Islamic Front fighters take over Free Syrian Army bases near Turkish border
The Islamic Front, a recently formed Islamist alliance of several large groups that cooperate with al Qaeda in Syria, has driven Free Syrian Army forces out of bases and a warehouse at the Bab al-Hawa border crossing into Turkey. Late last month, the warehouse and its FSA commanders were taken over by the al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham.
Following an all-night battle between the Islamic Front and FSA units, today Islamic Front fighters seized FSA arms depots containing weapons that had come into Syria through Turkey, according to the activist Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
FSA spokesman Louay Meqdad said the Islamic Front fighters raised their own flag in place of the FSA's, after "asking" FSA personnel to leave, Reuters reported.
Agence France Presse notes that the capture of the FSA bases took place only four days after the Islamic Front declared that it rejected FSA command.
Last week, the Islamic Front, estimated at 45,000 fighters, published its charter, which sets out its goals of creating an Islamic state under sharia law. Although the charter does not mention al Qaeda or its two official Syrian branches, the Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham, the Islamic Front embraces jihad and calls the foreign fighters "our brothers." Taken as a whole, the charter indicates that the Islamic Front is willing to cooperate with both Al Nusrah and the ISIS; most of the Islamist groups that make up the Islamic Front have fought alongside the al Qaeda groups already. [See LWJ reports, Islamic Front endorses jihad, says 'the Muhajireen are our brothers,' and Analysis: Formation of Islamic Front in Syria benefits jihadist groups.]
Shortly after the publication of the charter, General Salim Idriss, head of the FSA's Supreme Military Council, congratulated the Islamic Front on its formation and pledged to cooperate with it. A few days earlier, on Nov. 24, an FSA spokesman had claimed that the Islamic Front answered to the Supreme Military Council; he also estimated that the Islamic Front controlled up to 60 percent of the rebel fighters in Syria, TIME reported.
A report in the BBC today states that al Qaeda-linked fighting units are becoming increasingly organized in the recruitment and transfer of foreign fighters through safe houses near the Turkish border into Syria and often out again back to their home countries.
A French jihadist who joined a brigade that consists of 8,000 fighters told the BBC that "there are thousands of us, literally from every corner of the world" and "we are all al-Qaeda." He also claimed that his brigade had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham.
In a further indication of the growing strength of the Islamist forces and corresponding weakness of the Western-backed Free Syrian Army, a former rebel commander told the BBC that FSA fighters are now being targeted by jihadist forces and that he fled to Turkey after jihadists captured his unit and killed most of his men.