Gaziantep, Turkey (CNN) -- Al Qaeda has swept to power with the aim of imposing a strict Islamist ideology on Syrians across large swathes of Syria's rebel-held north, according to a CNN survey of towns, activists and analysts that reveals an alarming increase in al Qaeda-linked control in just the past month.
Al Qaeda-backed militants known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) are the predominant military force in northern Syria, according to activists and seasoned observers, and have a powerful influence over the majority of population centers in the rebel-held north.
CNN conducted dozens of interviews with activists, local and international observers and residents of the towns affected by ISIS in preparing this study. Many of the Syrians CNN spoke to talked anonymously for fear of angering ISIS, saying ISIS has in some areas made it a crime punishable by flogging to even say their name.
The swift al Qaeda expansion poses a severe policy dilemma for the United States and its European allies who have long delayed their promised armed assistance to rebel groups as they struggled with fears that the weapons could end up in the hands of al Qaeda-backed extremists.
Observers say the delay has provided a vacuum in the often chaotic rebel ranks that the organized and fearless Islamists have moved to fill. Continue reading...
Gaziantep, Turkey (CNN) -- Raqqa was, a matter of months ago, one of Syria's most liberal cities. Now locals call it Tora Bora. They say it's as if the Taliban of Afghanistan have taken over.
After months of bombardment by the regime and a chaotic lack of control by weak and divided moderate rebels, al Qaeda have found a broken society, made it their home, and imposed on it hardline Islamist law.
Each morning, activists told us, they seem to awake to a more conservative city. The "Bayanaat" or rulings sometimes appear on town walls. Many limit women's rights -- to walk alone, to style or show their hair. Other edicts come by word of mouth -- no smoking, no cameras. Behind them are often foreign jihadists from the al Qaeda linked militant group the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.
The fear that now grips the city can be felt in the shocking bruises on Adnan's body. Adnan, whose name has been changed out of fears for his safety, was behind some graffiti in Raqqa that told ISIS to get out. They caught him filming too, and dragged him into the burned-out ruins of a church they had torched and labeled as a new ISIS base. Continue reading...
(CBS News) CAIRO - A top leader of the Muslim Brotherhood was arrested Wednesday by the military government. It's part of the crackdown on the Brotherhood, which advocates a strict Islamic government. Essam El-Erian went into hiding when the military ousted President Mohammed Morsi. Since then, Islamic militants have stepped up attacks on Christians.
In a packed church in a poor Cairo neighborhood, mourners grieved for their dead: Five Christians mowed down by masked gunmen as they arrived for a wedding.
Khalil Masiha lost two of his granddaughters in the attack. Maryam was just 8 years old.
"I found little Maryam; she was hit by 14 bullets," said Masiha. "A little girl, hit by 14 bullets."
The shooting was the latest in a wave of attacks against Egypt's Christian minority, which makes up about 10 percent of the country's population. Christians say they are being targeted by hardliners in the Muslim Brotherhood after they backed the military's crackdown on the Islamic group.
It's a charge the Muslim Brotherhood denies.
But since the crackdown, more than 50 churches have been burned or looted. The Church of the Virgin Mary in Al Nazla, a small village a few hours outside of Cairo, was attacked last August when a large crowd burst through the gates and ransacked the compound.
According to guards who were there that night, once the church had been completely looted, the mob began then pelting it with Molotov cocktails until the entire structure was consumed by the flames.
By the time it was safe for caretaker Fawzi Saad to return, there was almost nothing left of the 400-year-old church... Read more, plus watch the CBS video...