The Washington Post reports that the Al Nusrah Front, which is al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, is teaming up with other Islamists to impose sharia, or Islamic law, in Aleppo. Read the entire article. It is clear that the Al Nusrah Front is operating from a position of strength and is dominating the sharia council in the city.
The other two major groups involved in Aleppo’s sharia council are the Ahrar al-Sham, a Syrian Salafist-jihadist group, and the Tawhid Brigade, which is said to be the largest fighting group in Aleppo. The Tawhid Brigade is also part of the Free Syrian Army, which is often held up by the West as a secular military force (it is anything but, given how closely it works with the Al Nusrah Front in multiple theaters in Syria). Even the head of the Syrian Opposition Council, which backs the Free Syrian Army, opposes the US government’s designation of the Al Nusrah Front as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.
Additionally, note just how marginalized the real secular forces in Aleppo are. A doctor who was detained by the sharia council and subsequently released naively claims: “They [the Islamists] have power, they have guns, but they don’t have support. When there are free elections, you will see.” But as the article states, and as we’ve pointed out numerous times at The Long War Journal, the Al Nusrah Front is popular for both its battlefield prowess and for the ‘soft’ support — humanitarian aid and the sharia courts — that it provides in areas under its control or influence.
The establishment of sharia in Aleppo should come as no surprise. The Al Nusrah Front has done the same in areas along the Euphrates River Valley that are under its control. Earlier this month, the Al Nusrah Front took the lead in establishing the “Sharia Committee for the Eastern Region” and has imposed Islamic law in cities such as Raqqah and Deir al Zour.
The US government is sending more than $60 million in non-lethal aid to the Syrian Opposition Coalition, which again supports Al Nusrah and its allies, and two US senators also are proposing legislation to provide support to secular opposition to the Assad regime. But one must question whether this is even feasible. Does the US government even know how to identify the secular opposition? It clearly cannot tell that the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian Opposition Council are severely compromised.
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