NEW YORK (CNN) – Brutal, well organized, and well financed. The Islamic state in Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIS, has rapidly morphed into the world’s most dangerous jihadist organization.
Its methods so extreme, al-Qaeda itself has disavowed any relationship with it.
The group seized on the power vacuum left by the U.S. withdrawal in Iraq, the continuing Syrian Civil War, and the smoldering hostility between different Muslim groups to grow in influence and bolster its ranks, becoming a magnet for battle hardened militants from around the world.
Its goal is synonymous with its name: to set up an Islamic caliphate in the Middle East. With its recent advances in northern Iraq, that goal appears to be closer.
ISIS now controls crucial swaths of territory stretching from the Syrian city of Aleppo all the way to the outskirts of Baghdad and has threatened to advance on the capital itself.
Formed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, ISIS was originally known as the Islamic state of Iraq, al-Qaeda’s affiliate there.
It was tasked with creating a sectarian civil war to destabilize the country during the U.S. led occupation. Its current leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has a larger vision for the group.
al-Baghdadi assumed control of the group in 2010 at the age 39. A religious scholar, who claims to be a direct descendent of the prophet Muhammad.
His shrewd leadership and ruthless tactics have inspired thousands and many experts call him the new Osama bin Laden.
As ISIS has grown, it has assumed the responsibility not just of a terrorist group, but of a ruler, often providing food and services to the residents it controls.
ISIS rules through fear: imposing Sharia law and holding public floggings and executions to keep residents in check.
With each city it conquers, its power and influence grows.