Islamists in Syria: How Strong?

(Economist-UK) The governor's headquarters in Raqqa, a city of 250,000 in Syria's northeast, is a base for Jabhat al-Nusra (Victory Front), an extreme armed opposition group with which al-Qaeda in Iraq recently claimed to have merged. There are at least four other rebel outfits in Raqqa, mainly Salafist ones. Yet in the eastern provinces as a whole, Jabhat al-Nusra has emerged as a hugely powerful presence. By some estimates, Jabhat al-Nusra now has 6,000 carefully vetted men, mainly Syrians but under foreign leadership. The group enjoys regular payments from al-Qaeda in Iraq. But the al-Qaeda announcement may have harmed it, causing dissent within its ranks between those who favor the link and those who are against it. Some civilians who had started to welcome the group because of its military prowess and provision of services have protested against the al-Qaeda tie. Even Ahrar al-Sham, another large nationwide network of Salafist jihadists, criticized the affiliation. Rebels from more secular-minded or more moderately Islamist groups speak openly of a second war to come - against Jabhat al-Nusra.

2013-05-22 00:00:00

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