News / Middle East

    Al-Qaida Recruitment in Syria May Jump

    FILE - Rebels from al-Qaida-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, also known as the Nusra Front, wave their brigade flag, as they step on the top of a Syrian air force helicopter at Taftanaz air base, Jan. 11, 2013.
    FILE - Rebels from al-Qaida-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, also known as the Nusra Front, wave their brigade flag, as they step on the top of a Syrian air force helicopter at Taftanaz air base, Jan. 11, 2013.

    Rebel commanders and opposition activists are warning that jihadist recruitment of Syrian fighters is likely to jump in the coming months because of the collapse of some moderate militias and a shake-up of others in the wake of a Russian-backed Syrian government offensive in northern Syria.

    But it is not Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s Islamic State that will benefit the most, but al-Qaida affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, they warn.

    Al-Nusra has pursued a stealthier approach in Syria than its jihadist rival, alternately intermingling with other rebel militias and assisting them when more is to be gained or turning on them and seeking to dominate when circumstances change.

    FILE - This image posted on the Twitter page of Nusra Front, April 25, 2015, shows Nusra Front fighters in the town of Jisr al-Shughour, Idlib province, Syria.
    FILE - This image posted on the Twitter page of Nusra Front, April 25, 2015, shows Nusra Front fighters in the town of Jisr al-Shughour, Idlib province, Syria.


    With the majority of Jabhat al-Nusra's fighters being Syrian — analysts estimate only about 20 percent of the group’s fighters are from overseas — the group has appeared less alien than IS and more rooted in the country.

    Battlefield effectiveness

    Jabhat al-Nusra and ally Ahrar al-Sham, a hardline Islamist faction al-Qaida veterans were instrumental in forming, have legitimacy among Syrian rebels, not so much for ideological reasons but because of their effectiveness on the battlefield, say rebel commanders.

    Jabhat al-Nusra is being seen by rebel fighters as the best vehicle to continue the fight against President Bashar al-Assad and his foreign Shi’ite allies from Iran and Lebanon.

    “Many fighters already furious with the West for its passivity in the face of the Russian airstrikes and Assad offensive will feel they have no other option but to join with the jihadists,” says Bassam al-Kuwaitli, a well-known figure in political opposition circles. “They will follow the money and join who can supply them with arms,” he laments.

    Al-Qaida’s affiliate is expanding geographically, sending fighters back into Aleppo a year-and-half after it withdrew from the city to focus on building control of neighboring Idlib province as a counter to the Islamic State's presence in Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor.

    Redeployment into Aleppo

    The redeployment back into Aleppo came as the Russian-backed Assad offensive unfolded last month in northern Syria. Al-Nusra fighters set up checkpoints to protect larger incoming conveys. The group also expropriated several large buildings and warehouses in rebel-held districts of Aleppo for use as offices and barracks.

    Stalls are seen on a street beside damaged buildings in the rebel held al-Shaar neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria, Feb. 10, 2016.
    Stalls are seen on a street beside damaged buildings in the rebel held al-Shaar neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria, Feb. 10, 2016.

    Political activists quickly raised an alarm about the large presence of al-Nusra fighters, arguing it would make more sense to have them on the outskirts of the city if they were there to combat the Assad offensive in the suburbs of Aleppo.

    Anger beyond borders

    Al-Nusra’s rejection of a proposal by moderate rebels and Islamic nationalists for a unified police force to be formed in Aleppo also prompted concern and fears the al-Qaida affiliate will impose its will on rebel-held districts, helped by the rising bitterness among Syrian rebel factions and civilians directed at the West for not confronting Assad and his allies, the Russians.

    The anger can be heard in southern Turkish border towns.

    “The Americans, the Russians, the regime, they are all responsible for the deaths, for the killing of Syrians,” said Mustafa, a refugee in Kilis. His words were greeted with vigorous nods by a small crowd of Syrians.

    A Turkish man helps a Syrian woman carrying a wounded Syrian girl to a hospital in Kilis, Turkey, Feb. 15, 2016.
    A Turkish man helps a Syrian woman carrying a wounded Syrian girl to a hospital in Kilis, Turkey, Feb. 15, 2016.

    In a joint study issued last month by the Institute for the Study of War and the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute, both Washington-based research organizations, analysts warned Western powers “must alter the popular narrative that the West has abandoned the Syrian Sunni Arabs in favor of Iran, Assad, and Russia.”

    In search of a strategy

    In the report, “Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS: Sources of Strength,” the analysts concluded, “Identifying means of separating Jabhat al-Nusra from the opposition in order to destroy it is the most difficult intellectual task in developing a strategy for Syria."

    Developing such a strategy and countering al-Nusra is not being helped by the Assad government or the Russians. The targeting of al-Nusra, which has been excluded from the shaky U.N.-mediated cessation of hostilities, is building up even more sympathy among rebel fighters for al-Qaida’s affiliate, cautions Nader Othman, deputy prime minister in the opposition's Syrian Interim Government.

    A Syrian national flag waves as vehicles move slowly on a bridge during rush hour, in Damascus, Syria, Feb. 28, 2016.
    A Syrian national flag waves as vehicles move slowly on a bridge during rush hour, in Damascus, Syria, Feb. 28, 2016.

    “The Assad offensive has damaged the moderates, and more fighters will move over to al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham,” he says. “This is the logical result. Only five percent of Russian airstrikes were on ISIS, most were on us, the moderate rebels. And the regime’s idea was to demolish the moderate alternative to the regime.”

    “People will keep on fighting, but we should worry about where the fighters whose militias collapse will go,” he adds.

    “There is huge danger,” says a Turkey-based European diplomat. “This war is going to become more terrorist-based, more of an underground fight. Many more fighters are going to become highly radicalized and we are going to be seen as much the enemy as Assad.”

    “They feel the world is against them and they will lash out,” he adds.

    You May Like

    Top US General: Turkish Media Report ‘Absurd'

    General Dunford rejects ‘irresponsible' claims of coup involvement by former four-star Army General Campbell, who led NATO forces in Afghanistan before retiring earlier this year

    Video Saving Ethiopian Children Thought to Be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at efforts of one African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children

    Protests Over Western Troops Threaten Libyan 'Unity' Government

    Fears mount that Islamist foes of ‘unity' government plan to declare a revolutionaries' council in Tripoli

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunitiesi
    X
    VOA News
    July 25, 2016 5:09 PM
    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Four Brother Goats Arrive in Brooklyn on a Mission

    While it's unusual to see farm animals in cities, it's become familiar for residents of Brooklyn, New York, to see a little herd of goats. Unlike gas-powered mowing equipment, goats remove invasive weeds quietly and without adding more pollution to the air. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this is a pilot program and if it proves to be successful, the goat gardener program will be extended to other areas of New York. Faith Lapidus narrates.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora