The killing of Ahrar al-Sham’s leadership will have major ripple effects in the opposition.
Since the militarization of the Syrian uprising, Raqqa has been a strategically vital region for all armed groups. Now under the control of ISIS, Raqqa has become a hub where ISIS militants are gathered and dispatched to other battlegrounds across the country.
As the armed conflict between jihadists groups and the Syrian Kurdish militia moves into Arab-majority territories, both sides have increasingly relied on support from local Arab tribes to tip the balance.
Divisions over the formation of the Syrian Islamic Council suggest that the Syrian opposition will have to wait to see the emergence of a unified Sunni religious authority within its ranks. However, these divisions are revealing of fault lines that may play a major role in Syria’s future.
The establishment of the Syrian Islamic Council may be an important step toward the goal of consolidating a moderate Islamic axis within the opposition in the face of the large Salafi military factions.
With its leadership elections officially due to take place in July 2014, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood is bracing to overcome internal divisions in order to elect its new comptroller general on time.
The former Iraqi branch of al-Qaeda has become an important driving force behind the global jihad, in its current guise as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL.
The emergence of the Sham Legion, a moderate Islamist rebel group, may be a significant political development because, until its formation, only more conservative and Salafi-oriented brigades had managed to merge into ideologically coherent countrywide alliances.
While the ideology, politics, and public messaging of the rebel factions making up the Islamic Front have been streamlined effectively, initial hopes for closer organizational and battlefield unity have not yet borne fruit. Five months after its creation, the Islamic Front seemingly remains a rather wobbly umbrella movement.
Since the creation of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant a year ago today, the rivalry between Iraqi and Syrian militant leaders has grown into a full-blown jihadi civil war.
Made up of thousands of fighters, the Mujahideen Army dominates a chunk of the strategically important countryside west of Aleppo and exerts influence over at least some of the main supply routes from Turkey to Aleppo.
Saudi Arabia and the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood have had a difficult relationship, one that has been further complicated by the Syrian civil war.
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.