Successfully navigating shifting rebel politics, the Islamist group called the Ansar al-Sham Brigades has become one of the key players in the Syrian opposition's powerful Islamic Front.
The simmering intra-Sunni tensions in Tripoli, Lebanon in relation to the conflict in Syria belies the standard sectarian divide of Sunni versus Shia, in a sign of how multifaceted and fragmented the Sunni Islamic spectrum really is.
The northern Lebanese port city of Tripoli is home to several Sunni Islamist groups that support the Assad regime and Syrian patronage has given them access to funds, weapons, and political connections.
Syria’s indigenous Islamist traditions still remain a formidable force on the ground. It would be a grave mistake to imagine that Sunni Islamism in Syria could be neatly categorized into the best known, best organized, most violent, or most visible groups.
Ajnad al-Sham appears to be the second-biggest rebel coalition in the Damascus area, and on the local level, the coalition seems to serve as a counterweight to the Islam Army as well as to more hardline jihadis, like al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front.
The Syrian Salafi faction known as Ahrar al-Sham has always stressed that it is not subservient to any group outside Syria, including al-Qaeda. Even so, there are connections between Ahrar al-Sham and al-Qaeda members.
Analysts have claimed that Abu Khalid’s presence in the Ahrar al-Sham leadership shows that Ahrar al-Sham has direct links to al-Qaeda. However, little is known about the nature of Abu Khalid’s involvement with al-Qaeda, and most publicly available information seems to suggests a more nuanced relationship.
Despite the radicalization and despair that has set in on the opposition side, some combination of international pressure and real political opportunity could still have an influence on the insurgency’s ideological choices.
Instead of focusing on the institutions of a future Syria, the al-Qaeda aligned Nusra Front is trying to implement a more broadly based Islamic rule of law.
A civil war has erupted within global jihadism and it seems to pass the point of no return. Senior militants and clerics are now lining up to isolate and undermine the Syrian-Iraqi faction known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
A statement released by the top leadership of al-Qaeda asserts that there is no organizational link between the group and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
The Islamic Front has presented unified positions on a number of issues, but in one case the Islamic Front has had trouble reconciling its stated ideological agenda with political reality—namely, the Kurdish question.
Viewing Lebanon as a transit point for the struggle in Syria and considering its state institutions as legitimate targets may, in due course, fuel the rise of the much-feared Islamic State of Lebanon.
The Umma Initiative, launched by Saudi Salafi preacher Abdullah bin Mohammed al-Moheisini, calls for an immediate ceasefire between the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and other rebels, and the election of a joint arbitration court from a list of ten independent religious scholars.
A recent statement authored by a self-described “group of sons of the Muslim Brotherhood” criticizes the organization's leadership handling of politics over the past three years, revealing real grievances
The Islamic Front argues for social and educational work to help develop the public’s Islamic consciousness, but it rejects the idea that Syrians could ever be allowed to vote on whether to have sharia law, or Islamic law, or to what degree.
On political matters, just as in religious affairs, the Islamic Front has staked out a hawkish position. Its officials say that they are firmly opposed to any peace deal with the regime and seem unwilling to hold talks even on minor matters.
Any attempt to describe the Islamic Front’s ideology is complicated by the fact that even some of its members seem puzzled by it. The member factions still serve under different leaderships, and there is no guarantee that they will be able to coordinate their policies or keep disagreements under control.
As soon as it announced its formation on November 22, 2013, it was clear that the Islamic Front would be a powerful influence on Syria’s future and a key actor in the rebellion against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
While the Islamic legitimacy of the armed opposition to the Syrian regime remains uncontested among the Salafi-jihadi radicals, the decisive, dividing concern is simple: Which jihadi faction should the Egyptian Salafi-jihadi movement support?