January 21, 2018

GREATEST WAR EVER:

The changing faces of al-Qaeda in Syria (Simon Speakman Cordall, 1/21/18, Middle East Online)


As the Syrian regime con­tinues its brutal assault into Idlib in northern Syria, much of what re­mains of the Syrian re­bel forces are fighting a desperate rearguard action against Damas­cus's inexorable advance.

Within the province, one of the region's dominant jihadist groups, the Turkish-funded Ahrar al-Sham, and its allies resist the regime's ad­vance. To their side stands another Syrian jihadist group, one that played a defining role not just in the history of Syria but within the world. [...]

By 2016, with the tide of the war turning against Syria's rebels, the value of Jabhat al-Nusra's al-Qaeda affiliation grew questionable. Who was doing that questioning is in dispute. What is less disputed is the toxicity al-Qaeda's brand had assumed.

While Jabhat al-Nusra managed to form various alliances with fac­tions in Syria's rebel groupings, the group's explicit ties to al-Qaeda always carried the risk of interna­tional blacklisting and, for groups such as Ahrar al-Sham and other internationally backed groups, the potential loss of funding. Some­thing had to change.

"The whole point was to achieve a shift in perception, without really changing much on the ground," Ja­son Burke, author of several books on al-Qaeda, wrote by e-mail.

"So, for example, though the nominal allegiance of the organi­sation changed, the personal alle­giance of individual leaders of the group, which is much more im­portant, did not. Many are sworn by a traditional bayat to be loyal to Ayman al-Zawahiri, the [al-Qaeda] leader, and have in no way repudi­ated that loyalty. To do so would be virtually impossible anyway."

Despite the rebranding, old faces and ties remained and new alli­ances failed to materialise. As ISIS sucked the majority of the air from the room, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham was only able to make limited headway in ingraining itself within Syria's wider rebel milieu.

It was only when rebel infight­ing near Aleppo broke out in Janu­ary 2017 that it drew other, more "mainstream" groups into its fold, with the Sunni Islamist group Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zinki, the jihadist alliance Jabhat Ansar al- Din and at least two other groups joining Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, call­ing itself Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham.

Posted by at January 21, 2018 7:53 AM

  

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