Syrian insurgent group Jund al Aqsa pledges allegiance to to former al Qaeda branch

Syria's Islamist insurgents have eclipsed more moderate and Western-backed nationalist rebel groups in the conflict.

By: Reuters | Beirut | Published:October 10, 2016 12:00 am
syria, islamist groups syria, islamic terrorism syria, syria insurgent groups, syria rebel groups, syria rebels, syria war, syria news, world news, indian express news Fighters of the Syrian Islamist rebel group Jabhat Fateh al-Sham cheer on a pick up truck near the wreckage of a Russian helicopter that had been shot down in the north of Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province. (Source: Reuters Photo)

A powerful Syrian Islamist insurgent group on Sunday pledged allegiance to former al Qaeda branch Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, a statement circulated by rebel officials and reported by a monitoring group said. The Jund al-Aqsa group said it was trying to settle differences with Ahrar al-Sham, with which it has been fighting for days in the northwestern Idlib province, so as not to weaken rebel fighting against President Bashar al-Assad’s government.

Government forces in recent days have captured territory from rebels taking advantage of infighting, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has reported. On Sunday they made further gains, recapturing the villages of Maan and al-Kabariya, which rebels including Jund al-Aqsa fighters had seized last month. The Observatory, which also reported Jund al-Aqsa’s announcement, said the group was seeking the protection of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham.

Jund al-Aqsa’s statement – circulated by rebel officials from other groups and carrying the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham stamp – did not say how pledging allegiance to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham would mend its relationship with Ahrar al-Sham. The British-based Observatory said the two rebel groups were still fighting late into Sunday evening.

The move appears to formalise Jund al-Aqsa’s ties with Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly the Nusra Front, which changed its name in July and said it was breaking from the al Qaeda network founded by Osama bin Laden. Jund al-Aqsa, which is on the U.S. State Department’s list of terrorist groups, has been heavily involved in fighting in the west and north of Syria including around Aleppo in the most recent months of the five-year-old civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people.

Syria’s Islamist insurgents have eclipsed more moderate and Western-backed nationalist rebel groups in the conflict. Nusra Front’s breaking of ties from al Qaeda appeared aimed at assuaging Syrians who had misgivings about its links with foreign jihadists. Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri said at the time that the split would help unite Syrian insurgents.