Iraqi and Arab fundamentalist leaders of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) are full control of the management of the city of Raqqa in north-eastern Syria, the stronghold of the organization and the capital of the new state it seeks to establish in Syria and Iraq.
The jihadist organization which gained control of large areas in northern Iraq during the past few days, governs Raqqa with an iron fist and imposes stringent laws and strict application of Islamic law. ISIS also carries out kidnaps, executions and mass arrest operations.
Raqqa is the only provincial capital outside the control of the Assad regime. After the opposition fighters took control over the city in March 2013, ISIS gradually extended its grip on power, expelling all other formations and practicing executions and arrests against anyone who violates its orders.
The leaders of the organization in Raqqa are sheikhs from Iraqi, Tunisia and other Arab states, while Egyptians, Europeans, Chechens and Syrians occupy lower ranks.
Omar al-Huwaidi, a Syrian researcher from Raqqa, told AFP that the organization has established in Raqqa offices for everything, including health, education, security, Islamic relief, tribal relations and even an "embassy" for the province of Aleppo north of the country.
The expert, who fled to Turkey due to the practices of the organization, added that when the jihadists first arrived in Raqqa in 2012, "they were just ten or fifteen. Now the Islamic State controls every aspect of life in Raqqa".
ISIS origins go back to the Islamic State of Iraq, led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who announced in 2013 the establishment of the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria. It then merged with the Nusra Front, which was fighting against the Syrian regime. However, Nusra did not agree to the merger and pledged allegiance to the leader of Al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who in turn called on both organizations to fight in their own regions, stressing that Nusra is the Syrian branch of Al-Qaeda.
Huwaidi explained the difference between the two organizations.
"Nusra delays the application of Islamic Shariah until the fall of the Syrian regime, while ISIS has already started applying it," he said.
Al-Huwaidi referred to the implementation of some laws, such as cutting off the hands of thieves and executing those accused of murder. He believes that field control is essential to ISIS, which raises the slogan "the Islamic state remains and expands".
While the organization maintains the confidentiality of its structure, activists have become familiar with the way it works. ISIS in Raqqa is led by an Emir called Abu Luqman. People describe Abu Luqman as highly intelligent and merciless, surrounded by a group of non-Syrians, most of them Iraqis and Arabs. Activists say that this group are the decision-makers.
An activist presenting himself as Abu Ibrahim explained that ISIS sheikhs in Raqqa are Iraqis, Arabs and Tunisians.
"They adopt the ideology of Al-Qaeda and promote it, and they go to Friday prayers and preach on religious issues in general, but currently they mostly speak about ISIS control over Mosul, the second-largest city in Iraq. On the other hand, the organization runs the daily affairs in the city," the activist said.
Ayman Jawad al-Tamimi, a university professor and researcher in the affairs of Islamic movements, said that what is known about al-Baghdadi is very little, and the "scarcity of information about him has reinforced his personal aura".
The foreign fighters injured in battles enjoy priority treatment in hospitals. The Syrians, and even children, receive the second-degree care, according to activists.
"The majority of tribes have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, out of fear more than conviction," Huwaidi says.
Translated and edited by The Syrian Observer