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Al-Qaida group kills Syrian rebel leader

| Friday, July 12, 2013, 7:18 p.m.

Al-Qaida-linked gunmen killed a rebel commander in Syria aligned with the Western-backed militias fighting against Bashar Assad's regime, the highest-profile casualty of growing tensions between moderate and jihadi fighters among rebel forces.

Observers worried on Friday that the commander's death will increase distrust and suspicion between forces at odds over territory and leadership as the nearly three-year civil war continues in Syria.

Loay AlMikdad, a spokesman for the Free Syrian Army, said that members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant — a group made up of al-Qaida's branches in Iraq and Syria — were behind the killing of Kamal Hamami. Hamami, known by his nom-de-guerre Abu Basir, served in the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army, a group headed by a secular-minded moderate that has the support of Western powers.

Hamami is believed to have met members of the al-Qaida group to inform them of a planned offensive in the area, when he was ambushed and shot dead.

AlMikdad told Al-Arabiya TV that Hamami “was assassinated at the hands of the forces of evil and crime at one of the checkpoints.” He added that the group that killed Hamami “should hand over those who carried out this act to stand trial.”

Hamami's killing marks the first time a commander from the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army has been killed by rebel jihadists. His death underlines a deepening power struggle between moderate and extremist groups fighting in the Syrian civil war.

“It's hard to tell where things are going to. It could really go either way,” said Charles Lister, an analyst at IHS Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Center. “I personally don't think it's in either of the sides' longterm interest to spark an escalation.”

Rami Abdul-Rahman, who heads the observatory, said that most of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant members are foreigners. He said they come from Arab countries as well as former Soviet republics.

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