speeches and media
accounts, we identified 175 statements related to the
goals, values, grievances, and objectives of ISIL. These
statements were between a couple of words and a
couple of sentences long. Furthermore, we listed the
context of these statements to prevent wrong inter-
pretations. Each statement was translated into at least
one objective. Overall, 113 statements were related to
the objectives of ISIL’s leaders. However, at this stage,
there were many redundancies in the objectives.
In the first step, strategic objectives were identi-
fied top-down, and in the second step, the top-down
and bottom-up approach were applied iteratively to
identify fundamental and means objectives, as well
as their relations. Overall, 30 distinctive objectives
were identified, including 4 strategic, 5 fundamen-
tal, and 21 means objectives. The resulting objectives
hierarchy is illustrated in Figure 2. The first strate-
gic objective, Expand the Caliphate 4the Whole World!5,
can be achieved by pursuing the fundamental objec-
tive Conquer New Territory. The second strategic objec-
tive, Control the Islamic State, can be achieved by
pursuing the fundamental objective Consolidate and
Defend Territory. The third strategic objective, Establish
a Caliphate Across Middle East, can be achieved by pur-
suing the fundamental objectives Kill or Convert Infi-
dels and Establish ISIL as a Radical and Rigorous Brand.
The fourth strategic objective, Disseminate Monotheism,
can be achieved by pursuing the fundamental objec-
tive Implement Sharia Law in Occupied Territories.
The strategic objectives and most fundamen-
tal objectives derived independently from the two
sources are similar. Differences between the two sets
of objectives show up mostly at the level of means
objectives. Both approaches identified the strate-
gic objective of establishing a caliphate. However,
the objectives hierarchy derived from open sources
emphasizes that ISIL not only wants to establish a
caliphate but also wants to be the organization to
control the Islamic State. Something similar can be
observed for the objectives Expand Islam and Sharia
Law Worldwide and Expand the Caliphate (the Whole
World!). The second objective derived from open
sources also includes the inherent claim for ISIL being
in power.
Siebert, von Winterfeldt, and John: What Are the Objectives of ISIL and Its Followers?
32 Decision Analysis 13(1), pp. 26–50, © 2016 INFORMS
Figure 1 ISIL Leaders’ Objectives Derived from Expert Interviews
Function as a
State and Provide
Services
Eliminate
Current Rulers in
Iraq and the Levant
Give Meaning to
the Lives of
Sunnis
Purge the World
of Anti-Islamic
Forces
Implement a Pure
and Strict Version
of Islam
Establish a Caliphate in Iraq
and the Levant
Recreate the Power and Glory
of (Sunni) Islam
Expand Islam
and Sharia Law
Worldwide
Occupy, Defend,
and Expand
Territory
Provide Internal
Security, Semblance
of Order
Stop Shia Violence
and Discrimination
Provide Military
Leadership and
Resources
Secure Resources
and Supply Lines
Be Recognized as
the Leader of the
Jihad
Increase Numbers
of Fighters and
Followers
Create Brand and
Notoriety as
Ruthless and Pure
Fight Decadency
and Corruption
Generate Revenue
Kill, Frighten, and
Convert Infidels
Radicalize
Followers
Teach the Children
True Islam
Eliminate Foreign
Agents, Tyrants,
and Jews
Spread Fanaticism
and Terror
Settle Grievances,
Redistribute
Wealth
ISIL’s claim for power is one of the most impor-
tant distinctions in comparison to Al Qaeda (Siebert
et al. 2015). ISIL does not focus on expelling West-
erners, destroying Israel, or establishing a caliphate
(in hundreds of years) (Keeney and von Winterfeldt
2010). ISIL wants to establish a caliphate immediately,
and their leaders want to be in power. Our design
using two different sources reveals this important
distinction.
The objectives hierarchy derived from expert inter-
views emphasizes ISIL’s focus on Sunnis in the strate-
gic objective Recreate the Power and Glory of 4Sunni5
Islam and the fundamental objective Give Meaning to
the Lives of Sunnis. By contrast, in the objectives hier-
archy derived from open sources, Sunni-related objec-
tives are only explicitly stated in the means objec-
tives Prevent Being Suppressed by Shia Iraqi Government,
Guard and Treat Sunnis with Respect, and Sunnis Govern
Iraq.
The analysis of the underlying value statements
shows similarities between Conquer New Territory and
Eliminate Current Rulers in Iraq and the Levant,Con-
solidate and Defend Territory and Function as a State
and Provide Services, as well as Implement Sharia Law
in Occupied Territories and Implement a Pure and Strict
Version of Islam. However, the objectives Kill or Con-
vert Infidels and Establish ISIL as a Radical and Rig-
orous Brand, derived from open sources, are means
objectives in the objectives hierarchy derived from
expert interviews. It is noteworthy that the fundamen-
tal objectives derived from expert interviews were for-
mulated more broadly than were those derived from
open sources.
The objectives hierarchy derived from open sources
is more comprehensive and contains objectives related
to military tactics such as Shape Battlefields to Gain
Advantages and Spook Their Military Adversaries and
Drive Out Civilian Population by Suicidal Attacks and
objectives related to military strategies such as Attack
Foreign Countries from Inside and Demonstrate Mili-
tary Strength and Terroristic Capabilities. Furthermore,
the objectives hierarchy derived from open sources
explicitly states the objectives Radicalize and Align
Followers and Take Over Other Islamic Movements. By
Siebert, von Winterfeldt, and John: What Are the Objectives of ISIL and Its Followers?
Decision Analysis 13(1), pp. 26–50, © 2016 INFORMS 33
Figure 2 ISIL Leaders’ Objectives Derived from Open Sources
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contrast, only the objective Provide Military Leader-
ship and Resources was not explicitly or implicitly
included in the objectives’ hierarchy derived from
open sources.
After identifying similarities and differences
between the two independently developed objectives
hierarchies, the two analysts created a joint objec-
tives hierarchy. The purposes of combining the two
hierarchies were twofold: (1) to provide a complete
set of objectives and (2) to avoid redundancies. The
two analysts first created a complete set of strategic
objectives and agreed on appropriate names for
strategic objectives that were worded similarly in
both sets. They did the same with fundamental and
means objectives, and they occasionally relabeled a
fundamental objective as a means objective (or vice
versa) after discussing whether an objective was truly
a fundamental one. Finally, they checked the resulting
combined objectives hierarchy for completeness and
redundancy (see Figure 3).
The three strategic objectives Establish a Caliphate
in Iraq and the Levant,Expand Islam and Sharia Law
Worldwide, and Recreate the Power and Glory of 4Sunni5
Islam from expert interviews are complemented by
the strategic objective Control and Govern the Islamic
State, indicating ISIL’s claim for power. The strategic
objectives are related to military power and religion.
In Figure 3, the arrows above the strategic objectives
indicate the extent to which they are related to mili-
tary power and religion.
The two objectives Kill or Convert Infidels and Estab-
lish ISIL as a Radical and Rigorous Brand that were
identified as fundamental in the objectives hierarchy
derived from open sources are considered as means
objectives in the combined hierarchy, as suggested
in the objectives hierarchy derived from expert inter-
views. Since the fundamental objectives derived from
Siebert, von Winterfeldt, and John: What Are the Objectives of ISIL and Its Followers?
34 Decision Analysis 13(1), pp. 26–50, © 2016 INFORMS
Figure 3 ISIL Leaders’ Objectives Based on All Sources
Military PowerReligion
Kill, Frighten, and/or Convert Infidels
Generate Revenue
Function as a
State and Provide
Services
Establish a
Caliphate in
Iraq and the
Levant
Improve Services
in Occupied
Territories
Fight Decadency
and Corruption
Stabilize Economy
and Offer Jobs
Provide Internal
Security, Semblance
of Order
Recreate the Power and Glory
of (Sunni) Islam
Implement a Pure
and Strict Version
of Islam
Implement the
Sharia with the
Sword
Take Over Other
Islamic
Movements
Derive Legitimacy as
Heirs/Descendants of
Mohammed
Be Recognized as
the Leader of the
Jihad
Give Meaning to
the Lives of
Sunnis
Stop Shia Violence
and Discrimination
Guard and Treat
Sunnis with
Respect
Sunnis Govern
Iraq
Purge the World
of Anti-Islamic
Forces
Expand
Islam and
Sharia Law
Worldwide
Attack Foreign
Countries from
Inside
Demonstrate Military
Strength and
Terroristic Capabilities
Be a Feared,
Authentic, Radical,
Brutal, and Rigorous
Movement
Create Brand and
Notoriety as
Ruthless and Pure
Prevent Foreign
Powers from Interfering
in Iraq and the
Levant
Eliminate Current
Rulers in Iraq and
the Levant
Control and
Govern the
Islamic State
Have the Ability to
Fight Like a
Modern Army
Have the Ability to
Fight Like a Terroristic
Underground Army
Secure Supply Lines
and Resources
Increase Numbers
of Fighters and
Followers
Occupy, Defend,
and Expand
Territory
Provide Military
Leadership and
Resources
Be Recognized as
the Leader of the
Islamic State
Radicalize and
Align Followers
expert interviews were broader, we used them in
the joint objectives hierarchy. Pursuing an additive
approach, all means objectives from both approaches
were explicitly (i.e., in original wording) or implicitly
(i.e., implied by another, broader objective) consid-
ered with four exceptions.
First, the objective Shape Battlefields to Gain Advan-
tages was based on military tactics such as destroying
dams and bridges and cleansing areas by frighten-
ing and killing infidels. Second, the objective Spook
Their Military Adversaries and Drive Out Civilian Pop-
ulation by Suicidal Attacks is also a special reason
for killing people. Third, in the objectives hierarchy
derived from open sources, Kill or Convert Infidels
is recognized as a fundamental objective. Further-
more, Kill or Convert Infidels contributes to almost all
top-level objectives. Emphasizing its relevance, this
crosscutting means objective is assigned to all five
fundamental and thereby to all four strategic objec-
tives. Therefore, we did not explicitly consider the
military tactics Shape Battlefields to Gain Advantages
and Spook Their Military Adversaries and Drive Out
Civilian Population by Suicidal Attacks in the joint objec-
tives hierarchy. Fourth, we considered the objective
Siebert, von Winterfeldt, and John: What Are the Objectives of ISIL and Its Followers?
Decision Analysis 13(1), pp. 26–50, © 2016 INFORMS 35
Figure 4 ISIL Followers’ Objectives Derived from Expert Interviews
Support Sunni and
Humanitarian
Causes
Recreate the Glory
of Islam
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Teach the Children True Islam to be part of the means
objectives Radicalize and Align Followers and Increase
Numbers of Fighters and Followers.
The objective Generate Revenue is also crucial for
achieving most of the top-level objectives. Without
financial resources, it is not possible to maintain a
strong army, to ensure supplies, to stabilize the econ-
omy and offer jobs, to recruit followers, etc. This objec-
tive was identified as a crosscutting means objective.
The objectives Attack Foreign Countries from Inside and
Demonstrate Military Strength and Terroristic Capabili-
ties both contribute to the objective Prevent Foreign
Countries from Interfering in Iraq and the Levant. We
included the above-mentioned objective to emphasize
this. Emphasizing ISIL’s claim for power, we included
the objective Be Recognized as the Leader of the Islamic
State.
3.2. Objectives of ISIL’s Followers
Using the SME interview transcripts, 176 statements
characterizing the objectives of ISIL followers were
identified and grouped into 26 categories. The result-
ing objectives hierarchy is shown in Figure 4. Three
strategic objectives were identified: Support Sunni and
Humanitarian Causes,Recreate the Glory of Islam, and
Give Meaning to Own Life. The SMEs mentioned few
objectives that could be qualified as fundamental
objectives, so the 23 means objectives were assigned
directly to the strategic objectives to which they con-
tribute most. For example, Pursueand Defend ShariaLaw
and Pursue Pure and Strict Islam were assigned to the
strategic objective Recreate the Glory of Islam, and Fight
Oppression and Discrimination by Shia and the West;Have
a Better, More Authentic Life; and Feeling of Empowerment
were assigned to the strategic objective Give Meaning to
Own Life.
Approximately 90 value-relevant statements related
to followers were identified from open sources and
grouped into 49 objectives. The resulting objectives
hierarchy is shown in Figure 5. Following the top-
down approach, objectives were grouped into Altru-
istic Objectives,Religious Objectives, and Personal Objec-
tives. This scheme cannot be applied unambiguously
for every objective. However, it does enhance under-
standing the structure of the identified objectives. In
Siebert, von Winterfeldt, and John: What Are the Objectives of ISIL and Its Followers?
36 Decision Analysis 13(1), pp. 26–50, © 2016 INFORMS
Figure 5 ISIL Followers’ Objectives Derived from Open Sources
Altruistic
Objectives
Religious
Objectives
Personal Objectives
End the War
in Syria
Prevent
Being
Supressed by
Shia Iraqi
Government
Be God’s
Tool
Demonstrate
Superiority of
Their Religion
Attempt to
Evade
Prosecution
Feel Powerful
and Superior
Enjoy
Blessings of
Brotherhood
Destroy the
Idol of
Democracy
Be Part of a
Feared,
Authentic,
Radical,
Brutal,
Rigorous,
Movement
Help in the
Humanitarian
Crisis Iraq
Governed by
Sunnis
Fulfill the
Promise of
God
Execute ones
Hardcore
Ideology Forget
Earlier Life
of Suffering,
Losses, and
Exclusion
Have Honor
by Being an
Umma
Sacrifice
Oneself for
One Another
Conquer
Rome and
Own the
World Kill People
Spread
Justice and
Bring About
Safety and
Tranquility
Guard and
Treat Sunnis
with Respect
Be Blessed
by God
Kill Infidels
in the Name of
God
Be Part of an
Elite Defend and
Guard Each
Other Trample the
Idol of
Nationalism
Receive
Admiration
by Brutal
Actions
Refuse
Humiliation
Subjugation,
and
Subordination
Fight for the
Sunnis
Be with the
Superior
Religion Get Rich by
Plundering Be Part of
Something
Important
Do Not Stab
ISIS Soldiers
in the Back
by Not
Joining
Them
Be in a Direct
Confrontation
with
Americans,
Westerners,
and Jews
Live the Life
of an Outlaw
(Killing,
Raping,
Plundering)
Free Sunni
Cities
Sacrifice Life
and Wealth
Support the
Religion of
God Through
Jihad
Be on the
Winner’s Side
Have an
Adventure Take Revenge
Stop Shia
Violence and
Discrimination
Have an
Everlasting
Hereafter
Have the
Opportunity
to Become a
Hero
Live as a
Muslim,
Honorable
with Might
and Freedom
Prevent Sunni
Genocide
Participate in
and
Contribute to
the Holy War
Implement
Sharia Law
in Occupied
Territories
Defend
Caliphate
Build,
Reform,
Remove
Oppression
Do
Something
Good
Help
Sunnis
Have
Spiritual
Fulfillment
Fight for
God
Improve
Material
Situation
Improve
Self-
Esteem
Enjoy
Brotherhood
Attack
Westerners
and Jews
Be Violent
an iterative procedure following an alternately top-
down and bottom-up approach, a total of nine funda-
mental objectives were identified. Do Something Good
and Help Sunnis are altruistic objectives. Have Spiri-
tual Fulfillment and Fight for God are religious objec-
tives. Improve Material Situation,Improve Self-Esteem,
Enjoy Brotherhood,Attack Westerners and Jews, and Be
Violent are personal objectives. The 49 objectives were
assigned to one of the nine fundamental objectives
to which they have the closest relation. The objec-
tives assigned to the same fundamental objective have
more in common than those assigned to different fun-
damental objectives. For example, Support the Religion
of God Through Jihad and Kill Infidels in the Name of God,
assigned to the fundamental objective Fight for God,
have more in common than Help in the Humanitarian
Crisis,Have an Adventure, or Trample the Idol of Nation-
alism. The intention was to create a comprehensive set
of objectives for covering the broadest range of fol-
lowers. Therefore, some of the objectives would not be
relevant simultaneously for every follower. For exam-
ple, there might be only a few followers for whom
doing something good and being violent are both rel-
evant. The structure of nine fundamental objectives
organized in three groups provides the opportunity to
present and clearly arrange a large number of objec-
tives.
At the top level, the two objectives hierarchies
are similar. Give Meaning to Own Life corresponds to
the group of personal objectives Recreate the Glory
of Islam corresponds to the group of religious objec-
tives, and Support Sunni Causes corresponds to altru-
istic objectives. For the objectives hierarchy derived
from expert interviews, the relation is 6:5:12, and for
the objectives hierarchy derived from open sources,
the relation is 2:2:5 for the fundamental and 12:13:24
for the means objectives. Overall, 21 of 23 means
objectives derived from expert interviews are explic-
itly or implicitly included in the objectives hierarchy
derived from the open sources. The exceptions are
Siebert, von Winterfeldt, and John: What Are the Objectives of ISIL and Its Followers?
Decision Analysis 13(1), pp. 26–50, © 2016 INFORMS 37
Figure 6 ISIL Followers’ Objectives Based on All Sources
Guard and
Treat Sunnis
with Respect
Support
Humanitarian
Causes
Support
Sunni
Causes
Have
Spiritual
Fulfillment
Implement
a Pure and
Strict
Version of
Islam
Improve
Material
Situation
Improve
Self-Esteem
Belong to a
Brotherhood
of Fighters
Attack
Westerners
and Jews
Pursue
Sanctioned
Violence and
Brutality
Humanitarian
Fulfillment
Religious Fulfillment Personal Fulfillment
End the War
in Syria
Demonstrate
Superiority
of Their
Religion
Enjoy
Blessings of
Brotherhood
and Have an
Adventure
Be Part of a
Feared,
Authentic,
Radical,
Brutal,
Rigorous
Movement
Help
in the
Humanitarian
Crisis
Execute
one’s
Hardcore
Ideology
Kill Infidels
in the Name
of God
Be Part of
an Elite
Contributing
to Something
Important
Trample the
Idol of
Nationalism
and Destroy
the Idol of
Democracy
Get Rich by
Plundering
Do Not Stab
ISIS Soldiers
in the Back by
Not Joining or
Leaving
Them
Be in a Direct
Confron-
tation with
Americans,
Westerners,
and Jews
Live the
Life of an
Outlaw
(Killing,
Raping,
Plundering)
Sacrifice
Life and
Wealth
Support the
Religion of
God Through
Jihad
Be on the
Winner’s
Side
Start Life
Over and
Have a
Better, More
Authentic
Life
Take
Revenge
Have an
Everlasting
Hereafter
Have the
Opportunity
to Become a
Hero
Live as a
Muslim,
Honorable
with Might
and Freedom
Defend
Caliphate
Build,
Reform,
Remove
Oppression,
Spread
Justice, and
Bring About
Safety and
Tranquility
Emancipate
from
Complacent
Fathers
Reestablish
Sunni Power
and Place in
History
Fight
Oppression
and
Discrimina-
tion by Shia
and the West
Have
Power
Become a
Warrior of
God, Martyr
Fight for
God
Pursue and
Defend
Sharia Law
Have the
Power To
Decide
About Life
and Death
Have a
Powerful
Position in a
Powerful
Organization
Be Part of
and Accepted
by the Group
Rebellion Against Complacent Fathers and the High Like-
lihood of Success When Trying to Access and Join ISIL.
Overall, seven of nine fundamental objectives derived
from the open sources are explicitly or implicitly
included in the objectives hierarchy derived from
expert interviews. The exceptions are Do Something
Good and Attack Westerners and Jews. The objectives
hierarchy derived from open sources includes many
detailed objectives. By contrast, the objectives hierar-
chy derived from expert interviews is characterized
by fewer, more aggregated objectives.
The open source search produced many more fol-
lowers’ objectives than the SME search. The SMEs
made very few references to the followers’ objectives
related to humanitarian causes (left side of Figure 6)
and to personal objectives (right side of Figure 6).
Examples of humanitarian objectives obtained from
open sources are End the War in Syria and Help in
the Humanitarian Crisis. Examples of personal objec-
tives are to Improve Self-Esteem and Improve Material
Situation.
After identifying similarities and differences, the
two analysts discussed the objectives of the differ-
ent levels, selected wording for identical objectives,
and finally checked for completeness and redundancy.
Three different layers characterize the joint objectives
hierarchy illustrated in Figure 6. In the top layer
are the strategic objectives Humanitarian Fulfillment,
Religious Fulfillment, and Personal Fulfillment. In con-
trast to the objectives hierarchy derived from open
sources, which only groups the objectives on the high-
est level, strategic objectives are used as in the objec-
tives hierarchy derived from expert interviews.
In the second layer, there are 11 fundamental objec-
tives. Starting with the more complete set of the nine
fundamental objectives derived from open sources,
we combined the objectives of the two sources. Within
the objectives contributing to humanitarian fulfill-
ment we substituted the objective Do Something Good
with Support Humanitarian Causes. Within the objec-
tives contributing to religious fulfillment the third
fundamental objective, Implement a Pure and Strict Ver-
sion of Islam, was introduced. In contrast to Have
Spiritual Fulfillment and Fight for God, this objective
describes what the followers want to achieve substan-
tively. Have Power was considered to be a fundamen-
tal objective contributing to personal fulfillment. In
the objectives derived from expert interviews, Have
Power was part of Pursuing Masculine Themes (Women,
Adventure, Power). The objective Enjoy Brotherhood was
transformed to Belong to a Brotherhood of Fighters to
emphasize social aspects. The objective Be Violent was
specified in Pursue Sanctioned Violence and Brutality.
Siebert, von Winterfeldt, and John: What Are the Objectives of ISIL and Its Followers?
38 Decision Analysis 13(1), pp. 26–50, © 2016 INFORMS
Figure 7 Relationships Between the ISIL Leaders’ and Followers’ Fundamental Objectives
Support
Humanitarian
Causes
Humanitarian
Fulfillment
Military power
Religion
Function as a
State and Provide
Services
Establish a
Caliphate in
Iraq and the
Levant
Recreate the Power and Glory
of (Sunni) Islam
Implement a Pure
and Strict Version
of Islam
Give Meaning to
the Lives of
Sunnis
Purge the World
of Anti-Islamic
Forces
Expand
Islam and
Sharia Law
Worldwide
Eliminate Current
Rulers in Iraq and
the Levant
Control and
Govern the
Islamic State
Support
Sunni
Causes
Have
Spiritual
Fulfillment
Implement
a Pure and
Strict Version
of Islam
Improve
Material
Situation
Improve
Self-
Esteem
Belong to a
Brotherhood
of Fighters
Attack
Westerners
and Jews
Pursue
Sanctioned
Violence and
Brutality
Religious Fulfillment Personal Fulfillment
Have Power
Fight for
God
(Arrow means influences)
3.3. Relationship Between the Objectives of ISIL’s
Leaders and Its Followers
We analyzed the relationships between the fundamen-
tal objectives of ISIL leaders and its followers; sep-
arately, we analyzed the relationship between their
means objectives. The purpose was to determine
which objectives reinforce each other and, perhaps
more importantly, which objectives separate the lead-
ers from the followers.
The relations between ISIL leaders’ and followers’
fundamental objectives are illustrated in Figure 7.
ISIL leaders’ objectives are located on the top and
ISIL followers’ objectives at the bottom. The single-
headed arrow indicates that one objective reinforces
the other, and a dual-headed arrow indicates that both
objectives reinforce each other. All ISIL organizational
fundamental objectives correspond to at least one fun-
damental follower objective. In other words, followers
pursuing their objectives help ISIL to achieve orga-
nizational fundamental objectives. For example, Fight
for God contributes to Eliminate Current Rulers in Iraq
and Levant and Purge the World of Anti-Islamic Forces.
Support Humanitarian Causes contributes to Functions
as a State and Provide Services.
Interestingly, four personal objectives of ISIL’s fol-
lowers do not directly reinforce the objectives of ISIL’s
leaders: Have Power, Improve Material Situation, Improve
Self-Esteem, and Belong to a Brotherhood of Fighters.
These objectives are related to personal motivations
of followers, and ISIL’s Internet campaigns address
these follower objectives by showing martial action
videos combined with softer, humanitarian images to
gain recruits.
To analyze the relationships between the means
objectives of ISIL leaders and the fundamental objec-
tives of their followers in more detail, it is useful to
distinguish three types of follower objectives (see Fig-
ure 8). The follower objectives Support Humanitarian
Causes,Support Sunni Causes, and Implement a Pure
and Strict Version of Islam indicate what followers want
to achieve. These objectives are highlighted in light
grey in Figure 8. The followers’ objectives Fight for
God,Attack Westerners and Jews, and Pursue Sanctioned
Violence and Brutality indicate what followers want to
do (shaded in medium grey). The objectives of these
two types contribute to ISIL leaders’ objectives. By
contrast, the objectives Have Spiritual Fulfillment,Have
Power,Improve Material Situation,Improve Self-Esteem,
and Belong to a Brotherhood of Fighters describe what
followers want to get (shaded in dark grey). Instead of
contributing to ISIL leaders’ objectives, these help the
followers to achieve their personal objectives.
Overall, 20 of 24 ISIL means objectives can
be linked to fundamental follower objectives. The
Siebert, von Winterfeldt, and John: What Are the Objectives of ISIL and Its Followers?
Decision Analysis 13(1), pp. 26–50, © 2016 INFORMS 39
Figure 8 Relationships Between the ISIL Leaders’ Means Objectives and Followers’ Fundamental Objectives
remaining four objectives (grey letters and dashed
borders) relate directly to the followers (Increase Num-
bers of Fighters and Followers, Radicalize and Align
Followers, and Take Over Other Islamic Movements) or
military tactics (Secure Supply Lines and Resources).
On the one hand, there are fundamental follower
objectives contributing to ISIL organizational means
objectives. For example, Attack Westerners and Jews
contributes to Attack Foreign Countries from Inside, and
Pursue Sanctioned Violence and Brutality contributes to
Implement the Sharia with the Sword. On the other
hand, there are ISIL organizational means objec-
tives contributing to fundamental follower objectives.
For example, Generate Revenue contributes to Improve
Material Situation or Be Recognized as the Leader of Jihad,
and Be Recognized as the Leader of the Islamic State con-
tributes to Have Power. Whereas all other fundamental
follower objectives are in relation to at least one ISIL
organizational means objectives, Belong to a Brother-
hood of Fighters is not related to any objective.
This analysis shows that the objectives of ISIL’s
leaders and followers are closely connected. All ISIL
leaders’ fundamental objectives are reinforced by at
least one fundamental follower objective. Further-
more, most means objectives of ISIL leaders are
related to fundamental follower objectives. When fol-
lowers pursue their objectives, they help ISIL to
achieve its objectives.
Furthermore, this analysis reveals why ISIL is so
attractive for very different individuals. In compar-
ison to Al Qaeda, whose followers were recruited
mostly because they want to expel Westerners or
destroy Israel, ISIL offers a more broad range of
causes to join. Independent of which objectives a fol-
lower pursues (e.g., humanitarian causes, fighting for
God, pursuing sanctioned violence and brutality), he
or she will be contributing to ISIL’s objectives.
Siebert, von Winterfeldt, and John: What Are the Objectives of ISIL and Its Followers?
40 Decision Analysis 13(1), pp. 26–50, © 2016 INFORMS
4. Summary and Conclusions
In this section we comment first on some substantive
lessons learned and second on lessons learned regard-
ing the methodology.
4.1. Objectives of ISIL’s Leaders and Its Followers
ISIL pursues two kinds of strategic objectives. The
first consists of three objectives specific to ISIL: Estab-
lish a Caliphate in Iraq and the Levant, Expand Islam
and Sharia Law Worldwide, and Recreate the Power and
Glory of 4Sunni5Islam. A fourth strategic objective of
ISIL might be considered generic for such organiza-
tions; ISIL has a clear claim to power that is expressed
in their fourth strategic objective, Control and Gov-
ern the Islamic State. This claim to power can also be
seen in three means objectives. ISIL wants to derive
legitimacy as heirs/descendants of Mohammed and
wants to be recognized as the leader of the jihad. Fur-
thermore, ISIL wants to be recognized as the leader
of the Islamic State. Therefore, ISIL not only pur-
sues the three strategic objectives of the first kind but
also wants to consolidate or and cement their power.
In other words, they want to be the movement “in
charge” of achieving these three strategic objectives.
Furthermore, they have clear ideas about how they
want to achieve their strategic objectives and how
their Islamic State should be governed. ISIL wants to
implement a pure and strict version of Islam, even
though most of the moderate Sunnis do not agree
with this version of Islam and the population is not
really in favor of such a version. Therefore, ISIL dep-
recates collaboration with other less radical Islamic
groups and prefers to radicalize and align followers
and take over other Islamic movements.
It is an open question whether ISIL is a religious
group using military power to achieve their objectives
or a military organization using religion for justifica-
tion. An answer to that question cannot be derived
from our analysis. However, religion and military
power are preeminent in the organizational objectives
hierarchy of ISIL.
ISIL’s two crosscutting means objectives are to
(1) Generate Revenue and (2) Kill or Convert Infidels.
Pursuing these objectives promotes achievement of
all other ISIL’s strategic, fundamental, and means
objectives. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to
reduce ISIL’s revenues and capital, (e.g., destroying oil
refineries) and to prevent ISIL from committing geno-
cide, (e.g., empowering minorities with equipment,
training, and military support). In contrast to other
Islamic groups such as Hezbollah and Al Qaeda, the
objective of attacking Israel plays only a minor role.
The followers and recruits of ISIL have a complex
set of objectives that can be partitioned into three
strategic objectives: Humanitarian Fulfillment, Religious
Fulfillment, and Personal Fulfillment. This is consistent
with many observers’ opinions that potential follow-
ers and recruits are “damaged,” “empty,” or “unful-
filled” in a very personal way. Observers, who mainly
focus on the abnormal and vicious aspects of ISIL,
often overlook the humanitarian objectives. This may
be due to a selection bias and the unwillingness to
attribute any “goodwill” to people who are essentially
perceived as evil.
The open source search produced a much richer
picture of the followers’ objectives than the SME tran-
scripts. In particular, the open source search found
many personal fulfillment objectives not explicitly
mentioned by the SMEs. Personal fulfillment objec-
tives such as Have Power,Improve Self-Esteem, and
Belong to a Brotherhood are characteristics of peo-
ple who are disenfranchised and feel discriminated
against, and are often marginalized in their own
environment. The personal objectives Improve Mate-
rial Situation and Pursue Sanctioned Violence and Bru-
tality suggest that followers are poor and often have
criminal backgrounds. The religious and humanitar-
ian fulfillment objectives provide a romantic rationale
for these personal objectives.
One specific means objective is High Likelihood of
Success When Trying to Access and Join ISIL. It sug-
gests that joining ISIL is more attractive to follow-
ers than, say, joining Al Qaeda or Hezbollah. It is
true that followers have relatively easy movement
through Turkey, resulting in a simple process for gain-
ing access to and being accepted by ISIL.
The objectives of ISIL and its followers are closely
related. All fundamental objectives of the ISIL organi-
zation are promoted by at least one fundamental fol-
lower objective. Furthermore, most means objectives
of the ISIL organization are related to fundamental fol-
lower objectives. Followers’ pursuit of their objectives
promotes achievement of objectives important to the
ISIL organization. ISIL’s pursuit of its means objectives
Siebert, von Winterfeldt, and John: What Are the Objectives of ISIL and Its Followers?
Decision Analysis 13(1), pp. 26–50, © 2016 INFORMS 41
also promotes achievement of objectives important to
ISIL’s followers. ISIL is more successful in recruiting
because it offers a broad range of causes for which
to join the organization (e.g., humanitarian causes,
fighting for God, pursuing sanctioned violence and
brutality). Independent of their individual objectives,
all followers can support ISIL by pursuing their own
objectives. ISIL’s leaders clearly understand and use
the objectives of potential recruits in their videos and
Internet campaigns, which are a mix of martial action
movies and showcases of law and order and human-
itarian efforts under ISIL’s rule. In the analysis of the
relationships between the objectives of ISIL’s leaders
and followers, we identified several disconnects, sug-
gesting that the ISIL organization’s media campaigns
cater to followers’ values to attract recruits and are
thus nothing more than propaganda, not reflecting
any actual objectives of the ISIL organization.
4.2. Methodology
In this study, we used two different sources of data. In
the open source analysis, we used as primary sources
the speeches of leaders of ISIL and observations of
ISIL’s actions. In the SME analysis, we used sec-
ondary sources consisting of the transcripts of inter-
views with 59 subject matter experts. At a high level,
these sources led to similar results, but we also iden-
tified some differences. For example, in the speeches
of ISIL leaders, we identified many values that could
be translated to strategic objectives. By contrast, these
leaders addressed only a subset of the means objec-
tives. In particular, military- or follower-related objec-
tives were more intensely discussed in the media
and in the secondary sources. We conclude that it
is important for completeness to use both primary
and secondary sources. Since the differences between
sources appear primarily in means objectives, it is also
important to use observations of and comments on
actions and tactics as sources for objectives.
Both the SME analysis and the analysis of open
sources led to relatively complete objectives hierar-
chies, at least at the top level. An important excep-
tion is ISIL’s claim for power, which was identified
only in the open source effort. ISIL does not only
want to establish a caliphate; their leaders want to
be in charge. This is an important finding for creat-
ing strategies to counter ISIL. At this stage, we can
only speculate why the SMEs did not identify ISIL’s
claim for power. One explanation could be that the
SME may have been caught up in old thought pattern
since no previous Islamic terrorist groups have ever
articulated a claim for power.
In the process of fusing the two hierarchies, we
found that the open source analysis identified many
more follower objectives than the SME approach.
Humanitarian objectives were identified only in the
open source analysis. This may have been because the
SMEs, who clearly had no sympathy for ISIL, consid-
ered the humanitarian objectives part of ISIL’s pro-
paganda to attract followers. These differences in the
set of follower objectives emphasize the usefulness of
identifying objectives using a broad range of sources.
Separating the analysis into two distinct efforts,
using different sources, and conducting indepen-
dent analyses proved useful in several respects. The
individual identification and structuring of objec-
tives ensures that the decision analysts are respon-
sible for their results and are required to produce a
comprehensive list of all relevant objectives. In our
study, this context provided motivation to both deci-
sion analysts. Furthermore, this procedure mitigates
against anchoring effects. The differences between the
approaches were meaningful and could be explained
and interpreted by the analysts. It was also encourag-
ing to observe that at a high level the two information
sources produced convergent results.
Because we used two different sources and ana-
lysts to identify and structure objectives, an addi-
tional step was required to combine the two objectives
hierarchies. Building on this experience, we suggest a
four-step procedure. In the first step, similarities and
differences of objectives and relations among objec-
tives can be identified by enriching one objectives
hierarchy with the objectives of the other hierarchy
in a purely additive way. This is best done by start-
ing with the strategic objectives, then moving and
sorting the fundamental and means objectives. In the
second step, the different levels of objectives should
be discussed. In this step, strategic objectives seldom
change their high-level position. However, occasion-
ally, means objectives in one hierarchy are consid-
ered fundamental objectives in another one. In this
case, the WITI (Why is This Important?) test helps to
clarify the appropriate level of the objective. In the
Siebert, von Winterfeldt, and John: What Are the Objectives of ISIL and Its Followers?
42 Decision Analysis 13(1), pp. 26–50, © 2016 INFORMS
third step, the final naming of the objectives should be
developed. For similar objectives with slightly differ-
ent names, one name is often more meaningful than
another. In some cases, a better name can be found
that captures the meaning of the objectives from both
hierarchies. In the fourth step, analysts should check
the combined objectives hierarchy for completeness
and nonredundancy.
The two approaches carried out by different ana-
lysts using separate data sources reported in this arti-
cle yielded quite congruent objectives hierarchies. The
process of fusing the two objectives hierarchies not
only revealed some missing objectives but also led to
greater insight and a final objectives hierarchy that
both analysts considered as more complete than the
ones developed by the individual analysts and homo-
geneous information sources. We have demonstrated
that it is feasible to identify and structure objectives
for a terrorist organization and for its followers. This
methodology could easily be applied in other situa-
tions in which one is interested in the objectives of an
adversary organization—for example, a competitor or
a negotiation partner.
Acknowledgments
The authors thank the staff of the National Security Insti-
tute, who conducted and transcribed the interviews with
the subject matter experts. D. von Winterfeldt and R. S. John
acknowledge support from the U.S. Department of Home-
land Security (DHS) through the National Center for Risk
and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events (CREATE) at
the University of Southern California [Award 2010-ST-061-
RE0001]. R. S. John also acknowledges support from the
Department of Defense through the Army Research Office
[MURI Grant W911NF-11-1-0332]. However, any opinions,
findings, and conclusions or recommendations in this docu-
ment are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect
views of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, or the
University of Southern California, or CREATE.
Appendix
Illustrating and Describing the Objectives Hierarchy of
ISIL’s Leader
Strategic Objectives. Figure 3shows in the top layer
four strategic objectives of ISIL that we derived from expert
interviews and open sources. In the following, each strate-
gic objective is discussed in detail, and the main sources
that helped us identifying and formulating this objective
are presented. Two of the strategic objectives are religious
and two envision the establishment of political control and
military power.
1. Recreate the Power and Glory of 4Sunni5Islam
ISIL pursues the objective to recreate power and glory of
4Sunni5Islam. In a speech delivered on January 7, 2014, al-
Adnani emphasized that establishing the Islamic state brings
glory to (Sunni) Islam and Muslims and that the (Sunni)
Islam and Muslims should dominate the world again:
The establishment of an Islamic state 000brings glory
to Islam and Muslims, humiliates unbelief and the
unbelievers, and restores the Caliphate so that Islam
and Muslims dominate the world once again.2
So, the Islamic State has an “end of days” ideology
as do many jihadist organizations, and the caliphate is
often seen as sort of a precursor to 000this the end of
days battle that brings on sort of Armageddon and the
ultimate victory for the Muslim world.3
I think [for] a lot of Muslims, that’s where
the caliphate becomes very important, because the
caliphate is a symbol of what Muslims once had.4
In a message sent out on July 1, 2014, al-Baghdadi anti-
cipates that
soon, by Allah’s permission, a day will come when
the Muslim will walk everywhere as a master, having
honor, being revered, with his head raised high and his
dignity preserved. Anyone who dares to offend him
will be disciplined, and any hand that reaches out to
harm him will be cut off.5
2. Expand Islam and Sharia Law Worldwide
ISIL intends to expand Islam and Sharia law world-
wide. For example, al-Adnani declared that the jihad is
waged under the banner of monotheism. al-Baghdadi wants
to humiliate polytheism and polytheists. al-Adnani said
that they therefore should focus on Rome, and al-Baghdadi
promised their followers that if they precede, then they
would conquer Rome and own the world:
The banner of monotheism was raised high when
jihad was waged. Only a small group of emigrants and
supporters of God confronted the most powerful army
in history [referring to the U.S. Army], using worn-out
munitions with a daring spirit. They were certain that
God would grant them victory. They were determined
to enact the sharia of God. Their bodies were in Iraq
while their souls were in the usurped Mecca [deroga-
tory reference to the reign of the Saudi royal family].
2See https://www.opensource.gov/portal/server.pt/gateway/PT
ARGS_0_0_200_203_121123_43/content/Display/TRN20140418338
30660#index=11&searchKey=16416945&rpp=100. This site can be
accessed by local, state, or federal government officials or with
prior approval. Accessed September 20, 2014.
3SME 18.
4SMEs 15 and 16.
5As quoted in SITE Intelligence Group (2014b).
Siebert, von Winterfeldt, and John: What Are the Objectives of ISIL and Its Followers?
Decision Analysis 13(1), pp. 26–50, © 2016 INFORMS 43
Their hearts were in Jerusalem while their eyes were
focused on Rome.6
O Allah, dignify Islam and the Muslims and humil-
iate polytheism and the polytheists, and dignify your
mujahideen all over the world. Make their foothold
firm and bind their hearts and be a supporter and
assistant for them. Make their aim true and their opin-
ion true. Prepare for them good guidance and make
Your good assistance to them reinforcement.7
[Addressing his followers] If you hold to it, you will
conquer Rome and own the world, if Allah wills.8
The expansion of (Sunni) Islam is closely related to the
expansion of the caliphate. Most subject matter experts have
identified that ISIL’s inherent objective is to expand their
caliphate in order to disseminate monotheism. However,
the intended expansion of the caliphate is estimated dif-
ferently within the pool of subject matter experts; some
see the expansion ranging from nearby countries such as
Lebanon to former Muslim territories to the whole world.
The different estimates, especially those regarding a small
expansion, might be driven by realistic judgments. How-
ever, without any restrictions, ISIL would almost certainly
want to expand Islam and Sharia law worldwide:
Expansion of those boundaries is also a goal. We are
looking at something that has ambitions beyond Iraq
and Syria. It is unclear how far they will go. They want
to acquire a base from which to operate and the legit-
imacy/appeal that results.9
Establishing an Islamic state in Iraq and Syria is the
beginning, not the end, for the group. They are differ-
ent than AQ [Al Qaeda], who did not have a politi-
cal agenda. ISIL is looking to expand. Their slogan is
about expanding. It is a core part of the mission. If they
could, they would expand globally. They will expand
where they can. Lebanon, for example, would form a
gateway to the Mediterranean.10
They want to recapture the territories of the Mus-
lims. As an academic, I see an identity territory nexus
here: in order to fulfill their identities they want to
own, or reown, the territory that in their minds belongs
to the Muslims.11
6al-Adnani, in an address delivered April 17, 2014, as quoted in
https://www.opensource.gov/portal/server.pt/gateway/PTAR
GS_0_0_200_203_121123_43/content/Display/TRN20140418338306
60#index=11&searchKey=16416945&rpp=102. This site can be
accessed by local, state, or federal government officials or with
prior approval. Accessed September 20, 2014.
7al-Baghdadi, as quoted in SITE Intelligence Group (2014c).
8al-Baghdadi, as quoted in SITE Intelligence Group (2014b).
9SMEs 15 and 16.
10 SMEs 12 and 13.
11 SME 10.
Their objective is to create a caliphate that will
include all the Muslim land, which is basically any-
where that at any point in history was under Muslim
control.12
So, for example, Iraq and Syria, it’s just the first step
when al-Baghdadi, I think it was at the beginning of
Ramadan, when he sent out a letter and he said, some-
thing to the effect of, he cited all those places in differ-
ent parts of the world, Pakistan, India, and so on and
so forth. If you, the soldiers of IS [the Islamic State],
are going to be victorious, and you are going to be the
true guardian of religion, then we shall conquer Rome
and seize the Earth. Not inherit the Earth, seize the
Earth.13
3. Establish a Caliphate in Iraq and the Levant
ISIL does not only pursue its strict version of Islam. It
also wants to establish a caliphate in Iraq and the Levant,
as al-Baghdadi stated in August 2013:
In Iraq [sheikhs who preceded us] have completed
the journey of highness by declaring the Islamic State
of Iraq. As for the Levant, they have created cells that
are limited to preparation and supply, waiting for the
chance to continue the path of highness that must con-
tinue.14
Establishing a caliphate can be considered the constitu-
tive element of the group, since it is embedded in the name
of group. Almost all subject matter experts mentioned this
objective. Its relevance for the group is often underlined
with qualifiers such as the “main” or “immediate” objective:
Their main objective is an Islamic state. They are
engaging in activities that are making that a reality.15
I think the immediate goal is to create a caliphate,
and of course, they are taking advantage of the politi-
cal vacuum that has been created in Iraq and Syria to
do so.16
ISIL followers as well as most Sunnis think that a
caliphate is mandatory since a caliphate existed in Iraq for
over a period of 500 years. Restoring the caliphate is fulfill-
ing a prophecy:
Iraq is known for 500 years the caliph ruled. Many
think this is the natural way of things.17
12 SME 17.
13 SME 22.
14 In the August 4, 2013, audio statement “Islamic State in Iraq
and the Levant” (http://triceratops.brynmawr.edu:8080/dspace/
bitstream/handle/10066/13323/AOB20130408.pdf?sequence=1
),
accessed September 4, 2014.
15 SME 20.
16 SME 3.
17 SMEs 12 and 13.
Siebert, von Winterfeldt, and John: What Are the Objectives of ISIL and Its Followers?
44 Decision Analysis 13(1), pp. 26–50, © 2016 INFORMS
They also play on the themes of restoring the
caliphate, and fulfilling a prophecy.18
al-Adnani went even so far to declare it sinful for a Mus-
lim to not try to establish a caliphate:
Therefore, the sh¯ur¯a (consultation) council of the
Islamic State studied this matter after the Islamic
State—by Allah’s grace—gained the essentials neces-
sary for khil¯afah, which the Muslims are sinful for if
they do not try to establish.19
4. Control and Govern the Islamic State
Achieving the other three strategic objectives (establish a
caliphate in Iraq and the Levant, expand Islam and Sharia
law worldwide, and recreate the power and glory of 4Sunni5
Islam) is not enough for the leaders of ISIL. They want to
be the movement that achieves these objectives; they want
to control and govern the Islamic State. For example, al-
Adnani stated that ISIL would deter other Islamic groups
such as Nusayris and Hezbollah:
Iraq and the Levant will remain one arena, one front,
one command, and no borders will separate between
them! We swear that we will destroy the barrier, we
will fill in the ditch, and we will remove the wires and
erase the borders from the map and remove them from
the hearts! The booby-traps will hit the Rafidahs from
Diyala to Beirut. We swear, we will deter the Nusayris
and Hezbollah!20
Furthermore, ISIL leaders personally want to be in charge
in the caliphate. al-Baghdadi underpinned his claim to lead-
ership clearly by claiming to be the “caliph”:
ISIL’s desire (and apparent strategy) is to overthrow
the existing governments of unstable, heavily Muslim
nations and establish their own theocratic state in its
place. The leader of this new caliphate would be the
leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who claims he’s
the ”caliph.”21
The influential leader al-Adnani supported al-Baghdadi’s
claim to leadership by demanding that Muslims pledge alle-
giance to the caliph and support him:
We clarify to the Muslims that with this declaration
of khil¯afah, it is incumbent upon all Muslims to pledge
allegiance to the khal¯ıfah Ibr¯ah¯ım and support him.22
18 SME 21.
19 As quoted in SITE Intelligence Group (2014a).
20 In the June 19, 2013 audio statement “So Leave Them Alone
with Their Fabrications” (http://triceratops.brynmawr.edu:8080/
dspace/bitstream/handle/10066/13010/ISI20130619.pdf?sequence=1
),
accessed September 4, 2014.
21 See Tognotti (2014).
22 As quoted in SITE Intelligence Group (2014a).
In their own ranks, leaders secure their position by
demanding absolute obedience. Citing Muhammed al-
Bukh¯ar¯
i, al-Adnani even went so far as to put disobedience
against him on the same level as disobedience against Allah:
Whoever obeys me has obeyed Allah, and who-
ever disobeys me has disobeyed Allah. Whoever obeys
the leader has obeyed me, and whoever disobeys the
leader has disobeyed me.23
Fundamental Objectives (and Means Objectives Used
in Their Description). We identified five fundamental
objectives of ISIL that are listed in the second layer from
the top in Figure 3. The fundamental objectives contribute
more or less to all strategic objectives. For arranging the
objectives hierarchies more clearly, the fundamental objec-
tives are assigned to the strategic objective they contribute
most. Each fundamental objective is discussed in detail, and
the main sources that helped us identifying and formulat-
ing this objective are presented. Furthermore, the means
objectives contributing mostly to a fundamental objective
are used to provide more insights on the fundamental
objectives.
1. Implement a Pure and Strict Version of Islam
For achieving the strategic objective of recreating the
power and glory of 4Sunni5Islam, ISIL needs to pursue the
fundamental objective of implementing a pure and strict
version of Islam, in particular. ISIL is the most radical
Islamic terrorist group. It proposes a more literalist reading
as well as a more fundamentalist reading, thereby creating
an Islam that is pristine in its perception:
These guys are adhering to a more literalist read-
ing, more fundamentalist reading, and they have a
much more expansive narrative of grievance and
victimhood.24
So the aim is one of trying to create again a pristine,
true Islam as they perceive it to be.25
ISIL is trying to implement this full, undiluted, harsh,
strict vision of Islamic by means of a totalitarian regime in
the Islamic State:
Their approach is to kill dissidents and “purify”
through a totalitarian regime.26
[They] establish an Islamic state with a full, undi-
luted, harsh, strict vision of Islamic governance right
now.27
Overall, ISIL pursues five means objectives for achiev-
ing the fundamental objective Implement a Pure and Strict
Version of Islam. The first deals with the means ISIL intends
to use. They want to implement the Sharia with “the
23 As quoted in SITE Intelligence Group (2014a).
24 SME 3.
25 SME 3.
26 SME 2.
27 SME 9.
Siebert, von Winterfeldt, and John: What Are the Objectives of ISIL and Its Followers?
Decision Analysis 13(1), pp. 26–50, © 2016 INFORMS 45
sword.” al-Adnani said that their objectives cannot “be
achieved by means of peaceful calls without fighting or
bloodshed.”28 God “ordered us to fight His enemies and
do jihad in His cause to achieve this and establish the reli-
gion.”29 al-Baghdadi cited the Koran: “So welcome to those
who agree with us not to lay down our arms until we
implement Allah’s Shariah.”30 ISIL systematically uses cruel
actions such as mass killings or beheadings to radicalize
and align followers. Since the other Islamic terrorist groups
are not radical enough, “they don’t want to rely on any
other group and they are truly and fully ready to sacri-
fice themselves to their goal.”31 ISIL intends to takeover
other Islamic movements. For example, ISIL is suspected to
have killed the leaders of a rivalry group in order to take
over their weapons and more radical followers.32 Further-
more, there are two objectives concerning how ISIL is per-
ceived. On the one hand, ISIL wants to derive legitimacy as
heirs/descendants of Mohammed: “They claim to be better
because since they derive their superiority over non-Arab
Islamic groups form the fact that the Prophet was Arab.
The extremists are going back to the idea that the leader
should be from the House of Prophets. Unbroken descent
by the leader gives more legitimacy. He was a cleric and
has a degree is Islamic Studies which adds to his author-
ity.”33 On the other hand, ISIL wants to be recognized as the
leader of the jihad. SME 3 argued that “it is their idea is to
try to be recognized by the outside world as the trendsetter
organization in the Muslim world.”
2. Give Meaning to the Lives of Sunnis
For achieving the strategic objective to recreate the power
and glory of 4Sunni5Islam, ISIL needs especially to pursue
the fundamental objective of giving meaning to the lives of
Sunnis, in particular. In postinvasion Iraq, the Shia majority
dominated the government while the Sunnis were system-
atically excluded from power:
Shia government 000 systematically excluded Sunni
Iraqis from power and favored the country’s major-
ity Shia population. 000 Maliki’s policies convinced
a number of Iraqi Sunnis that the Iraqi government
would never treat them equally, making ISIL and other
Sunni militias seem like a comparatively attractive
alternative.34
28 See https://www.opensource.gov/portal/server.pt/gateway/PT
ARGS_0_0_200_203_121123_43/content/Display/TRL2013083121719481
#index=28&searchKey=16416945&rpp=100. This site can be
accessed by local, state, or federal government officials or with
prior approval. Accessed September 20, 2014.
29 See Abuziyaad (2014).
30 In “Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.”.
31 SME 10.
32 See Kassel (2014).
33 SME 2.
34 See Beauchamp (2014b).
Many young Sunnis in Iraq and the Levant as well as in
Western countries were discriminated against because they
are Sunnis. For example, they have difficulties finding jobs,
but in Iraq and the Levant, there is the chance a Sunni could
find the meaning in his life:
If you have an Arabic or a Muslim-sounding name
and you apply for a job, your application is thrown
in the garbage right away. They feel there is a seri-
ous glass ceiling for them. These people are basically
becoming more and more alienated from that system,
and therefore, they seek a way out. Now imagine an
alternative comes along that can impart new meaning
to your life. The right message, the right preacher, the
right mosque is there to galvanize this type of opinion.
You look at what is going on in Iraq and Syria as a
holy cause that you can join and therefore impart some
real meaning to what your life is supposed to be.35
Young people, who are not necessarily down-
scale, 000have trouble finding jobs because they are
Muslim.36
They have a strong narrative, in that they focus
on Sunni pride and restoration. For a lot of idealistic
youth, there is a feeling of alienation and disempower-
ment. This group three years ago took to the street and
took down a dictator and then did it again. Now they
cannot participate. Continuing this will further radical-
ize young men in the region.37
You are fighting for the survival of your soul as a
Sunni.38
Overall, ISIL pursues three means objectives for achiev-
ing this fundamental objective. First, ISIL wants to stop Shia
violence and discrimination: “[In Iraq] Shia militias 000 had
slaughtered Sunnis during the post-invasion civil war.”39
ISIL fights against Shia in Syria and Iraq who were persecut-
ing Sunnis.40 While fighting Shia, al-Baghdadi demanded
followers to “attend to the Muslims and the tribes of Ahlus-
Sunnah (the Sunnis) with goodness”; they should “stay
awake guarding them so they can be safe and at rest.”41
Second, ISIL wants therefore to guard and treat Sunnis with
respect. When Saddam was in charge, the Sunni minority
ran the government, and “they believe they still ought to
be the leading power today.”42 Third, for this objective, ISIL
wants that the Sunnis to govern Iraq again.
35 SME 3.
36 SME 9.
37 SME 21.
38 SME 9.
39 See Beauchamp (2014b).
40 SME 5.
41 As quoted in SITE Intelligence Group (2014b).
42 See Beauchamp (2014b).
Siebert, von Winterfeldt, and John: What Are the Objectives of ISIL and Its Followers?
46 Decision Analysis 13(1), pp. 26–50, © 2016 INFORMS
3. Purge the World of Anti-Islamic Forces
For achieving the strategic objective of expanding Islam
and Sharia law worldwide, ISIL needs to especially pur-
sue the fundamental objective of purging the world of anti-
Islamic forces:
They are portraying themselves as purging the
world of anti-Islamic forces and instituting a new order
that can restore the destiny of the Muslim world.43
Overall, ISIL pursues five means objectives for achiev-
ing this fundamental objective. ISIL wants to be a feared,
authentic, radical, brutal, and rigorous movement. This
objective can be derived from its exhaustive killings. How-
ever, ISIL does not only wish to be radical and brutal; it
wants to be perceived as being so and to establish ISIL as
a radical and rigorous brand. SME 5 pointed out that ISIL
“understood the value of having a brand, something that
people could identify with online and on the ground and
more so than any other groups.” ISIL sharpens its brand as
it tries to demonstrate military strength and terroristic capa-
bilities. This objective can be derived from observations—
for example, online propaganda videos in which members
show their weapons, hostages, or beheadings. At the time
this article was written, ISIL was not able to launch an
attack in Western countries. However, based on the efforts
of training foreign fighters who will go back to their home
countries, we can certainly conclude that ISIL wants to
attack foreign countries from the inside. ISIL uses its ability
to attack foreign countries from the inside to threaten these
countries because it wants to prevent foreign powers from
interfering in Iraq and the Levant.
4. Function as a State and Provide Services
For achieving the strategic objective establishing a
caliphate in Iraq and the Levant, ISIL pursues the funda-
mental objective of functioning as a state and providing
services, in particular. In contrast to other Islamic terrorist
groups, ISIL already functioned, at least in some parts of
their controlled territory, as a state:
Their videos show 000 their ability to provide ser-
vices and function as a state.44
The main difference is [that] they are a state. They
control territory. There is a governance structure that
is delivering some level of services.45
ISIL created a kind of government structure and is actu-
ally delivering some forms of services:
Well not ministries, but you know what I mean as
in there’s a government structure 000 that is actually
delivering some form of services.46
43 SME 11.
44 SME 6.
45 SME 11.
46 SME 11.
ISIL has been more successful than AQ in restoring
some semblance of government.47
Overall, ISIL pursues four means objectives that con-
tribute toward achieving this objective. Three objectives
deal with functions of a state that were previously lack-
ing: “Both for the Kurds and the Sunnis, [President of Iraq]
Maliki provided no services at all.”48 Therefore, ISIL wants
to improve services in occupied territories to “gain popular
support.”49 Their videos “show people getting food, med-
ical treatment, etc.”50 SME 11 noted that ISIL is successful
in pursuing this objective: “They have managed to bring a
semblance of peace in terms of normal criminality and basic
services.” To this end, ISIL is trying to provide internal secu-
rity and a semblance of order. SME 10 pointed out that ISIL
brings their idea of “justice and order to the territories that
they are identified with.” Moreover, “ISIL has been able to
restore some normality to daily life, which allows people to
overlook some of the brutality. ISIL is delivering a form of
security.”51 Middle East expert Peter Neumann pointed out
that in the city of Al-Raqqah in eastern Syria, ISIL has even
established its own police department, consumer protection
office, and court.52 Furthermore, ISIL intends to stabilize
the economy and offer jobs. This is the basis for generat-
ing profits: “Controlling the local economy and smuggling,
plus taking over oil fields, all provide[s] funding.”53 Cor-
ruption remained as problem after the invasion in Iraq. ISIL
wants to fight decadency and corruption: “Their view is
[that] decadence and ‘agents of the West,’ along with cor-
ruption of religion by minorities, is to blame.”54
5. Eliminate the Current Rulers in Iraq and the Levant
For the strategic objective of controlling and governing
the Islamic State, ISIL requires that the current rulers in Iraq
and the Levant must first be eliminated:
They don’t want to be ruled under anyone, mean-
ing neither of external power nor an ethnic group like
occurred in Iraq.55
Their principal agenda is [to] replace rulers in the
Muslim world.56
Their strategic objective from where we are stand-
ing is to challenge the legitimacy of governments and
nation-states in the region.57
47 SME 1.
48 SME 1.
49 SME 18.
50 SME 7.
51 SME 5.
52 See Kix (2014).
53 SME 8.
54 SME 2.
55 SME 10.
56 SME 4.
57 SME 21.
Siebert, von Winterfeldt, and John: What Are the Objectives of ISIL and Its Followers?
Decision Analysis 13(1), pp. 26–50, © 2016 INFORMS 47
And the only way that they could establish past
Islamic glory is to overthrow the existing old and
establish a new government.58
Overall, seven means objectives contribute to ISIL achiev-
ing this objective. The first objective is broadly formulated,
specifying that ISIL occupy, defend, and expand territory.
Middle East expert Michael Knights cited the Institute for
the Study of War, noting that “ISIL’s overall strategy is con-
solidating and expanding its caliphate.”59 SME 2 pointed
that ISIL wants to control “a large part of the territory,”
and SME 10 said that ISIL wants “to recapture territories
that belong to the Muslims.” Two means objectives deal
with ISIL’s “ferocious fighting ability.”60 On the one hand,
ISIL wants to have the ability to fight like a modern army.
Knights (2014) cited analysts who have noted that “ISIL has
developed a highly motivated cadre of quality light infantry
forces since 2012, drawing on the combat experiences of
urban and mobile warfare in Syria, as well as from the prior
combat experiences of foreign jihadists who served in the
Balkans and Chechnya” (p. 2), leading to the conclusion
that ISIL “can fight like a modern military” (see Beauchamp
(2014a)). On the other hand, ISIL wants to have the ability
to fight like a terroristic underground army. Knights (2014)
observed that “when seeking to panic and dislodge enemy
troops, ISIL almost always begins its local offensives with
one or more mass casualty attacks on enemy headquar-
ters and checkpoints” (p. 4). Three means objectives lay the
foundation for military actions. First, ISIL wants to secure
supply lines and resources. SME 5 pointed out that ISIL
“understand the value of and necessity of securing supply
lines.” Second, ISIL wants to increase numbers of fighters
and followers. ISIL effectively “mobilizes across regions and
nations for people to come and join. Their whole project
is about fighting and being a warrior.”61 Third, ISIL wants
to provide military leadership and resources. The seventh
objective deals with ISIL’s claim to power, that it wants to
be recognized as the leader of the Islamic State: „“These
people see themselves on the same level, if not broader, you
know, they claim to represent entire Sunni population.”62
Crosscutting Means Objectives. ISIL has two crosscut-
ting means objectives that contribute to almost all fun-
damental and strategic objectives as well as most means
objectives.
The first crosscutting means objective is to convert or
kill infidels. This objective seems to be constitutive for
ISIL and their distinguishing mark to other not so radical
Islamic movements. Beauchamp (2014a) pointed out “they
58 SME 2.
59 See Knights (2014), p. 1.
60 SME 3.
61 SME 9.
62 SME 2.
were kicked out of al-Qaeda in February 2014 because they
ignored repeated warning to stop killing civilians.” ISIL,
however, considers the life of those infidels as worthless.
al-Baghdadi emphasized, “And remember, if a thousand
disbelievers were to survive mistakenly, is more beloved
to us than killing a Muslim mistakenly.”63 Furthermore, he
pointed out that they “will not stop until we quench our
thirst for your blood.”64 Knights (2014) noted that ISIL uses
killing strategically “to spook their military adversaries and
drive out civilian population” (p. 4). He even went so far to
argue that ISIL has “prosecuted a determined campaign of
ethno-sectarian cleansing in areas that it controls, removing
Shi’a Turkmen, Yazidis, Shabaks, Christians and even Sunni
Muslim Kurds from its new territories” (2014, p. 4). In their
controlled territories, they let the choice either to convert to
their strict version of Islam or to die.
The list of such potential subjects of idolatrous wor-
ship, which [18th-century Islamic leader Muhammad
ibn Abd] al-Wahhab condemned as idolatry, was so
extensive that almost all Muslims were at risk of falling
under his definition of “unbelievers.” They therefore
faced a choice: Either they convert to al-Wahhab’s vision of
Islam—or be killed, and their wives, their children and
physical property taken as the spoils of jihad. Even
to express doubts about this doctrine, al-Wahhab said,
should occasion execution.65
Reports indicate that ISIL killed thousands who were
accused of being infidels. For example, the “Islamic State
killed 700 members of the al-Sheitaat tribe in eastern Syria
on Saturday.”66
The second crosscutting means objective is to generate
profit. Money is decisive for ISIL since it can “provide bet-
ter pay [and] better access to weaponry.”67 SME 8 pointed
out that beside the idealistic part, “there really is an eco-
nomic greed part.” ISIL was strategically “taking parts of
the country that could generate profit.”68
Other subject matter experts agreed:
They highlight the way in which they control
resources and businesses, and that ranges from selling
oil, controlling oil refineries, through to the trade in
artifacts across the border in Turkey.69
Some is from the Saudis and Qataris, but it is a self-
sustaining movement, controlling the local economy
and smuggling, plus taking over oil fields, all provide
63 Quoted in Van Ostaeyen (2014).
64 Quoted in NBCNews.com (2014).
65 See Crook (2014), emphasis added.
66 See Masi (2014).
67 SME 26.
68 SME 5.
69 SME 26.
Siebert, von Winterfeldt, and John: What Are the Objectives of ISIL and Its Followers?
48 Decision Analysis 13(1), pp. 26–50, © 2016 INFORMS
funding. 000But the taggers-on are more driven by the
economic components. This has been underexamined.
The political economy is critical. You need to look at
what opportunities are there for ISIL to survive and
make a lot of money off of a dismembered or weak-
ened state. Revivals of smuggling networks, inability
to control borders, taking advantage of resources, etc.,
all play a role.70
Furthermore, ISIL had “physical property taken as the
spoils of jihad”;71 i.e., they enriched themselves.
Illustrating and Describing the ISIL Followers’
Objectives Hierarchy
There are three strategic followers’ objectives: Humanitarian
Fulfillment, Religious Fulfillment, and Personal Fulfillment.
The first strategic objective is Humanitarian Fulfillment.
Especially at the beginning in 2012 and 2013, there were
recruits who pursued altruistic objectives.72 Some of them
wanted to support humanitarian causes—for example, end
the war in Syria,73 help in the humanitarian crisis,74 or
build, reform, remove oppression, spread Justice, and bring
about safety and tranquility.75 Other recruits want to sup-
port particular Sunni causes—for example, fight oppression
and discrimination by Shia and the West and reestablish
Sunni power and place in history.
The second strategic objective is Religious Fulfillment. The
three fundamental objectives related to this strategic objec-
tive cover a broad range. ISIL followers seek spiritual ful-
fillment, to implement a pure and strict version of Islam,
and to fight for God. Spiritual fulfillment can be achieved
by three means. al-Baghdadi requested ISIL’s followers to
sacrifice life and wealth.76 The followers want to become
warriors of God, martyrs.77 These two objectives are for
most of the followers a means to having an everlasting here-
after.78 A pure and strict ersion of Islam can be achieved
by three means. al-Baghdadi pointed out that ISIL follow-
ers want to pursue and defend Sharia law.79 Nevertheless,
70 SME 8.
71 See Crook (2014).
72 Baumgarten R., September 03, 2014. Islamischer Staat brutal und
ideologisch (http://www.deutschlandradiokultur.de/politisches
-feuilleton.1004.de.html?cal:month=9&drbm:date=2014-09-03
),
accessed September 6, 2014.
73 See Abuziyaad (2014).
74 SME 9.
75 According to SITE Intelligence Group (2014a) and SME 18.
76 See SITE Intelligence Group (2014b).
77 According to SMEs 5, 6, 7, and 9.
78 See SITE Intelligence Group (2014b).
79 al-Adnani, in an address delivered April 17, 2014, as quoted
in https://www.opensource.gov/portal/server.pt/gateway/PTA
RGS_0_0_200_203_121123_43/content/Display/TRN201404183383
others not only pursue Sharia law; there are followers who
joined ISIL to execute one’s hardcore ideology.80 An ideol-
ogy of “superiority” is seen as one of the causes for a surge
in foreign fighters.81 These followers want to demonstrate
superiority of their religion. There are also followers who
want to fight for God; they want to kill infidels in name
of God.82 al-Baghdadi requested them to support the reli-
gion of God through jihad83 and they want to defend the
caliphate.
The third strategic objective is Personal Fulfillment, which
encompasses six fundamental objectives. Four of them—to
have power, improve the material situation, improve self-
esteem, and belong to a brotherhood (respectively, social
group) and have an adventure—are broadly accepted and
relevant for most individuals. However, ISIL followers try
to achieve these objectives with means most individuals
would certainly not accept. In contrast to the first four objec-
tives, the remaining two objectives, attacking Westerners
and Jews and pursuing sanctioned violence and brutality,
are rejected by most individuals.
Most of the followers felt in their earlier life helpless and
humiliated.84 Therefore, they want to have power. ISIL is
perceived as a strong group by many followers,85 and these
followers are interested in having a powerful position in a
powerful organization.86 In their fights or while tyrannizing
the population, ISIL followers may experience the ultimate
form of power; they have the power to decide about life and
death.87 Furthermore, for young individuals joining ISIL,
this is a way to escape from parental control. They want to
emancipate from complacent fathers.88
Many followers were unemployed and did not see any
perspective in life. They were joining ISIL because they
wanted to improve their material situation.89 Joining ISIL
0660#index=11&searchKey=16416945&rpp=102. This site can be
accessed by local, state, or federal government officials or with
prior approval. Accessed September 20, 2014.
80 Baumgarten R., September 03, 2014. Islamischer Staat brutal und
ideologisch, 30.08.2014. http://www.deutschlandradiokultur.de/
politisches-feuilleton.1004.de.html?cal:month=9&drbm:date=2014
-09-03. Accessed September 6, 2014.
81 See Snyder (2014).
82 See Abuziyaad (2014).
83 See SITE Intelligence Group (2014b).
84 SMEs 10, 12, and 13.
85 SMEs 5, 6, and 7.
86 SME 19.
87 Baumgarten R., September 03, 2014. Islamischer Staat brutal und
ideologisch, 30.08.2014. http://www.deutschlandradiokultur.de/
politisches-feuilleton.1004.de.html?cal:month=9&drbm:date=2014
-09-03. Accessed September 6, 2014.
88 SME 3.
89 SME 9.
Siebert, von Winterfeldt, and John: What Are the Objectives of ISIL and Its Followers?
Decision Analysis 13(1), pp. 26–50, © 2016 INFORMS 49
gives them the opportunity to start life over and have a
better, more authentic life.90 Most people want to get rich
and work honestly and hard to achieve this objective. By
contrast, some ISIL followers behave like soldiers of for-
tune and accept harming other people to get rich. They
want to get rich by plundering.91 The third means objective
that contributes to improving material situation is to be on
the winning side. al-Baghdadi proclaimed that “the believer
will always win at the end.”92 The feeling of being on the
winner’s side is highly attractive: “Who does not want to
be on the winning team?”93
Most of the followers had not been successful in their ear-
lier lives, had been discriminated because they were Sunnis,
and did not have strong self-esteem. Therefore, they want
to improve their self-esteem. ISIL offers the opportunity to
become a hero. Followers can be “rock stars in their own
community.”94 Within ISIL, followers can be part of an elite
contributing to something important. ISIL promised their
followers that in a thousand years that people would still
talk about and admire them.95 Furthermore, ISIL followers
want to live as Muslims, honorable with might and free-
dom.96
Many followers were outsiders in their earlier lives. ISIL
offers them the opportunity to belong to a brotherhood of
fighters. Individuals join ISIL to be part of and accepted
by the group97 or because they do not want to stab ISIL
soldiers in the back by not joining of leaving them (friend-
ship effect).98 Others join because they want to enjoy the
blessings of brotherhood and have an adventure.99 There
are followers who blame the West or the Jews for their per-
sonal situation or the Sunnis’ situation. They pursue the
objective to attack Westerners and Jews. For example, al-
Baghdadi incited followers to “stand up and rise 000against
the treacherous rulers—the agents of the crusaders and the
atheists, and the guards of the Jews.”100 The followers want
90 SME 1.
91 See Crook (2014).
92 See Abuziyaad (2014).
93 SME 3.
94 SMEs 12 and 13.
95 Baumgarten R., September 03, 2014. Islamischer Staat brutal und
ideologisch. http://www.deutschlandradiokultur.de/politisches
-feuilleton.1004.de.html?cal:month=9&drbm:date=2014-09-03. Ac-
cessed September 6, 2014.
96 See SITE Intelligence Group (2014b).
97 Baumgarten R., September 03, 2014. Islamischer Staat brutal und
ideologisch, 30.08.2014. http://www.deutschlandradiokultur.de/
politisches-feuilleton.1004.de.html?cal:month=9&drbm:date=2014
-09-03. Accessed September 6, 2014.
98 SMEs 5, 6, and 7.
99 According to SITE Intelligence Group (2014b) and SME 24.
100 As quoted in SITE Intelligence Group (2014b).
to be in direct confrontation with Americans, Westerners,
and Jews101 and to take revenge.102 Furthermore, they want
to trample the idol of nationalism and destroy the idol of
democracy.103 For some followers violence is an end in itself.
For them, ISIL offers the opportunity to pursue sanctioned
violence and brutality.104 For these followers it is important
to be part of a feared, authentic, radical, brutal, and rigor-
ous movement.105 Furthermore, they want to live the life of
an outlaw (killing, raping, plundering).106
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... They applied this methodology to al-Qaeda and found that its objectives are far more complex than simply killing large numbers of Westerners. Siebert et al. (2016) extended this methodology to identify and structure the objectives of ISIL, the terrorist group that has been deemed, in recent years, to be the most dangerous in the world. In another case study, Rosoff 1 studied the objectives of Hezbollah, which focus on fighting Israel and establishing a Palestinian authority in the region. ...
... The resulting objectives hierarchy is illustrated in Figure 1. Siebert et al. (2016) extended the method of Keeney and von Winterfeldt (2010) by including a review of structured interviews with experts and applied it to eliciting the strategic, fundamental, and means objectives of the leaders and followers of the terrorist group ISIL. The objectives and the corresponding means-ends network were then constructed to better illustrate the objectives and interrelationships of the leaders and followers of the terrorist group. ...
... Using these funds to support its military operations, ISIL also has developed a semblance of governance in the occupied territories. Siebert et al. (2016) extended the method of Keeney and von Winterfeldt (2010) by including a review of structured interviews with experts and applied it to eliciting the strategic, fundamental, and means objectives of the leaders and followers of the terrorist group ISIL. The objectives and the corresponding means-ends network were then constructed to better illustrate the objectives and interrelationships of the leaders and followers of the terrorist group. ...
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... Keeney and von Winterfeldt (2010) developed an approach to identify objectives of enemies or terrorist groups based on available primary sources, such as direct statements by terrorist leaders and observed actions by terrorist groups, and secondary sources including reports on and interpretations of terrorist statements and actions. Siebert et al. (2016) extended this method by a review of structured expert interviews and applied it to elicit fundamental and strategic objectives of leaders and followers of the ISIL terrorist group. ...
... If there is no direct access to supply chain members, we recommend studying open source material. This approach, which was successfully tested to identify objectives of (uncooperative) terrorist groups (Keeney and von Winterfeldt, 2010;Siebert et al., 2016), can be applied to identify objectives of supply chain members who are not actively involved in the alignment process. The ones who are willing but not able to participate in the alignment process may help compiling related material and complement it by providing confidential information. ...
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... Instead, terrorists are seen as purposeful agents with multiple objectives ( Richardson, 2006 ) and engaged in adaptive decision processes ( Arin, Lorz, Reich, & Spagnolo, 2011 ). The multi-objective nature of their action has led to suggestions of modeling their objectives using multi-attribute value functions ( Bhashyam & Montibeller, 2012;Siebert, von Winterfeldt, & John, 2016 ). How exactly their decision processes should be modeled is, however, unclear. ...
... The significant standard error associated with the estimate of β also implies the value functions to differ between organizations, a finding that is in line with prior results ( Asal & Rethemeyer, 2008 ). Studies of terrorist organizations further make clear that other payoffs than revenge and renown are likely to influence their actions ( Hausken, 2018;Richardson, 2006;Siebert et al., 2016 ). In this study, we limited our analysis to those payoffs which we can measure reliably and consistently for all organizations. ...
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... They can be identified by interviewing decisionmakers and stakeholders (Keeney & Raiffa, 1993). In addition, separate indirect efforts using publicly available material to derive fundamental objectives have proven to be a valuable enhancement (Siebert, et al., 2017;Siebert & von Winterfeldt, 2020). The set of fundamental objectives should ideally have a certain set of properties (Keeney & Raiffa, 1993). ...
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... Consequently, the Islamic State's goals and objectives are revealed by its activities and targets, and rarely by explicit identification (Frisch 2016, 10). This article was largely influenced by studies by von Winterfeldt and Keeny (2010), and Siebert, von Winterfeldt, and John (2016) who identified and structured the objectives of al-Qaeda (2010) and the Islamic State (2016) from available literature, and in doing so created a comprehensive method of identifying and categorising the goals and objectives of terrorist organisations. Similarly, this study identified the goals and objectives of the Islamic State by categorising the ambitions and activities of the group that are long-term goals, and those that are practical and measurable activities. ...
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