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Elements of Syrian opposition feared to be aligned with al-Qaeda

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
May 20th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

While the western world generally hates the repressive regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has unleashed his military wrath against armed civilians - the ones most likely to rise up and take arms against Bashar are the west's most ardent foes. There are growing fears that the rebel faction, who has been battling the Syrian government for two years now, has ideological and tactical ties to al-Qaeda.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The leader of Syrian rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra, which has won major battles and gaining popular support since its inception in January of last year, was forced to publicly clarify his group's relationship with al-Qaeda.

"The sons of Al-Nusra Front pledge allegiance to Sheikh Ayman al-Zawahiri," the former right-hand man of Osama bin Laden and the acting head of al-Qaeda, in a YouTube video posted last month.

With this declaration, Abu Mohammed al-Jawlani has further raised suspicions in the West that significant elements of the Syrian opposition are aligned with al-Qaeda. Nusra is now officially considered a "terrorist" organization by the U.S. State Department.

Jabhat al-Nusra, whose members include veterans of battles in Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan, is considered one of the most effective groups battling the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The group's roots can be traced back to the activities of deceased al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. According to a report by the Quilliam Foundation, during a journey from Afghanistan to Iraq to fight U.S. forces, Zarqawi is said to have amassed fighters. In the early 2000s, he sent some to Syria and Lebanon to establish branches of his network.

When it became clear the Syrian uprising of 2011 would devolve into war, many of these experienced fighters in Iraq came to Syria with the goal of overthrowing Assad and establishing an Islamic caliphate in the Levant.

The knowledge and sophistication of many Jabhat al-Nusra fighters distinguishes them from the catch-as-catch can Free Syrian Army member they sometimes fight alongside. Al-Nusra's leaders "can use their experience as jihadists in other countries to plan, identify goals, and strategize effectively, making them one of the most efficient groups fighting in the revolution," according to the Quilliam Foundation.

Al Nusra's handiwork is comparable to their warfare in Iraq, such as car bombs, suicide mission, and the targeting of security forces. They also engage in more regular military activities, such as the capture of Army Base 111 following a successful siege.

Long regarded as a bogeyman in the West, Jabhat al-Nusra is readily apparent in statements from American policy-makers.

In a February 2012 interview with CBS, former U.S. secretary of state Hilary Clinton said, "We know al-Qaeda's Zawahiri is supporting the opposition in Syria. Are we supporting al-Qaeda in Syria?"

Syrians are increasingly throwing their support behind Jabhat al-Nusra in spite of its Islamist ideology, several Syrian activists and commentators say.

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