Al-Qaeda affiliates turn against Syria opposition

Jabhat Al-Nusra fighters hold position on April 4th in the Syrian village of Aziza. [Guillaume Briquet/AFP]

Jabhat Al-Nusra fighters hold position on April 4th in the Syrian village of Aziza. [Guillaume Briquet/AFP]

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Tension is rising in opposition-controlled areas of Syria between members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Syrian civilians on one side, and fighters from extremist groups, such as the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) and Jabhat al-Nusra (JAN), on the other.

"Transgressions" committed by the two al-Qaeda-affiliated groups and their attempts to impose their beliefs on the population have been met with criticism and resistance by local residents, according to observers monitoring the situation in Syria.

In June, men from the ISIL's "sharia committee" killed a 15-year-old boy in front of his family in Aleppo. His body bore marks of "torture and beating", according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. On July 10th, a civilian in Hasakeh province was tortured to death by JAN fighters.

On July 5th, ISIL fighters shot at demonstrators protesting their presence and behaviour in al-Dana, Idlib province, killing dozens.

And on July 11th, an ISIL member killed Kamal Hamami, a member of the FSA's Supreme Military Council, in Latakia province. Earlier the same month, an Idlib-based opposition chief was beheaded by the ISIL.

"The protest movement by Syrian civilians and members of the Free Syrian Army have noticeably been on the rise of late due to the unacceptable transgressions committed by members" of JAN and ISIL, Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told Al-Shorfa.

"These transgressions are in the form of physical eliminations, detention and torture under detention for anyone that shares a different opinion," he said.

Activists and journalists trying to report on these transgressions also have been detained, he added, as was the case in al-Dana in Rif Idlib and in al-Raqa.

These groups "are also constantly trying to take by force all strategic outposts", he said.

In al-Raqa alone, close to 1,500 people have been detained, and eyewitnesses say this number includes children and elderly people held "for trivial reasons", Abdel Rahman said, adding that JAN members who refused to join the ISIL also are among those detained.

Most ISIL members are foreign fighters, he said, and many were proclaimed "emirs" of areas the group declared "Islamic emirates".

Abdel Rahman warned of a potential rise in clashes in upcoming weeks, with Syrian citizens and the FSA on one side and radical groups on the other, especially in Aleppo, Idlib, Rif Idlib and al-Raqa.

These could be triggered by extremist groups insisting on implementing their laws by force and demanding that armed groups not under their command lay down their weapons, he said.

Strategy analyst Yahya Mohammed Ali, a former military officer in the Egyptian army who specialises in terrorist groups, said al-Qaeda's branches in Syria are competing for control over opposition-held areas in a bid to create an "Islamic state" in them.

"The disputes between al-Qaeda's different branches will lead to fierce battles because it is a battle for survival of the fittest," he said. "But these differences might now be put aside in order to quell the rising protests against it."

Extremist agenda

The escalation of attacks between the FSA and ISIL and the fall of several FSA soldiers such as leader Kamal Hamami put the opposition in an unenviable position, he said.

"The FSA now needs more than ever to eliminate these terrorist elements that are attacking its leaders and soldiers," Ali said. "Not addressing this issue will only lead to an expansion of these extremist groups."

Such an expansion would not only be dangerous for Syria but for all the countries in the region, he said.

Alaeddine Mahmoud, a former Syrian JAN member using an assumed name out of fear for his safety, told Al-Shorfa JAN recruited him in al-Raqa using false pretences.

At the start of his time with JAN, he was subjected to "brainwashing", Mahmoud said.

He said he was told that Islamist groups were acting in accordance with sharia and that their first and last goal was to get rid of the Assad regime.

"After joining JAN, however, I saw nothing except obvious attempts to create an Islamic state," he said.

Mahmoud said he was part of the group for 10 months. Because of his music and Internet skills, he was initially asked to write Islamic songs and post them to websites and social media forums.

His role was later confined to the surveillance and patrol of opposition-held areas, in addition to special missions assigned by "Sharia committees", he said.

During this time, Mahmoud said he got to know a number of the group's members, particularly men from Tunisia and Uzbekistan.

He described the foreign recruits as "not cultured at all". He said their religious knowledge was minimal and that "there also is widespread use of drugs".

Mahmoud said he left JAN because he found himself "in a strange environment that is alien to me and to Syrian society in general". He said the leadership's focus was not on the war against the regime but on sectarian conflict – against the Shia and the region's Christian population.

Extremist groups such as JAN "were at war with anyone who was opposed to Islamist rule including secularists, liberals and FSA soldiers", he added.

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    عمرو عبد الحميد

    2013-12-14

    What is happening in Syria at the hands of the so-called Free Syrian Army and Al-Qaeda terrorist organization made it clear that they aim at destroying Syria and the Syrian army? This serves the interests of Israel, which is supported by the USA. The arms that are used by those killers are sent by the USA and Israel. They tried to create havoc in Egypt, but God protected it, as it is mentioned five times in the Quran. Does God command you to make the people leave their homes and displace them everywhere? Does God command you to kill the children, women and elders? You are a group of killers and terrorists. May God crush you? God will support the Syrian people. Syria will never be defeated, and it will be stronger than ever. We seek God's help and support against the enemies.

  • احمد العكيلي

    2013-10-21

    You put a burning coal in your own hand and then ask God for help.

  • محمد

    2013-10-10

    I look forward to live in a free and democratic state in the true sense of the word. I dream of a state where there is only rule for the law.

  • حسان الجندي

    2013-8-29

    These lies and hallucinations aim at defaming the Islamic fighters, who made painful attacks against the tyrant Bashar.

  • علي

    2013-8-20

    I want the names of the traitors in Iraq, who are loyal to Israel.

  • عادل الربيعي

    2013-8-19

    May God grant victory to the heroic Syrian army against the advocates of sectarianism and the mercenaries, who seek to divide Syria, which is owned by Al-Asad.

  • saadsaraf

    2013-8-19

    This issue has much credibility, because we passed through all these cases at the hands of those deviant people, who diversified in the bloodshed and violation of the honors of the Muslims and trading in the religion in order to achieve their personal interests and the interests of the states that finance them for nothing but creating havoc. They have no purposes. Therefore, they will be defeated in the first battle with the government forces, because they are cowards and unsuccessful and because they have no creed.

  • مصطفى

    2013-8-19

    I think that such news are mere propaganda and psychological warfare. They spread such poisons to destroy the internal front of the revolts.

  • حسين علي

    2013-8-18

    We seek God's help against those who kill the people in the name of the religion, such as Al-Qaeda and Wahhabi scholars as well as the followers of Yazeed and Mu’aawiayh.

  • علاء ابو امير

    2013-8-16

    O God! Grant victory to Islam and Muslims and humiliate polytheism and the polytheists, who are enemies of the religion.

  • جاسم العبيدي

    2013-8-15

    O God! Curse the first one who oppressed Muhammad, peace be upon him, and his followers forever.

  • معلوماتي

    2013-8-7

    The lying is very clear and I think that this newspaper believes that we do not see anything except what they want us to see. They forgot to pretend that they are unaware that we are in the time of the information revolution. We listen and hear things that are totally different from this. YouTube is out there and we see those heroes distribute the charitable aids to the people, treat their wounded brothers and even clean the streets and roads by themselves. Search YouTube about all this and you will see it yourselves. Stop lying and fabricating, O western mouthpieces.

  • السعبري

    2013-8-6

    I swear that destruction and bloodshed in Syria is not fair. Syria was a beautiful country and it was a source of pride for its beautiful industry, buildings and grace, despite of its modest budget. However, its conditions deteriorated like this because of those who love the offices and because of the enemies of Islam, who are being used by the Zionism and imperialism in order to enslave peoples and loot their powers and riches. May God curse the enemies of Islam in this world and the hereafter. May God help the oppressed Syrian people.

  • عبد الله الفقيه

    2013-7-31

    These are mere lies. I swear that they did nothing of what you said.

  • محمد البلتجي

    2013-7-23

    All these voices reflect the ignorance of the Arab society and its belief that any war against the extremist groups is a war against Islam. However, we must pay attention to the fact that these extremist groups do not understand Islam and that their cultural level is very low. This is a certain fact.

  • عبد اللة

    2013-7-18

    Damn you!

  • lمحمد عبدالله

    2013-7-18

    Get out, Mursi!

  • خطاب الانصاري

    2013-7-17

    This is untrue, because the Nusra Front and the Free Syrian Army cooperate. You want to support Bashar through these articles.

    • اياد المالكي

      2013-8-14

      Dude, your greatest wish is for Bashar al-Assad to let you breathe the air of Syria, but you are dreaming you followers of (Adnan) Aroor hehehehehehehehe

  • محمد سعد غباغبي

    2013-7-17

    O God! Make the oppressors, infidels and Takfiris destroy each other and help us to escape safely. Amen O Lord of the worlds.

  • ابو علي العبادي

    2013-7-16

    Allah guides whoever he wants.

  • حامد الشبراوى

    2013-7-16

    Today, Syrian people suffer from murder, destruction, shelling, sieges and bombings everywhere. All these developments confuse the Syrian people and make them unable to make a decision regarding their fate in Syria. So, they either escape from Syria to some other place, or they stay in Syria and live under the oppression of the Syrian regime. The Syrian fighters shell everywhere in Syria and there is no place in Syria safe from shelling. We need the peoples to stand with the Syrians until they get rid of this problem and get rid of everything that they are facing. I hope that peace and security will return to Syria and that the Syrians will not be displaced. They should be able to return to their home in peace and with stability.

    • محمودعبود

      2013-7-31

      Syria is the heart of the Arab world. May God punish the traitorous mercenaries who came from all over the world with US support. The terrorists did what the enemy armies failed to do in the Arab states.