On January 31st Syrian Islamist groups announced they would unite in one single group; knwon as Harakat Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya (The Islamic movement of freemen of Greater Syria).
The groups apparently uniting are Ahrar al-Sham (The freemen of Geater Syria), Harakat al-Fajr al-Islamiyya (The Islamic Syrian Front), Al-Jamiat al-Taliah al-Islamiyya (Islamic Vanguard Group) and Kata’ib Ayman al-Muqatila (The Ayman al-Muqatila Brigades). In the following video they announce their union:
We thank Allah for the the affection between the believers […] He gathered them … Peace and blessing upon the Messenger Muhammad and his companions the patient mujahedeen, who were truly as Allah has said “lowly with the believers, mighty against the rejecters”.
Here are your brothers from the Islamic Groups, who are fighting the criminal Nasiri [‘Alawi] regime to overthrow and remove it from our beloved Levant and to form a Muslim society under Sharia Law. [We] are [the] Ahrar al-Sham Brigade, Harakat al-Fajr al-Islamiyya, at-Tali’a al-Islamiyya and al-Iman al-Mukatilla Brigade. [We] joined al-Jabha al-Islamiyya as-Suriyya, [we] were united completely under the name of Harakat Ahrar al-Sham.[This organisation] belongs to the same group in obedience to Allah’s order to the believers to unite and reject to be divided. As Allah says “hold fast, all together, by the rope which Allah (stretches out for you) and be not divided among yourselves” and “obey Allah and His Messenger; and do not fall into dispute, lest ye lose heart and your power depart”
Your brothers of Harakat Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya want to announce to all the Muslims in Levant their unity. [They] give them the glad tiding (that will please them) and will establish the moral strength of the believers. [They will] threaten the Nasiri tyrant who sheds blood and encroaches upon honor and money. They announce that they will be a fortress for Islam against the injustice and tyranny, asking Allah that He will guide them to rationality and help defeating [the enemy] and supporting [their allies].
Since these groups are not merely as known as their extremist ally Jabhat an-Nusra their union may require some explanation.
As the name points out the main group is Ahrar al-Sham.
When established in late 2011, Ahrar al-Sham consisted of about 25 rebel units spread across Syria. Since then it has expanded, and by late 2012 the group’s website listed 60 units. Most of these are headquartered in villages in the Idlib Province in Northern Syria., but many others are located in Hama and Aleppo. Some Ahrar al-Sham units that have been involved in heavy fighting include the Qawafel al-Shuhada and Ansar al-Haqq Brigades (both in Khan Sheikhoun, Idleb Province), the al-Tawhid wal-Iman Brigade (Maarrat al-Nouman, Idleb Province), the Shahba Brigade (Aleppo City), the Hassane bin Thabet Brigade (Darat Ezza, Aleppo Province), and the Salahaddin and Abul-Fida Brigades (both in Hama City).
In its first audio address, Ahrar al-Sham stated its goal to replace the Assad regime with an Islamic state, however it acknowledged the need to take into account the population’s current state of mind. It also described the uprising as a Jihad against a plot to spread Shi’a Islam and establish a Shi’ite state from Iran through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon and Palestine.
Members of the group are Salafi Islamists. Ahrar al-Sham cooperates with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and other secular rebel groups, however it does not maintain ties with the Syrian National Council (SNC). Although they coordinate with other groups, they maintain their own strict and secretive leadership, receiving the majority of their funding and support from Gulf donors. It has been claimed that, unlike certain other jihadist groups, Ahrar al-Sham has Salafi beliefs, but is not pan-Islamist.
Ahrar al-Sham, has claimed that it only targets government forces and militia, and that it has cancelled several operations due to fear of civilian casualties. It provides humanitarian services and relief to local communities, in addition to pamphlets promoting religious commitment in daily life.
The other groups included in the new Islamist coalition are smaller Islamist and Jihadist factions. The main reason for uniting these groups into one seems to be uniting the more moderate Islamists in Syria. The movement’s founding statement describes its ideology as based on a Salafi understanding of Islam and declares its aims as toppling the al-Assad government and establishing an Islamic state, governed by the Shari’a, for the benefit of all Syrians. The group does not include the Jihadist Jabhat an-Nusra, which has been declared a terrorist organisation by the United States.
One might expect that this new movement will increase it’s influence in the Syrian war, hopefully for the better … One thing is sure though, what one calls the Syrian resistance consists out of traditional FSA and several islamist / Jihadist groups; One might wonder how the US will cope with the increasing influence of Islamists in Syria. Most likely to be continued …