A woman, whose sister is believed to have been killed by a Mexican drugs cartel, is comforted by a police office in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. (Reuters)
A woman, whose sister's a victim of a Mexican drugs cartel, is comforted by police in MexicoReuters

In recent months the brutality of Islamic State (Isis) has shocked the world, with opponents and enemies of the jihadist group beheaded and crucified in mass executions, and women and children enslaved and sold in markets, as the jihadist group conquered swaths of Syria and Iraq.

US president Barack Obama has deplored Isis' violence and pledged to "degrade and destroy" the group, but Musa al-Gharbia, a research fellow at the Southwest Initiative for the Study of Middle East Conflicts, claims that there is a far graver threat to the US closer to home.

"Many Western commentators have characterised ISIL's [Islamic State] crimes as unique, no longer practiced anywhere else in the civilised world," he writes for Al Jazeera.

"They argue that the group's barbarism is intrinsically Islamic, a product of the aggressive and archaic worldview that dominates the Muslim world. The ignorance of these claims is stunning," he says.

He points to a series of figures showing that the violence of the cartels in some cases eclipses, and in others equals that of the Islamist group.

1. Casualties
A recent United Nations report estimated that nearly 9,000 civilians had been killed and 17,386 wounded this year in fighting in Iraq. Though official estimates of the number casualties the group is responsible for in Syria are unavailable, it is likely to be in the thousands. On the other hand figures from the Mexican government show that last year cartels were responsible for murdering more than 16,000 people in Mexico alone, and an estimated 60,000 in the preceding six years. With the Mexican government known to significantly underestimate the number of deaths, the real figure is likely to be even higher.

2. Brutality
Like Isis, cartels aim to strike fear into their rivals and opponents through torture and mass executions. They carry out hundreds of beheadings every year, and deliberately target women and children. Executed and mutilated victims have been displayed in gruesome arrangements in town squares and at town roundabouts, as cartels strive to outdo each other in violence.

3. Social media
Both groups exploit social media to advertise their exploits. Only this week, cartel members executed anti-cartel activist, Dr Maria del Rosario Fuentes Rubio, accessed her Twitter account, then posted a picture of her corpse.

4. Slavery
Isis is believed to have enslaved approximately 1,500 Yazidi women and children, yet by some estimates cartels have enslaved tens of thousands, forcing some into sex work, and others to labour in plantations.

5. Child soldiers
Isis is believed to have recruited children as young as 10 to take part in suicide bombing missions and to fight on battlefields. Mexican cartels are also believed to have recruited scores of child soldiers, and have kidnapped children to harvest their organs.

The author goes on to argue that with its tentacles having reached every city in the US and claimed thousands of US victims in the 'narco wars', the cartels in fact pose a graver threat to the US than Isis.

Whether or not this is the case, the facts make for shocking reading.