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Syrian rebels seize Aleppo headquarters of Al Qaeda-linked group

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BEIRUT -- Rebels in Syria seized the headquarters of an Al Qaeda-affiliated group in the city of Aleppo on Wednesday, one day after attempts were made to broker a cease-fire among opposition groups in the northern part of the country.

Activists reported the withdrawal of the powerful faction known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria from the children's hospital in the Qadi Askar neighborhood of Aleppo before it was taken over by the group’s rival and onetime battlefield ally, the Islamic Front, a Saudi-backed government opposition group that has emerged as the dominant Islamist coalition in Syria.

The hospital had been the site of an Islamic State prison where “hundreds” were held and presumably executed as the group lost its hold on the city, activists said.

Photos: Living under siege - Life in Aleppo, Syria

“Seventy corpses that had been summarily executed in cold blood were found and 300 prisoners were released,” according to the opposition Facebook page Aleppo Eye Witness.

Shahba press, an opposition news site, released a video purporting to show the headquarters after it was seized. The images, whose accuracy could not be independently verified, depict bruised bodies with gunshot wounds strewn on the blood-soaked ground with their hands tied behind their backs.

“These people have come to liberate Syria,” laments one man in the video, as others try to identity the dead.

The websites of other groups that oppose the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad showed similar images, along with some funeral ceremonies. Some sites said that many people who had been held prisoner were set free.

Activist Ahmad Brimo spoke of horrific conditions, including long periods of solitary confinement. People were executed for not converting to Islam or for being part of other factions, Brimo said.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, notorious for abducting and torturing its opponents, antagonized local populations resentful of its ultra-conservative interpretation of Islam and its attacks on other fighting brigades in a bid to strengthen its position. As protests mounted, a recently formed alliance launched an attack on the group. Others quickly joined in on what appeared to be a spontaneous uprising against the Islamic State, which activists dubbed “the second revolution.”

The leader of Al Nusrah Front, another Al-Qaeda affiliate, Tuesday called for an end to the infighting among the rebel factions who have been waging an almost three-year battle against Assad’s forces in a civil war that has left more than 100,000 dead and ravaged the country.

Al Nusrah Front has also been accused of targeting activists and journalists; 27 journalists have been killed and 40 abducted during the war, according to Reporters Without Borders. News reports said many local journalists were freed from Islamic State prisons around northern Syria, and the Lebanese Red Cross reported the release of two Swedish journalists held since November.

“Both journalists, Magnus Falkehed and Niclas Hammarstrom, are free and can be reunited with their families. They are now being assisted by our embassy staff in Beirut,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Erik Wirkensjo told the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter.

Bulos is a special correspondent.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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