TribLIVE

| USWorld

 
Larger text Larger text Smaller text Smaller text | Order Photo Reprints

Islamists hope unity will win out in Syria

Email Newsletters

Click here to sign up for one of our email newsletters.

Daily Photo Galleries

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By The Associated Press
Friday, Nov. 22, 2013, 9:03 p.m.
 

BEIRUT — Powerful Syrian Islamic rebel brigades announced Friday their merger into a single organization, a step meant to hold off surging government forces and stop rival groups from seizing more opposition-held territory.

The “Islamic Front” unites rebel groups who want to transform Syria into an Islamic state after they overthrow the government of President Bashar Assad, the groups said in a joint statement posted on the Tawhid Brigade's Facebook page.

The brigade is one of the most powerful groups to join the Islamic Front. The statement resembled a short video announcement by the group previously aired by satellite news network Al-Jazeera.

The merger of the Islamic groups also is meant to stave off challenges from the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, a powerful rebel brigade composed mostly of foreign Sunni fighters, said a spokesman and another activist close to the new group.

The spokesman declined to give his name because he was discussing internal affairs not meant to be shared publicly. The activist identified himself by the nom de guerre of Abdullah Hassan. Activists frequently give such names to protect themselves and their families from retribution.

Another powerful al-Qaida-linked group, the Nusra Front, did not join the unified brigades. The spokesman said the Nusra Front wanted groups to join under its banner.

Charles Lister, an analyst at IHS Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Center, called the merger “an extremely significant development.”

“The most militarily powerful Islamist rebel groups have effectively united their forces,” Lister wrote in an analysis.

Lister estimated the merged group has a fighting force of at least 45,000 fighters. The groups include the powerful Ahrar al-Sham, the Tawhid Brigades and Suqour al-Sham.

The spokesman said the Islamic Front wouldn't have relations with the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition. That coalition has seen its influence erode as rebels move away from the Turkish-based group toward generous Gulf donors.

Meanwhile, fighting raged Friday in the mountainous Qalamoun area north of Damascus that stretches to the Lebanese border, activists reported. The area is crucial for rebels to maintain smuggling routes to opposition-held areas south of Damascus and to the central city of Homs.

Since fighting there began last week, Assad's forces seized the town of Qara. On Friday, rebels seized the nearby town of Deir Attiyeh, severing the key Damascus-Homs highway that runs through the town, said Rami Abdurrahman of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.

 

 


Show commenting policy

Most-Read World

  1. Comets hold life building blocks
  2. Vibrantly colored mural spread across 200 homes in central Mexico city
  3. Al-Qaida branch in Syria threatens U.S.-backed forces
  4. Senate to grill United Nations agency chief Amano on Iran nuclear pact
  5. Taliban fracture outcome unclear
  6. Talks fail to yield accord in Pacific
  7. Bin Laden relatives among crash casualties
  8. Zimbabwe suspends hunts amid outcry over lion’s death
  9. Gunbattle kills 21 at Afghan wedding party
  10. U.S., Turkey plan for ‘safe zone’ free of ISIS in northern Syria
  11. Turks, Kurdish rebels deepen hostility