Brutal Islamist Group Gaining Control of Syrian Opposition
Wed, February 13, 2013
A new struggle is emerging in the front lines in the war against Syria's embattled leader Bashar al-Assad – a competition between different rebel groups who want to be instrumental in determining the future shape of Syria.
While Iran and Hezbollah are putting together a network of militias inside Syria to protect their interests if and when Assad falls, the group that is emerging as a major and formidable player in this high-stakes game is Jabhat al-Nusra, an officially designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S.
Jabhat al-Nusra is an Al-Qaeda affiliate inspired by Bin Laden’s world view of a global jihad to enforce a fundamentalist Islamic society. The group was formed a year ago and draws its members mainly from Syria's Sunni majority.
Al-Nusra is described as the most aggressive -- and successful -- of all the rebel forces. It wants Syria to become an uncompromisingly Islamic state, ruled by sharia law.
In contrast to the more moderate rebel groups, Jabhat al-Nusra is well funded, most probably through global jihadist networks. Due to its extremism, the terrorist group is fracturing the opposition and alienating foreign support of the rebels.
Hazem Saghiya, writing in Al-Hayat says of Al-Nusra that it “has nothing to do with the revolution. In fact, the Islamist group is likely to establish a crueler regime than the tyranny under Assad — who is rubbing his hands with glee while watching its actions and activities on the ground.”
Saghiya also writes that “Jabhat al-Nusra espouses both a puritanical Salafist dogma and a terrorist approach riddled with criminal activity. The group shouldn't be affiliated with the revolution regardless of its military activity in the fight against the regime.
Al-Nusra rebels are fighting Bashar al-Assad's regime with great efficiency. They have been particularly effective by implementing a strategy to cause deep rifts in the already fragmented Syrian society.
Their modus operandi is to use their vast social network to recruit the populace to their cause by supporting humanitarian programs. Unlike the Free Syrian Army (FSA) who are disorganized and often accused of looting and intimidating, al-Nusra militia members have distinguished themselves through their social services wing, called Qism al-Ighatha (Department of Relief) which distributes food, blankets and propane gas to the people free of charge.
Similar groups, such as Hezbollah and Hamas, have used the same tactic to win the people's affection before imposing a brutal form of Sharia law once in power.
The al-Nusra movement is currently very active in Aleppo, the most populated city in Syria. When FSA fighters took control of the grain storehouses around the city last month, supply of flour was nearly stopped, forcing citizens to stand in line -- sometimes for days -- in front of bakeries trying to buy a simple loaf of bread. Basic survival became a daily struggle.
Jabhat al-Nusra then stepped in, threw the rebel groups out of the grain storehouses and began a system of flour distribution. They took control of the bakeries and began selling the bread. The foothold al-Nusra was able to gain through this move in northern Syria has been fruitful for them. A schism has developed between the jihadists and the FSA which threatens to pitch the groups against each other and open a new phase in the Syrian civil war.