The Islamic State is establishing branches across North Africa and in Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to American intelligence officials cited in a report by The New York Times.
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The militant Islamist group known for beheading journalists and aid workers, massacring heretics, throwing gay men off buildings and enslaving women is looking beyond its base in Iraq and Syria to create affiliates in its aspiring "caliphate."
ISIS is "beginning to assemble a growing international footprint,” Lt. Gen. Vincent R. Stewart, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said in an assessment this month, according to the Times.
An American counter-terrorism official told the paper that ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria number between 20,000 and 31,500 and that several hundred more extremists across the Middle East have pledged support for the group.
U.S. President Barack Obama last week sent Congress his a formal request to authorize military force against ISIS, meeting swift resistance from Republicans as well as his fellow Democrats wary of another war in the Middle East.
Republicans, who control Congress and say Obama's foreign policy is too passive, want stronger measures against the militants than outlined in the plan, which bars any large-scale invasion by U.S. ground troops and covers the next three years.
The proposal says Islamic State "has committed despicable acts of violence and mass execution." Its militants have killed thousands of civilians while seizing territory in Iraq and Syria in an attempt to establish a hub of jihadism in the heart of the Arab world.
According to the Times report, authorization to use military forces against the group could possibly include interventions in Egypt and Libya, where militants groups have pledged allegiance to ISIS and been acknowledged as its "provinces."
Militant groups and individual fighters around the world have declared allegiance to the Islamic State since June 2014, when it announced the establishment of a caliphate.
Even groups that had been loyal to Al-Qaida have defected to “what they see as more of a winning group,” Steven Stalinsky, executive director of the Middle East Media Research Institute in Washington, which monitors Arabic-language media, told the Times.