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A look at the Islamic State militants in Syria

By ZEINA KARAM

BEIRUT (AP) -- As the U.S. strikes Islamic State targets in Iraq, extremists belonging to the same militant group across the border in Syria are capturing new territory and becoming bolder by the day.

There, in its power base, the Islamic State group controls thousands of square kilometers (miles) of territory, including most of Syria's oil-producing region. In the areas under its control, it has established an elaborate governing system that oversees every aspect of people's lives.

The U.S. has begun surveillance flights over Syria as a possible precursor for airstrikes against Islamic State targets there. U.S. Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said the group cannot be defeated "without addressing that side of the organization which resides in Syria."

A look at the Islamic State group in Syria:

SCOPE AND SIZE

By some estimates, the Islamic State group occupies up to 35 percent of Syria, or about a third of the country. It has consolidated its hold over an impressive stretch of territory from its westernmost end on the outskirts of the city of Aleppo, across northern Syria and most of the east. It spreads into most of the Sunni-dominated areas of northern and western Iraq, right up to the edges of Baghdad. That terrain includes the oil fields of Syria's eastern Deir el-Zour province and parts of Hassakeh. It also includes parts of Aleppo province, including the major towns of Manbej and al-Bab, where the group's black flags flutter over government buildings and main squares. Because it controls territory on both sides of the border, the group can move fighters, weapons and goods between Iraq and Syria with relative ease.

CALIPHATE CAPITAL

The Islamic State's declared capital is Raqqa, a city in northeastern Syria along the Euphrates River. With a population of 500,000, Raqqa is the group's power base. Foreign fighters, some with their families, have flocked there from all over the world. Although it always has been a conservative city with strong tribal presence, Raqqa was once a diverse, thriving commercial center. Today, it is patrolled 24 hours a day by vice squads known as the Hisba - armed fighters in long robes who make sure their strict interpretation of Islam is observed. The militants have banned music and smoking, and have forced women to cover up. They have carried out beheadings in the main square for violators of Shariah, or Islamic law. People who were killed have had their bodies hung from crosses. The group recently imposed a curriculum in Raqqa schools, scrapping subjects such as philosophy and chemistry.

RESOURCES AND GOVERNING

The group controls virtually all major oil fields of eastern Syria, including the Omar oil field, Syria's largest, with a capacity to produce 75,000 barrels a day. According to several activists, the group has resumed some pumping and has secured revenue by selling crude oil at lower-than-market prices and exporting to Iraq and Turkey through middlemen with tankers. The group also enjoys other assets, such as three major border crossings, grain silos and the al-Furat dam, Syria's largest. In the past two years, the group has become entrenched in parts of Syria, establishing a governing system that includes administrative offices, Islamic courts and traffic police.

MILITARY STRENGTH

The group is a formidable fighting force in Syria, battling anyone who stands in its way. Since about the beginning of the year, the group has been engaged in a war of attrition with Western-backed rebels, overwhelming their outposts and picking off towns and villages one by one through force and intimidation. Hundreds of people have been killed in the fighting, which has detracted from the rebellion's main goal of toppling President Bashar Assad. More recently, the jihadists have turned their attention to Assad's forces, seizing a series of military bases, including the Tabqa airfield in Raqqa province. Following its blitz in Iraq, the group has moved tanks, cannons, Humvees and surface-to-surface missiles into Syria, parading the hardware recently in Raqqa. Most of the group's leaders are believed to be in Syria, including Omar al-Shishani, a Chechen and one of its most prominent military figures.

ASSAD'S ACTIONS

Assad has recently stepped up airstrikes against strongholds of the Islamic State group, perhaps to try to ward off U.S. involvement, to show he can do the job himself and to portray himself as a partner for the international community. The Syrian government has opened the door for potential cooperation with the U.S. to contain the Islamic State group but says any strikes should be done in coordination with Damascus. That's a problem for the U.S., which risks appearing on the same side as Assad, whose ouster the Obama administration has sought for years. U.S. strikes against the Islamic State group in Syria may help Assad by legitimizing his government at the expense of those seeking to topple him. Any U.S. airstrikes would likely focus on areas near the Iraqi border and militant targets such as training camps in Raqqa, where Assad's air defense capabilities are almost nonexistent.

COMPLICATIONS

U.S. airstrikes in Syria against the Islamic State group would be much more complicated than in Iraq, where they are sanctioned by Baghdad and where battle lines are more clearly drawn. The picture in Syria is more complex, with a host of military players operating in close proximity to each other, including the Islamic State group, the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front, Western-backed rebels and pro-government forces. While the Western-backed rebels have urged the U.S. to extend airstrikes to target the Islamic State group, more hard-line groups in Syria oppose any U.S. involvement.

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Learn more about our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.

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warning.warning.warning August 28 2014 at 8:53 AM

Over 4 years ago --
American's military intelligence advised, warned and warned
Barack Obama about the growth and high danger of ISIS
But Barack Hussein Obama
ignored all warnings!
Obama had a political agenda
that took priority over
America's security!
This President
has put our country in long-term danger to satisfy his politics.

Flag Reply +55 rate up
9 replies
libsfault August 28 2014 at 5:16 AM

Who are they? A threat to world peace,and if you think that this will not reach your shores you are very naive. Bush had it right ...fight them over there and you won't have to here........

Flag Reply +42 rate up
8 replies
foxbat25 August 28 2014 at 4:20 AM

Welcome to the new world were liberal ideas mean nothing. Fight fire with fire it seems is the only solution.

Flag Reply +32 rate up
5 replies
frankiegallo33 August 28 2014 at 6:25 AM

America ask yourselves why is Evil Satan Obama taking such a slow, casual, " I don't see a threat", attitude toward ISIS ( Obama now calls them ISIL to fool us).
After leaving American Heroes to die a vicious death in Benghazi & not even going to a 2 Star Genera'ls funeral who died in combat, we know he has no use for Our Military. So it's not Obama being careful for our heroes.
.
It's because he is seeing his long awaited, Muslim Caliphate coming into fruition.

Obama thinks he'll be sitting on top of this Muslim pile of $h!t with Valerie Jarrett's birth country, Iran, ruling as large a portion of the entire world as possible.

We've been had thanks to American voters & Democrats who will never get another vote from my family or friends for supporting such a Liar Scum Bag & who fell for Obama's lies & con job.

Nice Going !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Flag Reply +29 rate up
11 replies
William Brann August 28 2014 at 5:02 AM

Didn't the libs want to give these guys a bunch of guns and money at one point in time during this cluster f. to help them oust Assad?

Flag Reply +26 rate up
10 replies
dhsdome August 28 2014 at 6:21 AM

The United States is leaderless right now. So it is just a matter of time until they arrive here.

Flag Reply +21 rate up
9 replies
INODSDY August 28 2014 at 8:48 AM

Who are they? They are parasites that failed in building a life of their own and now they want revenge on the civilized world. That's who they are... failures as human beings, now parasitic, feeding on the blood of innocents. Time to exterminate...

Flag Reply +19 rate up
2 replies
ttjt1981 INODSDY August 28 2014 at 11:39 AM

You are exactly right.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
scarp33780 INODSDY August 28 2014 at 12:00 PM

I'm with you they need to be exterminated

Flag Reply 0 rate up
kiick23 August 28 2014 at 6:36 AM

Who is the Islamic state? They are the Arabs who have taken over the middle east due to the extremely weak and arguably complicit leadership in America since November 2008.

Flag Reply +19 rate up
1 reply
kcarthey kiick23 August 28 2014 at 7:46 AM

No. They began when Reagan cut and ran in 1981.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
3 replies
jltjt9 August 28 2014 at 7:29 AM

It appears that Obama could have knocked these players off the field when they were all together heading down that 400 mile stretch towards Iraq. All in one place and he let them progress.

Now they have robbed banks, killed thousands of innocent men, women and probably children and have oil refineries which give them a large income. That is not including all our military hardware, like M 1 Abrams Tanks, Stinger Missiles which we left to the Iraq Army.

Now entrenched, deeply funded they are taking over the continent and we will be next.

Obama is supported by George Soros who has said that the only thing stopping him from his New World Order is the United States. He is the Architect of the UN Agenda 21 and in that Agenda, it calls for one world government and the US to be divided into 10 sectors.

It appears that with this Agenda, Obama is also driving towards this direction by destroying our constitution and taking no action against his Muslim heritage.

Envision it.

Flag Reply +14 rate up
4 replies
Raymond August 28 2014 at 6:10 AM

The bolder that these Islamic militants get the more trouble that they're going to cause for the Middle East region and the World as a whole.

Flag Reply +9 rate up
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