'Islamic State' Launches Beheadings, Gov't Projects
Islamists from the terrorist group now known as the Islamic State, or IS, are taking new steps in their attempt to turn huge swaths of Iraq and Syria into a caliphate.
During the past month, the group has consolidated its hold over a 435-mile-stretch of territory from Syria into Iraq, seizing money from Iraqi banks estimated in the tens of millions of dollars and capturing almost all the major oil and gas fields of eastern Syria.
In some areas they're trying to act like a traditional government by repairing roads, policing traffic, and running courts. They've even set up an export system for the crude oil they've stolen.
The Islamic group has also been targeting anyone who doesn't follow their harsh brand of Sunni Islam. They've been seizing the homes of Christian and Shiite families who fled Mosul and turning some of them over to Sunni families.
In the city of Raqqa, the group's main stronghold in Syria, they've unleashed Islamic Shariah law, killing perceived offenders and cutting off the hands of thieves in public.
They have even killed violators of Shariah in the main square, including by beheading, and have hung the bodies of some people on crosses.
In Raqqa and other parts of Syria, the group also takes a cut of all humanitarian aid and commerce that passes through.
"Any trade outside the framework of the Islamic State is forbidden. Buying, selling, everything must be through the State," said one opposition activist in Raqqa, who asked not to be identified out of fear for his safety.
The leader of the IS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, appears to recognize that over the long term, his fighters are not governors. Last month al-Baghdadi appealed to Muslims around the world with practical skills -- scholars, judges, doctors, engineers, and administrators -- to come help him build a new state.
Iraqis and Syrians make up most of the group, but it also includes Arab fighters from surrounding countries as well as from non-Arab regions like the Caucasus.
Since it's not a grassroots movement, its sway over local populations is ultimately based on violence.