ISIS, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, is quickly becoming one of the most feared terrorist groups in the world after it managed to capture the Iraqi city of Mosul. Al-Qaida has even attempted to distance themselves from them.
ISIS, led by Iraqi Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was originally a part of al-Qaida and was originally known as the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). However, once the Syrian civil war intensified, ISI became more involved in the conflict. The group eventually broke off from al-Qaida, due to differences in ideology and strategy and immersed themselves in the Syrian conflict. Al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri called on ISIS last month to leave Syria and return to Iraq amid fears of the groups ruthless and brutal tactics.
ISIS has shown its most destructive capabilities in Syria during the country’s ongoing civil war. It is blamed for the assassinations of several prominent Syrian politicians, as well as the murders of entire Syrian families. They rule with an iron fist, ordering men accused of murder to be crucified, as well as amputating limbs for other crimes.
Baghdadi has proven he can gain territory in Syria and Iraq by presenting his group as an alternative to Sunni’s under Shia led governments. Baghdadi recruits highly motivated and highly experienced soldiers who believe in his cause. ISIS is now estimated to have around 10,000 men in its ranks and gets many of its resources through extortion networks. In February, it gained control of the Conoco gas field which is rumored to be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars per week.
ISIS runs efficiently and effectively, something that al-Qaida has never been able to do. It flies its black-and-white flag over everything it controls, which is growing daily. ISIS runs courts and schools, and even has a consumer protection authority for food standards. “ISIS now presents itself as an ideologically superior alternative to al-Qaida within the jihadi community, and it has publicly challenged the legitimacy of al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.” Charles Lister, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution said in a paper last month.
With the capture of Mosul, ISIS may now be able to stake its claim as the world’s leading jihadi group.