Who Runs the Islamic State?

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ISIS is unlike any other terrorist group in recent memory. It has to keep hidden while also running a state. That’s created a clandestine group of leaders anxious to protect themselves from rivals — and airstrikes — but who also must engage in the mundane business of governance. They order executions and craft military campaigns, but also issue traffic tickets, regulate the price of foodstuffs and consider whether cigarettes and motorbike racing are acceptable to their brand of Islam. (They are not.)

Who these men are remains mostly a mystery. The Soufan Group, a security intelligence firm, has been tracking information from ISIS publications, information from defectors and others to piece together the clearest possible picture of the top leaders in ISIS. FRONTLINE collaborated with them to create this graphic, showing what’s known about where they’re from and what role they play in their newly established caliphate.

Some patterns have emerged. Almost all of the Islamic State’s most influential figures are Iraqi; many of them were once Saddam loyalists and several had been detained by the U.S. military in Camp Bucca in Iraq.

Explore more in our interactive below.




Sarah Childress

Sarah Childress, Former Series Senior Editor, FRONTLINE

Chris Amico

Chris Amico, Former Interactive Editor

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