A relatively new terrorist organization, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, has challenged the world’s largest terrorist network Al-Qaeda for power over the extremist Islamic ideology. The Islamic State (ISIS) is said to have taken on the group, defying orders and being uncooperative with other rebel groups trying to overthrow the Assad regime. In response, Al-Qaeda officially cut ties with the group, posting on various Jihadi websites that they are no longer affiliates of ISIS.
The ISIS, which surfaced shortly after the civil war broke out in Syria, has done quite some damage in its short time on the scene, escalating the instability in the region. ISIS’s power grab has led to some of the deadliest infighting amongst the rebel groups.
William McCants, a scholar of militant Islam at the Brookings Institution, said that Al-Qaeda’s shunning of the group could prove to make ISIS an even stronger organization, setting a reputation for themselves as the group that defied Al-Qaeda. “Nothing says ‘hard-core’ like being cast out by Al-Qaeda,” McCants says.
The animosity between the groups began when Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri sent out orders to ISIS leaders to stand down so that Al-Qaeda leaders could direct the insurgency in Syria. ISIS, which has had no qualms about setting its own agenda, stood its ground and continued fighting in defiance of Al-Qaeda.
Most Islamic terrorist organizations receive their funding either directly or indirectly from Al-Qaeda or Al-Qaeda sponsors. What makes ISIS different–and what makes its perhaps even more dangerous–is that it has managed to secure its own resources, taking over abandoned oil fields or extorting passengers at border crossings. This has allowed the new ISIS to be economically independent from the worldwide terrorist organization and allows it to shrug off Al-Qaeda’s commands.
A group that has stepped in to fill the shoes ISIS left behind is Al-Qaeda affiliate, the al-Nursa Front, which now has sole Al-Qaeda “credentials.” One rebel was quoted as saying that while he does not agree with the al-Nursa Front’s ideology, he hopes that they will help in ridding Syria of ISIS.
ISIS has carried out a number of serious bombings, including one that killed 16 rebel fighters and wounded 20 at a rebel base. Waging war on not only Bashar al-Assad, but also other rebel groups has made ISIS a target for the rebel community.
A Saudi cleric denounced ISIS in a statement, saying that the group’s tactics would be frowned upon by God. “That brother who blew himself up, what is his destiny now before the almighty God?” said Sheikh Muheiseni.
The tenuous power play between rebel groups looking to overthrow Assad has thrown the region into a whirlwind of chaos and instability. Three years later and over 130,000 dead, the fighting has only escalated since competing rebel groups swooped in to capitalize on the political vacuum in Syria.
Observers are saying that ISIS’s hard-line stance in asserting its dominance over other rebel groups will only worsen the conflict and make the task of international peacekeepers more complicated. The new terrorist organization Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s challenge to Al-Qaeda may prove to do more in harming the mission of the Islamic insurgency than assumed.