The Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, has consolidated its control over several towns and villages in the northwestern province of Idlib. The Al Nusrah Front’s gains have come at the expense of the Syrian Revolutionaries’ Front (SRF), which had been closely allied with Al Nusrah despite receiving Western support.
In recent days, Al Nusrah expanded its campaign against the SRF. According to Reuters, the al Qaeda branch pushed into Deir Sonbol, a village that had served as a base of operations for the SRF and its leader, Jamal Maarouf.
The Al Nusrah Front forced Maarouf to flee his home base. In a video showing his retreat, Maarouf blasts Al Nusrah Front emir Abu Muhammad al Julani, comparing him to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi.
Both the SRF and Al Nusrah have been opposed to Baghdadi and the Islamic State in Syria.
The 2-minute, 40-second video was posted on YouTube and is titled, “Jamal Maarouf on the front lines during Al Nusrah Front’s aggression after their violation of the truce, directing a word to its emir [Abu Muhammad] Al Julani.”
“From here, the heart of Jabal al Zawiya [a region of Idlib], I say to Al Julani: O Julani, I am Jamal Maarouf, commander of the Syrian Revolutionaries’ Front,” Maarouf says. “I challenge you to show your true self. I challenge you, Oh Kharijite [an early group of Muslims that deemed other Muslims to be infidels]!”
While the SRF is defending the cause of Syrians, Maarouf says, al Julani has gone “forth for the sake of Iran.”
Maarouf continues, “You are the ones who have misrepresented Islam…why do you fight us?”
Maarouf again calls Al Julani a “Kharijite” and claims that the Jabal al Zawiya region was “liberated” before the Al Nusrah Front was even founded. “You are just like Al Baghdadi, [you member of] DAISH [a derogatory reference to the Islamic State], you scoundrel!” Maarouf says to al Julani.
The SRF leader even hurls personal insults at Al Julani, calling him a “turban-wearer.”
The video of Maarouf was first posted on Oct. 30 and the Al Nusrah Front responded in a series of posts on its so-called correspondent network’s Twitter feed on Oct. 31.
The Al Nusrah Front jihadists opposed to Maarouf are merely “residents” of Jabal al Zawiya, one tweet reads, and they are “fighting alongside the factions and the people” of the area. It is Maarouf who has turned against the people with “heavy equipment and tanks” after being “seduced” [presumably by the West] with “money and weaponry.”
“We [warn] all who are fighting in the ranks of Jamal Maarouf that they will be used as fuel for his personal benefit,” another Al Nusrah tweet reads. “They need to stay away from fighting the mujahideen.”
Al Nusrah has received support in its fight against the SRF from other jihadist groups, including Jund Al Aqsa.
Earlier today, Al Nusrah, Jund Al Aqsa and their allies agreed to a ceasefire with the SRF. They said the organizations would arbitrate their differences in a common sharia court established by Sheikh Abdallah Muhammad al Muhaysini, an al Qaeda-linked Saudi cleric who is closely allied with Al Nusrah.
SRF and Al Nusrah have been allies in the past
The Al Nusrah Front’s offensive against the SRF is an about-face in the relationship between the two groups. The SRF, which is part of the Free Syrian Army and has been portrayed as a “moderate” rebel force, has long fought alongside Al Nusrah in the Syrian battlefields.
In an interview published by The Independent in April, for instance, Maarouf explained that he was “not fighting against al Qaeda,” because “it’s not our problem.” Maarouf also admitted that the SRF had shared weapons with the Al Nusrah Front.
Throughout August and September, the SRF fought alongside Al Nusrah and its other allies as the jihadists took control of the Quneitra border crossing in southern Syria and engaged in other fierce combat.
Recent events in Idlib have, however, dramatically altered the relationship.
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