File - A fighter from ISIS, armed with a knife and an automatic weapon, next to captured Syrian army soldiers and officers.
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In the cities and towns across the desert plains of northeast Syria, the ultra-hard-line Al-Qaeda offshoot ISIS has insinuated itself into nearly every aspect of daily life.In interviews conducted remotely, residents, ISIS fighters and even activists opposed to the group described how it had built up a structure similar to a modern government in less than a year under its chief, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.Reflecting ISIS's assertion that it is a government, rather than simply a militant group that happens to govern, Baghdadi has also separated military operations from civilian administration, assigning fighters only as police and soldiers.Residents, fighters and activists agree Baghdadi is now heavily involved in Raqqa's administration, and has the final word on all decisions made by commanders and officials.The Syrian fighter said Baghdadi led major battles, such as one to retake a Syrian military base known as Division 17 in July, the first in a series of crushing defeats the group dealt to Syrian government forces in Raqqa province.By declaring the caliphate and setting up a "state," Baghdadi aimed to attract foreign jihadists and experts from abroad.Islamic education groups are held in mosques for newly arrived fighters, who, according to militants in Raqqa, have flocked to ISIS-controlled territory in even greater numbers since Baghdadi declared the "caliphate".
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