The Bloody Split Within ISIS

Inside the Group's Crackdown on Ultra-Extremists

An ISIS fighter in Mosul, June 2014. STRINGER / REUTERS

In 2014, as life in the Islamic State (ISIS) began to stabilize, many of its foreign fighters adopted an almost civilian routine. They spent their time reading, discussing religion, and giving lectures on their visions of a utopian Islamist state. But not all of these fighters’ ideas matched ISIS’ official positions. Many began to disagree with the group’s interpretation of Islam.

Even by ISIS’ standards, these dissidents were extreme. They denounced some of their leaders and fellow militants as kaffirs, or infidels—in ISIS’ thinking, a charge that merits death. By doing so, several thousand fighters turned ISIS’ strongest weapon—its ideology—against the organization itself.

ISIS’ leadership responded to the ultra-extremists with force, killing many of them. But a small number managed to escape and are now in hiding outside of the Middle East.


The story of ISIS’ radical breakaways began when some of its fighters started to turn

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