August 11, 2014 4:42 pm
Updated: August 11, 2014 4:49 pm

Appetite for destruction: Where ISIS gets its reputation for brutality

Rebel fighters stand at an entrance of the Aleppo headquarters of the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS) in Aleppo after fighters from several Syrian rebel brigades seized it January 8, 2014.

MOHAMMED WESAM/AFP/Getty Images

TORONTO – The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is a Sunni militant group considered an offshoot of the more recognizable terrorist organization al-Qaeda. But it’s become known for employing much more brutal tactics.

READ MORE: ISIS or ISIL – what’s in a transliterated name?

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ISIS is fighting to seize territory from the Shiite-led Iraqi government and set up an Islamic state (also called a caliphate) in parts of Iraq, Syria and potentially beyond. The organization has also become one of the main groups fighting against the Syrian regime in that country’s civil war.

Torture and executions

A December 2013 Amnesty International report wrote that torture, summary executions and “cruel and unusual punishments” – including of children as young as eight – are characteristic of secret Syrian prisons run by ISIS.

Former detainees interviewed by Amnesty told of being flogged with rubber generator belts or cables and tortured with electric shocks. Children were also submitted to severe beatings and floggings while in detention, according to detainee accounts.

“After years in which they were prey to the brutality of the Assad regime, the people of Raqqa and Aleppo are now suffering under a new form of tyranny imposed on them by ISIS, in which arbitrary detention, torture and executions have become the order of the day,” Amnesty’s regional director Philip Luther told the BBC.

Too extreme for Al-Qaeda

In February, ISIS became the first al-Qaeda affiliate to be formally disowned after months of feuding.

ISIS “is not a branch of the al-Qaeda group … does not have an organizational relationship with it and [al-Qaeda] is not the group responsible for their actions,” al-Qaeda’s General Command said in a statement quoted in the Washington Post.

The rejection means al-Qaeda is no longer represented in Iraq, and al-Qaeda’s only representation in Syria is through “more moderate” Jabhat al-Nusra, reports the Post.

ISIS is considered the most extreme of the Islamist groups fighting in Syria, employing tactics such as beheadings. The group’s unwillingness to cooperate or consult with other groups is thought to be the primary reason behind its break with al-Qaeda.

Refugees fleeing ISIS

Videos suggest use of child soldiers

Britain’s ITV News obtained video of two boys holding assault rifles in the back of an ISIS -flagged vehicle in Mosul at the end of June.

The footage emerged just two days after Human Rights Watch reported the extremist group had “systematically sought to recruit children” in neighbouring Syria.

“Islamist groups such as ISIS have more aggressively targeted children for recruitment, providing free lectures and schooling that included weapons and other military training,” the New York-based organization reported, based on witness interviews.

“Residents of areas controlled by ISIS or Jabhat al-Nusra say these groups have reached out to young people, including children, in systematic ways, entering schools and providing education in mosques that includes weapons and military training,” the HRW report stated, adding that it had credible reports ISIS and others have “used children under 15 in combat or support roles.” 

Recruiting foreigners with mental illness

A 13-minute recruitment video posted on ISIS’s Al-Hayat Media Center TouTube channel in June targets English-speakers and appears to target those who may be vulnerable or disillusioned: One man says, “The cure for depression is jihad … Feel the honour we are feeling, feel the happiness we are feeling.

“Are you willing to sacrifice the fat job you’ve got? The big car you’ve got? The family you have? Are you willing to sacrifice this for the sake of Allah?”

“Definitely, if you sacrifice for Allah, Allah will give you 700 times more than this,” says the man, described as “Brother Abu Bara’ al Hindi – from Britain.”

Governments in Western countries, including Canada, are growing increasingly concerned about militants among their own citizens.

Global News previously reported the story of Farah Mohamed Shirdon, a Somali-Canadian man from Calgary who was seen in another ISIS video burning his Canadian passport and declaring, “This is a message to Canada and all the Americans oppressors. We are coming and we will destroy you.”

A 25-year-old British Columbian man was also the first to be charged under a new anti-terrorism bill, which came into effect in July.

Hasibullah Yusufzai has been accused of helping terrorists, and left for Syria in January apparently to join Islamist fighters. The new bill deems it a criminal offence “to leave” or “attempt to leave” the country to take part in terrorist activity.

Potential for ‘genocide’

ISIS has trapped thousands of Yazidis, an Iraqi religious minority, atop of a mountain in northwest Iraq.

The U.S. announced Monday it’s deploying a disaster response team to help distribute humanitarian aid including food, water and other life-saving supplies to the Yazidis, who face either starvation or death by ISIS militants should they flee the mountain.

READ MORE: Canada’s Yazidi community begs Stephen Harper for help in Iraq

“The terrorists that have taken over parts of Iraq have been especially brutal to religious minorities – rounding up families, executing men, enslaving women, and threatening the systematic destruction of an entire religious community, which would be genocide,” President Barack Obama said Saturday.

READ MORE: U.S. launches second round of airstrikes in northern Iraq

 The little boy with the severed head

On Monday, an Australian newspaper published a photograph of a child—reportedly the son of a convicted terrorist—holding the severed head of a Syrian soldier. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott cited the photo as further evidence of “just how barbaric” ISIS is. The child, who is not named, appears to be younger than 10 years old.

With files from Global News reporter Nick Logan and The Associated Press

© Shaw Media, 2014

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