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

China May Be Biggest Winner From Ukraine Crisis

Missile sales, oil and gas shipments are among many areas that may drive Beijing and Moscow closer together in coming years More

Obama Faces a Chaotic World and the Limits of Power

Current foreign policy issues bring into focus challenges for US policymakers who are mindful of Americans' waning appetite for overseas military engagements More

SADC Meeting Lesotho Officials to Resolve Stalemate

Official says regional bloc has been engaged with leaders in Lesotho to resolve political disagreement that led to coup attempt More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid