ISIS’ Rapid Expansion Fueling Sectarian Tensions Within Terror Group

Li bya
AP Photo

As the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) expands, members are reporting rifts in various factions of the group. Those who have fled the group and residents in areas the jihadist group controls claim that the more fighters the group recruits, the more problems ISIS leaders have begun to face.

The jihadist group established a self-proclaimed caliphate in Syria and Iraq. The leaders promised “Muslim unity,” but bringing together those of different nationalities has created challenges.

“The Syrian fighters feel they’ve been treated unjustly in comparison to the foreign fighters,” said an anonymous Syrian.

Foreign fighters receive better salaries and homes. They live in cities “where coalition airstrikes are relatively rare because of the risk of civilian casualties.” The Syrian fighters, on the other hand, are reportedly forced to live at “rural outposts.”

“The key challenge facing ISIS right now is more internal than external,” explained Lina Khatib, the director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut. “We’re seeing basically a failure of the central tenet of ISIS ideology, which is to unify people of different origins under the caliphate. This is not working on the ground. It is making them less effective in governing and less effective in military operations.”

Foreign fighters receive $800 a month while the local fighters only receive $400. One defector said the foreign fighters do not want to fight, but opt to join the squad to enforce the Islamic State’s moral codes.

“Some of these fighters go to Syria to live off the welfare of Islamic State—get a house, a wife in exchange for some lowly [bureaucratic] position,” said one European official who monitors citizens of his country within the group. “But now they’re being asked to fight, and they don’t always want to.”

The Islamic State leaders broke apart when it came down to the fate of Jordan pilot First Lieutenant Muath al-Kasasbeh. From The Wall Street Journal:

Some members of the group’s Shura council, which dispenses religious guidance, insisted he be ransomed or exchanged in a prisoner swap, saying burning him alive had no precedent in Islamic texts, one defector said.

Eventually, Lt. Kasasbeh was placed in a black steel cage, doused with gasoline and set alight. The move not only dismayed some members of Islamic State but damaged the organization’s reputation among members of rival jihadist groups it is attempting to co-opt, according to another defector.

In December, The Washington Post reported on the Islamic State’s failure to function as a bureaucratic state. Residents claim the clean videos the terrorists release do not show “the reality of growing deprivation and disorganized, erratic leadership.” In the towns they control, “prices are soaring, and medicines are scarce.” No one has received the new passports they were promised and schools do not exist for the children:

In the Iraqi city of Mosul, the water has become undrinkable because supplies of chlorine have dried up, said a journalist living there, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect his safety. Hepatitis is spreading, and flour is becoming scarce, he said. “Life in the city is nearly dead, and it is as though we are living in a giant prison,” he said.

In the Syrian city of Raqqa, the group’s self-styled capital, water and electricity are available for no more than three or four hours a day, garbage piles up uncollected, and the city’s poor scavenge for scraps on streets crowded with sellers hawking anything they can find, residents say.

Despite the lavish living quarters, the foreign fighters quickly realized that the promises made to them about the jihadi lifestyle would not be fulfilled. Between thirty to forty bodies of men who appeared to be Asian were discovered in Tabqa, which is near Raqqa recently. According to the activist group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, the Islamic State killed them men because they tried to escape.

The Islamic State cannot manage its money since it constantly adds more princes under their belt. Looting of museums and historic cities has turned the jihadists into billionaires, but as The Wall Street Journal points out, this has only bred corruption:

In February, two Egyptians overseeing Syria’s Deir Ezzour province for Islamic State fled with thousands of dollars of the group’s funds, including profit from al Omar oil field, the country’s largest, said residents of the province. The head of Islamic State’s religious police in the eastern Syrian city of Raqqa, the group’s de facto capital, stole thousands of dollars from the organization’s coffers before fleeing to Turkey in January, said area residents. Mr. [Hassan] Hassan, the analyst, said he also had evidence of growing graft within the group.

The Islamic State still controls Raqqa and Mosul. Over the weekend, the militants managed to loot and destroy three historic cities in Iraq and Syria with minimal backlash from the international community. But if the group continues to drag people with minimal abilities, they might not last that long.

“Ultimately, they are only attracting people on the margins of society, without much education or useful skills,” insisted Khatib. “It’s not exactly bolstering their military capability.”


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