Six Islamist Factions Unite in Largest Syria Rebel Merger

Rebels training in SyriaFrom AFP:  Six key Islamist groups fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria joined forces on Friday, a spokesman for Aleppo’s biggest rebel force said.

“Thank God, the complete merger of the major military factions fighting in Syria has been announced,” Liwa al-Tawhid spokesman Abu Firas said in a posting on Facebook. . . .

The groups merged days after the death of Liwa al-Tawhid’s charismatic military chief Abdel Qader Saleh, who had reportedly made calls for such a rebel alliance.

According to Abu Firas, the groups merging their troops were Liwa al-Tawhid, Ahrar al-Sham, the Army of Islam, Suqour al-Sham, Liwa al-Haq and the Ansar al-Sham battalions.

All the groups are Islamist and merged “under the banner of ‘There is no god but God, and Mohammed is his prophet'”, said Abu Firas, citing the Islamic profession of faith.

Speaking to AFP over the Internet, Abu Firas said “the doors are open to all the military factions, and a committee is working to study the entrance of all groups that also want to join” the merger.

“It has been decided that all the factions’ military, media, humanitarian and administrative offices will merge over a transitional period of three months,” he added.

A spokesman for another rebel faction that had joined the merger confirmed the report, and said an official statement would be released “shortly”.

From BBC:  The rebels also outlined a new command structure, with key roles shared between leaders of the seven groups.

The Islamic Front’s new leader will be Ahmed Issa al-Sheikh of Suqour al-Sham. He was previously head of the Syrian Islamic Liberation Front (SILF), a coalition of Islamist factions aligned to the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army.

The deputy leader will be Abu Omar of Liwa al-Tawhid, while its head of military operations will be Zahran Alloush of Jaysh al-Islam.

The head of the political bureau will be Hassan Abboud. He is leader the Syrian Islamic Front (SIF), an independent coalition of hardline Islamist groups in which his own, Harakat Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya, is the largest and dominant faction.

From Reuters:  “This independent political, military and social formation aims to topple the Assad regime completely and build an Islamic state where the sovereignty of God almighty alone will be our reference and ruler,” said Ahmed Eissa, who heads the Suqour al-Sham brigades.

The merger undermines the secular Free Syrian Army (FSA) leadership, once seen as a symbolic umbrella leadership for all the rebels but weakened by infighting and defections.

It could also challenge the ascendance of al Qaeda-linked factions who have grown increasingly powerful as other rebel groups are weakened.

Image: Rebels training in Syria (photo: Freedom House)