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Birth of New Terrorist Group? Al-Qaida-linked Syrian Groups Could Create their Own Islamic State

Jabhat al-Nusra, Al-Qaida's Affiliate in Syria renames itself Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, or JFS (Front for the Conquest of the Levant)

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Rebel fighters of al-Jabha al-Shamiya (Levant Front) have their meal in the rebel-held al-Sheikh Said neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria, Sept.1, 2016. Image source: VOA
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Sept 06, 2016: With the Islamic State’s self-styled caliphate straddling Syria and Iraq shrinking thanks to land losses to the group’s many foes, its jihadist rival — al-Qaida’s rebranded affiliate in Syria — is marketing its own nation-building and doing so by imitating propaganda techniques employed by its competitor.

And its increased propaganda output is taking aim once again at its struggling rival, apparently in a bid to exploit IS’s mounting problems — including the loss of 40 out of 43 founding senior leaders mainly to U.S.-led coalition airstrikes and battlefield fighting. On Sunday, Turkish officials claimed their military campaign inside Syria to push back IS from border regions had met with success.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said in a televised speech Sunday: “Thank God, today, from Azaz to Jarablus, our 91 kilometers of borderline with Syria has been entirely secured. All the terrorist organizations were pushed back — they are gone.”

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FILE - Turkish tanks head toward the Syrian border, in Karkamis, Turkey, Aug. 31, 2016. Image source: VOA
FILE – Turkish tanks head toward the Syrian border, in Karkamis, Turkey, Aug. 31, 2016. Image source: VOA

The beneficiary

One of the beneficiaries of the blows being dealt IS is Jabhat al-Nusra, which announced in July that it was breaking formal ties with al-Qaida after renaming itself Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, or JFS (Front for the Conquest of the Levant).

There has long been a debate in the ranks of Jabhat al-Nusra about whether it should announce officially an emirate in territory it controls in northern Syria, mainly in the province of Idlib to the west of the besieged city of Aleppo.

The group’s leader, Mohammad al-Julani, suggested in a posted audio recording in July 2014 that it was about to do so.

Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad walk at a military complex after they recently recaptured areas in southwestern Aleppo, Syria, in this handout picture provided by SANA on Sept. 5, 2016. Image source: VOA
Forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad walk at a military complex after they recently recaptured areas in southwestern Aleppo, Syria, in this handout picture provided by SANA on Sept. 5, 2016. Image source: VOA

Syrian Jihadists make up JFS

For tactical reasons, apparently mainly focused on avoiding disrupting relations and cooperation with other rebel militias in Syria, the group — made up mainly of Syrian jihadists — has held off. But emirate-building aspirations appear once again to dominate much of its recent propaganda and, as IS is pushed back more and more, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham has been boosting its criticism of rival jihadists while also engaging more directly with Western media.

The propaganda operations are being overseen by an Australian jihadist preacher, the self-styled Sheik Mostafa Mahamed, who last month appeared on British television to show videos of formally fractured rebel groups fighting together under the banner of the JFS.

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Media wise

Among the techniques JFS is copying is using teasers to boost the audiences for posted videos. Former U.S. ambassador Alberto Fernandez, an expert on jihadist use of the internet, noted as one “interesting example” a graphic released last week to advertise a forthcoming video that accuses IS of having Muslim blood on its hands and being heretical.

“Notice nothing is said about infidel blood,” Fernandez added.

The graphic and video features al-Qaida-linked Sheikh Abdallah Muhammad al Muhaysini, a Saudi cleric and a highly influential jihadist ideologue in Syria, who in April launched a recruiting campaign for then-Jabhat al-Nusra urging young Muslims to “take up arms, do not sit still.”

JFS helped defend Aleppo

Al Muhaysini has been at the forefront of the calls for all rebel fighters to unite around Jabhat Fateh al-Sham — a call that has even greater pull with rebel militias since JFS’s key role in defending eastern Aleppo from a massive Russian and Iranian-backed Assad regime offensive and managing a breakout last month.

Most Western analysts dismiss JFS’s break with al-Qaida as a feint, seeing it as a long game the jihadist group has been playing for some time across the Middle East and Africa.

JFS long-term strategy

In a paper published earlier this year by the Middle East Institute, a Washington-based think tank, analyst Charles Lister contrasted the Islamic State’s modus operandi of imposing unilateral control over populations and rapidly proclaiming independence, with al-Qaida’s Syrian affiliate moving “much more deliberately, seeking to build influence in the areas they hope to rule.”

He argued: “This is a long-game strategy that the terrorist group began adopting in the late 2000s, first in Yemen, in 2011, and then in Mali, in 2012.”

A key group in assisting JFS in its long-term aim to dominate the rebel opposition in Syria is Ahar al-Sham, another jihadist militia that al-Qaida leaders helped to found, according to Jennifer Cafarella and Genevieve Casagrande of the Washington-based Institute of the Study of War, a think tank, and Nicholas Heras, an analyst at the Center for a New American Security.

Group may have its own Islamic State

Writing in Foreign Policy magazine, the three analysts say Ahar al-Sham, which has never been formally part of al-Qaida, “Serves as the mortar that binds opposition groups together in northern Syria and is well-positioned to merge these forces with Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and solidify sharia-based governance — all without the world realizing that the result would be a major win for al-Qaida’s aims in Syria.”

JFS influence over a swathe of the anti-Assad rebel movement has grown in leaps and bounds thanks to the group’s vanguard role in the defense of civilians in eastern Aleppo. Its popularity is growing despite the harsh penalties the group’s Sharia courts mete out for infringements of a moral and social code not dissimilar to the Islamic State’s.

The analysts in their Foreign Policy article worry that Washington’s inaction in the defense of the eastern half of Aleppo “may inadvertently be paving the way for Syria’s next Islamic State.” (VOA)

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  • Arya Sharan

    If financial aid and political help is not provided to any such group or institution, then only their rising can be stopped.

  • Samson Lear

    Another indian rag! LOL

    • mZahza

      You an al-qaida stooge sammy?

  • Jagpreet Kaur Sandhu

    Is there any less already! World threat actually.

  • Manthra koliyer

    the rising number of terrorist groups on the planet has made living dangerous for mankind!

SHARE
  • Arya Sharan

    If financial aid and political help is not provided to any such group or institution, then only their rising can be stopped.

  • Samson Lear

    Another indian rag! LOL

    • mZahza

      You an al-qaida stooge sammy?

  • Jagpreet Kaur Sandhu

    Is there any less already! World threat actually.

  • Manthra koliyer

    the rising number of terrorist groups on the planet has made living dangerous for mankind!

Next Story

Water-Borne Illness Increases Sharply in Iraq

Iraq's individual provinces have been fighting for water, amid a general shortage.

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Water crisis
A girl drinks water in the street outside her tent at a camp for internally displaced people in western Baghdad, Iraq. VOA

Iraqi health officials say that a health crisis stemming from water pollution and a shortage of clean drinking water has worsened in recent days, as hospitals in the southern port city of Basra treat more than 1,000 cases of intestinal infections on a daily basis. The problem was exacerbated several months ago when Turkey cut back on water distributed to the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.

A crowd of young men took to the streets on in the southern port city of Basra Tuesday, demanding the central government and Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi increase the quantity of clean drinking water allotted to their province, otherwise it’ll lead to a health crisis. Abadi vowed to increase spending on infrastructure for the province during a visit to Basra in July.

A young man, whose friend was killed during a rally several weeks ago, broke down and sobbed over the protesters’ inability to force Iraqi leaders to improve the condition of public services in Basra, especially the region’s worn-out water infrastructure and insufficient quantities of drinking water allotted by the central government.

Some health officials in Basra warn that a cholera outbreak is possible due to water pollution and water-borne parasites that have made thousands of people sick in recent days. The director general of the Basra Health department, Riad Abdul Amir, told Al Hurra TV the situation continues to worsen.

He says more than 17,500 cases of intestinal ailments, resulting from contaminated drinking water, have been treated by Basra hospitals during the past two weeks, alone.

 

egypt. health crisis
The water network in Basra hasn’t been updated in at least 30 years. Pixabay

 

Abdul Amir says the problem stems from insufficient fresh water supplies coming into the city via canals and water pipes from the north.

“Salty water [which has infiltrated the water network],” he asserts, “is known to reduce the efficacy of chlorine used to treat and kill bacteria in drinking water,” he said.

Safaa Kazem, a docotor who has been treating dozens of cases of intestinal problems and diarrhea in Basra’s Sadr Teaching Hospital each day, says water from the city’s supply is not safe to drink.

She says the degree of water sterilization is minimal and that Basra’s water is very salty and has an extremely high level of microbes in it, along with a high degree of chemical pollution.

Basra Governor Assad al Edani told Al Hurra TV that his province has been suffering from numerous infrastructure problems for a long time.

He says the water network in Basra hasn’t been updated in at least 30 years and the old pipes often break, mixing drinking water with sewage.

water, health crisis
The degree of water sterilization is minimal. VOA

Edani says “not enough fresh water is arriving via the region’s only canal from Thi Qar province to the north.” He thinks a “strong current of fresh water will flush out salty water seeping into the water network from the sea.”

Also Read: Iraq Lifts Ban On International Flights to Kurdish Airports

Edani adds that the population of Basra has “more than doubled since the water network was last updated in the early 1990s.”

Iraq’s individual provinces have been fighting for water, amid a general shortage, since Turkey in early June severely curtailed the number of cubic meters of water it funnels into both the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. (VOA)