Recent tensions, power struggles and even executions within the Islamic State’s ranks of foreign fighters signal fractures within the extremist group, after its militants were defeated in the Syrian city of Kobani. Although the Islamic State -- also known as ISIS or ISIL -- retains a firm grip on swaths of Middle Eastern territory, the group appears to be on the defensive in Syria for the first time, suffering blows from U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, fighting on the ground and mistrust among its own members, the Associated Press reported.
Tensions among foreign fighters within ISIS have emerged over different national backgrounds as well as administrative and financial issues. The Islamic State group has executed at least 120 of its own members, the majority of whom were foreign fighters trying to flee, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based monitoring group, said in December.
The severed head of a senior ISIS official was found last month in eastern Syria with a cigarette between its lips, reportedly trying to show he was beheaded for smoking, which is banned under Sharia law. But there are rumors that the official -- who was an Egyptian national -- was actually killed on suspicion of spying, according to AP.
"The prolonged battle for Kobani caused a lot of tensions -- fighters accused each other of treachery and eventually turned on each other," Bari Abdellatif, a resident of al-Bab who has fled to Turkey, told AP Thursday.
ISIS suffered its worst defeat last month in Kobani where more than 1,000 militants were killed by Iraqi Kurdish forces, which have successfully repelled the group from the border town in northern Syria, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in January. Kurdish forces have since joined with moderate Syrian rebels to recapture about 215 villages in the area, wrenching ISIS supply lines.
Amplified coalition airstrikes in retaliation for the burning death of the Jordanian pilot have also strained the terror group. ISIS militants in Raqqa -- the group’s de facto capital -- forced Syrian civilians to donate blood after dozens of ISIS fighters were seriously wounded, ARA News reported last week. Since September, U.S.-led coalition airstrikes have killed some 7,000 ISIS fighters or about 20 percent of the group’s military capabilities, according to Al Arabiya News.
Still, the militants captured new territory in Iraq for the first time in months. Last week, the besieged western Iraqi town of al-Baghdadi fell to ISIS, who then burned to death 45 people, the local police chief told BBC News Tuesday.