... a new and terrible power that has no face and goes by many names. The official name of this al-Qaida branch, which has broken away from Osama Bin Laden's successors, is the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS). "Daaisch" is the most common abbreviation of the group's name in Syria. "But we call them the Army of Masks," says Basil, the engineer who fled the country, "because their men rarely show their faces. They dress in black, with their faces covered."
In addition to civil rights activist Halaibna, the group's thugs have kidnapped hundreds of others in Raqqa, where Assad's army was driven out back in March. The jihadists seized the chair of the city council, the heads of the civilian opposition, an Italian Jesuit and six European journalists. Anyone who opposes the ISIS fighters, or who is simply considered an unbeliever, disappears.
ISIS maintains four prisons for holding its hostages in this area alone. And Raqqa was only the beginning. In the last four months, the jihadist group, which was still essentially unknown in Syria at the start of this year, has seized control of several cities, as well as strategically important roads, oil fields and granaries.
What is currently taking place in the north and northeast of the country could bring about the worst case scenario: Syria's disintegration. This is not because the Syrian rebels are eager al-Qaida supporters -- as Assad's propaganda has claimed since the spring of 2011 -- but because people are exhausted after three years of destruction and don't have much energy left to oppose the jihadists' rapid expansion.