Islamic State’s past ally and present enemy in Syria, Jabhat Al Nusra, is suffering from factionalism and regionalism. Its subgroups in the south are challenging leaders in the north, and local members have often disagreed with foreign ones.
Aron Lund reported for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s blog Syria in Crisis that this problem became serious for Al Nusra this summer.
“On July 15, the Syrian al-Qaeda franchise known as the Nusra Front issued a statement explaining that it had expelled a former leader from the group,” Lund wrote.
“The man, a Syrian known as Saleh al-Hamawi, was among the Nusra Front’s founding members. A combination of personal and ideological tensions seem to have led to his marginalization and, finally, to his expulsion.”
Jabhat Al Nusra’s ambiguous relationship with Al Qaeda threatens its status as one of the country’s most powerful militant groups. Islamic State is hoovering up foreign recruits with its surreal, ultra-violent propaganda and military advances into Iraq. At the same time, the U.S.-led coalition is bombing Al Nusra in addition to Islamic State.
On top of that, the Al Qaeda franchise is still fighting the Syrian government.
“The Nusra Front is emerging from a two-year-old internal crisis,” Lund concluded. “It remains trapped in a lethal four-front battle against the forces of President Bashar al-Assad, the extremist al-Qaeda splinter group known as the Islamic State, rival Syrian rebel factions, and the United States and its antiterrorist coalition.”
However, Jabhat Al Nusra has made recent advances. It led the Syrian opposition’s decisive victories in Idlib governorate, allowing rebels to threaten the Syrian government in Aleppo, Hama and Latakia — three of the country’s five largest cities.
But as Syrian rebels look to Nusra for leadership in the civil war’s upcoming battles, they may instead find the internal animosity, hostility and rivalry that has come to characterize the rest of the Syrian opposition.
“Thus began the jihadi civil war that is still raging in Syria, Iraq, and many other areas of the world,” Lund determined.
“One of its consequences has been to air the dirty laundry of all the extremist factions involved, as their detractors, dissidents, and defectors take to Twitter and Facebook to complain about their treatment, poking hole after hole in the carefully constructed armor of information security that had so far shielded these groups from prying eyes.”