The New York Times reports: Days after seizing the Syrian desert city of Palmyra, Islamic State militants blew up the notorious Tadmur Prison there, long used by the Syrian government to detain and torture political prisoners.
The demolition was part of the extremist group’s strategy to position itself as the champion of Sunni Muslims who feel besieged by the Shiite-backed governments in Syria and Iraq.
The Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, has managed to advance in the face of American-led airstrikes by employing a mix of persuasion and violence. That has allowed it to present itself as the sole guardian of Sunni interests in a vast territory cutting across Iraq and Syria.
Ideologically unified, the Islamic State is emerging as a social and political movement in many Sunni areas, filling a void in the absence of solid national identity and security. At the same time, it responds brutally to any other Sunni group, militant or civilian, that poses a challenge to its supremacy.
That dual strategy, purporting to represent Sunni interests and attacking any group that vies to play the same role, has allowed it to grow in the face of withering airstrikes. [Continue reading…]