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The Spread of ISIS & Information Cascading

There has been a lot of talk in the news lately regarding the actions and methods used by the group known as ISIS or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. The aim of ISIS is to create an Islamic state across the Sunni areas of these two countries. Throughout the news, ISIS is known for carrying out public executions and killing large groups of people at a time through, usually, graphic or intense means. They used to engage mainly in small robberies and extortion in order to fund their actions, but now ISIS strategy has shifted to large scale attacks with the goal of acquiring and holding territory. Disturbingly, their reach is steadily spreading across the Middle East and their influence is slowly growing over the region. More and more groups are pledging loyalty to ISIS from Algeria to Pakistan. For example, just this week ISIS has been meeting with leaders of the Pakistani Taliban to talk about plans on how to unify Pakistani militants. ISIS also received a pledge of loyalty from one of most extreme militant groups in Egypt: Ansar Beit al-Maqdis. This comes after the Arabian Peninsula’s al-Mujahidin, Libya’s al-Mujahidin, and Yemen’s al-Mujahidin all pledged allegiance to ISIS. Even former al Qaeda aligned groups are teaming up with ISIS to fight their common enemies.

The growth of ISIS and its network of allies is represented by a general cascade model. To formulate this model, we consider a group of organizations that will sequentially make the decision whether to align themselves with ISIS, who is considered the first organization in this model or global movement. We have different states of outcomes for joining ISIS: either joining ISIS will benefit the other organization and they will gain ground on achieving their goal of defeating their enemies, or joining ISIS will push their goals back compared to what they could have done by themselves. Each of these states has a payoff that will align with their objectives of more control over the region and creation of an Islamic state. The final ingredient to this model is signals which is the effect of the private information possessed by each of these militant groups in the Middle East. The first organization, ISIS, decides to engage in small skirmishes like robberies and hostage videos to get their name out there with some success. Another terrorist organization like Ansar Beit al-Maqdis sees this success and chooses to align. After this alliance, smaller groups like al-Mujahidin and Jund al-Khalifa decide to get on board and add on to the growing alliance. And soon, there is cascading as we see more and more organizations are quick to align themselves with ISIS. This also works because of the signals and success of the ISIS attacks. ISIS has been very successful taking over government control by replacing administrators and governors and controlling key infrastructure features like oil wells and damns. Partnering with ISIS makes sense for a lot of these small militant groups, especially in the beginning. And after the alliance started to grow and grow and their success grew from small robberies to government takeovers, other militant groups kept signing up in a cascade fashion as all the other militant groups before as they see there must be some benefit if all the groups before them have decided to align themselves with ISIS.


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