AMMAN, Jordan -- Infighting among Islamist anti-government groups operating in northern Syria continued for a third day, as rebel factions engage in a large-scale rout against an extremist Al Qaeda affiliated group.
Jaysh Al-Mujahideen (the army of the Mujahideen), a new coalition of presumably moderate Islamist groups, as well as factions affiliated with the Western-backed Free Syrian Army and the Islamic Front consolidated their gains against the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) in what activists are hailing as a “second revolution.” The Turkish government reacted with a shutdown of the vital Bab Al-Salameh crossing on the Syrian border.
“The rebels have achieved tremendous progress against ISIS in all the points of conflict, liberating more than 80% of the Idlib countryside and 65% of Aleppo and its countryside” said Abu Bakr, a media activist for the Sham News Network in Raqqa.
Another activist agreed, saying that “the presence of the State of Baghdadi is finished,” in reference to the group’s shadowy leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, adding that many of its headquarters have been handed over to the Nusrah Front, another Al Qaeda affiliated group that is nevertheless viewed as more moderate.
ISIS, considered to be the most extreme of the groups aiming to establish a state with a strict interpretation of Islamic law or Shari’a, has increasingly antagonized local populations as it imprisoned activists critical of the group’s methods, not to mention attacking other anti-government factions in a bid to consolidate its hold over swaths of territory in the north.
“People just couldn’t take it anymore, after all the kidnapping and arrests and attacks against the FSA,” said Mohammad Hassano, an activist in Azaz. “People were very angry at them, but there was hesitation in fighting them because of the priority of fighting the regime.”
Despite being acknowledged as having the most experienced soldiers, it has been criticized for the many non-Syrian fighters swelling its ranks; Muslims from Europe and elsewhere, called “muhajireen” or “emigrants,” who travel across the porous Turkish-Syrian border to engage in “jihad” against the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
A Dutch-Turkish ISIS fighter on the microblogging website Ask.fm confirmed reports of attacks targeting foreign fighters. “In some places its [sic] very dangerous for Muhajireen at the moment, because of the infighting between ISIS and [Jaysh Al-Mujahideen].”