On Thursday, a statement was released in the name of a number of Syrian rebel factions announcing the severing of all ties with Brigadier General Salim Idris’s Free Syrian Army (FSA), the Supreme Military Council (SMC), the Syrian National Council (SNC), and its parent organization, the Supreme National Coalition (the other SNC). The document is entitled “On the Coalition and the Provisional Government” and lists out four major points.
The first point calls for all military and civilian forces to unite under an Islamic framework based on the sharia (Islamic Law), making it the sole source of legislation. The second point is that only those members of the Syrian opposition who have “lived their concerns and shared in their sacrifices” are entitled to represent the people of Syria. Thirdly, the signatories consider all coalitions formed outside of Syria as illegitimate and refuse to recognize the provisional government led by Ahmad Tumeh. The final point is a call on all military and civilian opposition factions to unite their ranks, set aside their differences and “put the interests of the nation ahead of those of the individual group.”
"If they were going to be bad boys in Iraq, they had to be bad boys everywhere"
Included among the eleven groups that have signed on to this Islamic Alliance are those moderate Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood persuasion (the good baddies—no suicide attacks and their beards aren’t that long) with the closest ties to the SNC, such as Liwa al-Tawhid or the Brigade of Unity (whether the intended meaning of tawhid is unity, as in of the nation, or unitarian monotheism depends on the target audience), the Suqour al-Sham Brigades, and Liwa al-Islam; three groups that had formed a coalition back in September of last year called the Syrian Islamic Liberation Front (SILF). Also joining the alliance are such hardline Salafi Islamists (the moderately good-to-fair baddies—they don’t do suicide bombings but their beards are pretty long) as Ahrar al-Sham and the Fajr Islamic Movement, who had formed a coalition of their own called the Syrian Islamic Front (similar to the SILF but minus the ‘Liberation’).
Without a doubt, the scariest of militant groups that have joined the alliance are the Salafi-Jihadist Nusra Front (the bad baddies, also known as a US designated terrorist organization—they pledge allegiance to al-Qaeda, blow themselves up and their beards go all the way down) who, in spite of participating in a number of large-scale attacks with other factions, had neither joined the FSA nor had they attached themselves to either of the two more hardline coalitions, the SIF and SILF. They are considered the most extreme and the most militarily capable of opposition groups, comprised mainly of Syrians who fought in the Iraqi insurgency.
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This comes in the wake of a video message by al-Qaeda Central leader Ayman al-Zawahiri released on the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in which he stated, “if Allah allows for the creation of an Islamic state in Syria, then whoever the ummah (the Muslim community) chooses to rule there according to the Book (the Quran) and the Sunnah will also be our choice.” This was followed a few days later by a document from Zawahiri providing general guidelines for jihadist groups in line with Osama Bin Laden’s final directives. All of this can be viewed as an attempt to undermine the Islamic State of Iraq and (Greater) Syria (ISIS—the really bad baddies; even AQ thinks they’re too extreme) in favor of the Nusra Front and its allies. The ISIS had earlier rejected Zawahiri’s call for them to return to their moniker as the Islamic State of Iraq alone, leaving the Syrian Al-Qaeda members to remain as part of the Nusra Front. Instead, they decided that if they were going to be bad boys in Iraq, they had to be bad boys everywhere else they go.
Twitter and other social media sites are all aflutter with speculation from terrorism and Middle East experts regarding every aspect of this latest announcement; from what kind of a game changer this new alliance will be and how this will effect US involvement in Syria down to wondering what the significance was of having the Nusra Front, the most hardline faction, be number one on the list of signatories while at the same time releasing the document on the website of the Tawhid Brigade, the faction with the closest ties to the FSA, and having it read off in a video by one of its officials.
Most seem to agree that this has the potential to shift the very nature of the Syrian opposition as groups that seemed to be straddling the Western-backed moderate/secular camp and the Islamist camp have now firmly ensconced themselves in the latter.