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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

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)

  • 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

Diplomatic Moves Do Not Work against Terrorists

President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo realised it once again how the diplomatic moves did not work against terrorists

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Diplomatic, Terrorists, US
Taliban has been exposed as an incorrigible set of Islamic extremists wedded to jihad to achieve their objective and so has been the collusive role of Pakistan in sheltering a whole lot of Taliban leaders. Pixabay

The year long efforts of Zalmay Khalilzad – US representative holding talks with Taliban to hammer out some sort of ‘Peace Accord’ between the two – primarily to facilitate withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan – have come apart with President Donald Trump rejecting the diplomatic exercise following a fresh terror attack by the Taliban in Kabul.

Khalizad has been recalled to the US and there is a new situation now in Afghanistan as that country’s General Election draws close. Taliban has been exposed as an incorrigible set of Islamic extremists wedded to jihad to achieve their objective and so has been the collusive role of Pakistan in sheltering a whole lot of Taliban leaders of Afghanistan on its soil- as given out now by Taliban leadership itself.

President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo realised it once again how the diplomatic moves did not work against terrorists and gave up on Zalmay’s initiatives- they were even considering a continued strong military presence in Afghanistan. The US President was never too trusting of the Islamic militants wherever they were and the abandoning of the negotiation with Taliban would hopefully lead to a re-evaluation by him of Pakistan as the hub of Islamic terror groups.

Mohammad Suhall Shaheen spokesman of Taliban came on TV in Kabul to say a few things- in response to Donald Trump’s decision -that established how nothing had changed to the advantage of the US in the face of the creed of faith- based violence Taliban was committed to.

Diplomatic, Terrorists, US
The year long efforts of Zalmay Khalilzad – US representative holding talks with Taliban to hammer out some sort of ‘Peace Accord’ between the two – primarily to facilitate withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. Pixabay

He confirmed the widely known fact that Taliban derived sustenance from Pakistan for pursuing ‘Islamic interests’. Shaheen’s statement demonstrated how Islamic radicals can never be expected to leave the path of violence and how Zalmay might have allowed himself to be duped by the Taliban – Pakistan combine on the questions of ‘ceasefire’ and Peace Agreement- this axis was all the time working for restoration of the Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan relegating the democratic rule of Ashraf Ghani to the background.

It was a strategic error on the part of the US interlocutor to hold talks with Taliban totally at the back of the present democratic regime in Afghanistan. Diplomacy can never succeed if it handles only the peripherals without tackling the main problem. In the absence of a ‘ceasefire’ US troops had rightly kept up their counter-terror operations and the Taliban revealed its true colour as a violent Islamic force by carrying out a suicide attack on a US army truck at Kabul killing an American soldier.

Apparently this happened when Zalmay had already submitted the draft ‘peace pact’ to the US President without sorting out the vital issue of ‘ceasefire’. The Taliban spokesman justified the retaliatory act at Kabul showing how the Taliban was totally recalcitrant about not accepting the cessation of its violent methods as a precondition for peace accord.

These developments in Afghanistan underscore the need for the democratic world to wake up to the continuing threat of Islamic terror emanating out of the Muslim world. Zalmay’s mission is a telling example of how diplomacy runs into limitations when dealing with advocates of violence blinded by fanaticism.

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The world must call for an express denunciation of Jehad as an instrument of pursuit of political objectives in today’s world, by individual Islamic countries and by the Organisation of Islamic Conference chaired by Saudi Arabia itself. It goes to the credit of Trump’s presidency that the artificial distinction- promoted earlier by narrow political interests — between ‘ good terrorists’ and ‘bad terrorists’ had been abolished and to the great relief of India , Pakistan was called out by the US upfront for providing safe haven to Islamic militants across the spectrum — from Al Qaeda to Lashkar-e-Taiba.

India, the US, Russia and European countries that see the menace of this new terror must work together in Afghanistan to install a democratic regime there. The world must take the ‘war on terror’ to its logical conclusion. It is becoming difficult to get any voice from the Muslim world that upholds a Democratic Republic as the obvious preference over an Islamic State.

The inherent political asymmetry between a democratic India — that houses more Muslims than their number is in Pakistan — and the Islamic state of Pakistan is a fundamental roadblock between the two countries and the situation is becoming worse with Pakistan projecting Kashmir as a Muslim issue and openly calling for jihad there to bolster its sinister game plan against India. The case of Afghanistan shows how diplomatic instruments will not succeed against those who had taken to terrorist violence to get their way on political issues.

India must firmly stick to the policy of ‘terror and talks do not go together’ and use its diplomatic prowess to convince the democratic nations- and this is not difficult- that the challenge for India in Kashmir was to protect the Kashmiris from the onslaught of hardened Pak terrorists of Lashkar-e-Taiba infiltrated from across the LoC who were destroying the cultural values of Kashmiriyat and browbeating the law abiding Kashmiris into submission