Car bomb kills leaders of major Syrian rebel faction

A member of the Islamist Syrian opposition group Ahrar al Sham uses a night-vision scope to monitor a position in the countryside in Raqqah province in August 2013.
(Alice Martins / AFP/Getty Images)

A car bomb ripped through the headquarters of a major rebel faction in Syria on Tuesday, killing much of the group’s top-tier leadership in an attack that highlights the turmoil in the Syrian rebel ranks.

Leaders of Ahrar al Sham, a hard-line Islamist faction, were meeting in the Ram Hamdan area of Idlib province in northern Syria when a suicide bomber detonated a car laden with explosives, killing at least 28 of its leaders, according to various reports. Among the dead was Hassan Abboud, the group’s top commander.

According to Rami Abdul Rahman, head of the pro-opposition watchdog group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the death toll is likely to rise. In an interview with Saudi Arabia’s Al Arabiya news channel, he said about 50 “first- and second-rank leaders” were at the Ram Hamdan meeting.

The faction issued a statement on its social media channels confirming the deaths of its leaders.

Ahrar al Sham had been considered one of the most powerful rebel factions fighting against forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad. It espoused a hard-line imposition of sharia, or Islamic law, in Syria.

The attack set social media abuzz with speculation about who was behind the bombing.


Although no group has claimed responsibility, many activists suspect the militant group Islamic State, which has recently made broad territorial gains in Syria and neighboring Iraq. The United States has launched an aerial bombing campaign against Islamic State forces in Iraq.

In January, the Islamic Front, a Saudi-backed umbrella group whose members include Ahrar al Sham, engaged in a wide-scale rout of forces loyal to Islamic State, then known as Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. A month later, three ISIS suicide bombers assassinated Ahrar al Sham’s cofounder, a high-level Al Qaeda operative named Abu Khaled Suri.

Bulos is a special correspondent.