News / Middle East

Syria’s Islamist Nusra Rebels Pledge Allegiance to al-Qaida

Syria's al-Nusra rebels posted this photo of its fighters using an M-60 anti-tank weapons, March 24, 2013
Syria's al-Nusra rebels posted this photo of its fighters using an M-60 anti-tank weapons, March 24, 2013
The head of Syria's main Islamist rebel group has sworn allegiance to al-Qaida, deepening a rift with moderate rebels over how to rule the nation if they topple President Bashar al-Assad.

Abu Mohammad al-Golani, leader of Jabhat al-Nusra, or Nusra Front, made the pledge of loyalty to al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in an audio message posted on militant websites Wednesday.

Golani also acknowledged that his group receives logistical support and training from al-Qaida's Iraq-based affiliate, AQI.  He expressed "pride" in AQI’s achievements, but said it did not consult him before declaring that both groups have merged under the banner of the "Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant."

AQI chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced the alliance in a separate audio message posted on the Internet a day before.

Earlier in the week, Zawahiri sent out his own Internet message urging all Islamist militants in the region to join forces to create an Islamist state in Syria.
 
The United States exposed the Nusra Front's al-Qaida links last December, calling it a "terrorist" group created by AQI to "hijack the struggles of the Syrian people for its own malign purposes."
 
Washington Institute for Near East Policy analyst Aaron Zelin said AQI acknowledged forming the Nusra Front because its position in Syria has become secure enough for it to confirm what many observers already had known.
 
In the past year, Nusra Front militants have captured towns and bases from the Assad government, earning them a reputation as a formidable force.  Their suicide bombers also have killed many Syrian troops and authorities.
 
Zelin said Nusra fighters also have won support from Syrians by taking responsibility for local governance in rebel-held northern and eastern communities.
 
"They have been seen as doing it in a fair manner and also providing these services at a below-market price," Zelin said.  "As a result, people have been appreciative of this and therefore they are seen as a good force within the rebellion."
 
Benedetta Berti, a researcher at Tel Aviv University’s National Security Studies Institute, said AQI’s support has helped the Nusra Front to "outperform" the secular and lesser-equipped factions of the Syrian opposition.
 
But she said the group also owes its success to Sunni-dominated Arab states Qatar and Saudi Arabia delivering weapons to Islamists in Syria to help oust Mr. Assad, an ally of Shi'ite-majority Iran.
 
"It is a combination of a number of factors: the cooperation with al-Qaida in Iraq, the arrival of better weapons for these Islamist groups, and also the fact that they been showing a high degree of cohesion and internal discipline," said Berti.
 
In his audio message, Nusra Front chief Golani said his rebels will continue to fight under their original flag, an indication that they want to maintain some independence from AQI.
 
Zelin said Nusra rebels have avoided calling themselves "al-Qaida in Syria" partly because of the stigma associated with AQI, a Sunni group that has alienated many Iraqis in recent years by attacking civilians, especially Iraqi Shi'ites.
 
"They wanted people to get to know Jabhat al-Nusra for who they were themselves, [rather than] basing [opinions] off of what they perceived as potential media distortions," said Zelin.

Berti said the Nusra Front also has tried to present itself as committed to Syria rather than pursuing a transnational Islamist agenda.

"I think at the moment we'll see very much a [Nusra Front] stance in Syria focused on that particular conflict, without any particular interest in expanding their battlefield, which is already very complex and challenging."
 
Zelin of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy said the Nusra Front’s goal of imposing al-Qaida’s extreme interpretation of Islam on Syrians may backfire.

"There has been a small backlash against some of the social issues that they are trying to push, in terms of banning alcohol or forcing women to wear the full veil as well as some other issues.  But this is still not that large scale," said Zelin.
 
Tel Aviv University analyst Berti said that if the radical Islamists continue to grow more powerful, they will become a "nightmare" for moderate and secular Syrian rebels who want an orderly and peaceful transition of power.
 
"On the one hand, one can read the interviews of [outgoing Syrian opposition coalition leader Mouaz] al-Khatib and see a view of a country that is pluralist, respectful of minorities, good for democracy, and all these ideas.  And on the other hand, you can read the statements of the al-Nusra Front and see that their idea of what Syria should look like is the exact opposite."
 
Berti said how those different visions can coexist after Assad leaves power is a predicament that is likely to pre-occupy Syria's moderate opposition in the coming weeks.
 
Susan Yackee contributed to this report.

Michael Lipin

Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin

You May Like

At International AIDS Conference One Goal, Many Paths

The 12,000 delegates attending 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne have vastly different visions about how to eradicate disease More

Disasters May Doom Malaysia’s Flag Carrier

Even before loss of two jets loaded with passengers on international flights, company had been operating in red for three years, accumulating deficit of $1.3 billion More

Afghan Presidential Vote Audit Continues Despite Glitches

Process has been marred by walkouts by representatives of two competing candidates, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Agei
X
Elizabeth Lee
July 20, 2014 2:36 AM
Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.
Video

Video Diplomatic Crisis Grows Over MH17 Plane Crash

The Malaysia Airlines crash in eastern Ukraine is drawing reaction from leaders around the world. With suspicions growing that a surface-to-air missile shot down the aircraft, there are increasing tensions in the international community over who is to blame. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Undocumented Immigrants Face Perilous Journey to US, No Guarantees

Every day, hundreds of undocumented immigrants from Central America attempt the arduous journey through Mexico and turn themselves over to U.S. border patrol -- with the hope that they will not be turned away. But the dangers they face along the way are many, and as Ramon Taylor reports from the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, their fate rests on more than just the reception they get at the US border.
Video

Video Scientists Create Blackest Material Ever

Of all the black things in the universe only the infamous "black holes" are so black that not even a tiny amount of light can bounce back. But scientists have managed to create material almost as black, and it has enormous potential use. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Fog Collector Transforming Maasai Water Harvesting in Kenya

The Maasai people of Kenya are known for their cattle-herding, nomadic lifestyle. But it's an existence that depends on access to adequate water for their herds and flocks. Lenny Ruvaga reports for VOA, on a "fog collector."

AppleAndroid