Syria crisis: al-Qaida fighters revealing their true colours, rebels say

Syria crisis: al-Qaida fighters revealing their true colours, rebels say

 

The young rebel stepped out from his battered sedan looking warily at the throng of passersby as he picked his way through festering rubbish bags piled in front of a school.

He pushed against a wrought iron gate and disappeared into the expanse of the empty schoolyard, invisible in the coal-dark of another power-less night in Aleppo.

“I have a problem with al-Qaida,” he said from the gloom. “Come with me, alone, and I’ll tell you.”

He gripped his short black beard anxiously and began to speak. “I am an engineer,” he said. “I trained abroad and I came back for this revolution. My skill is in making machinery parts and now al-Qaida want me to make their weapons. They run everything here. They are very powerful.”

The group he called al-Qaida is known locally as Jabhat al-Nusra. Before the siege of Aleppo started mid-July, the group was unknown in the city and had been only a fleeting presence in the rebellious countryside.

Now though, almost six months later, inspired by the Bin Laden world view of a global jihad to enforce a fundamental Islamic society, al-Nusra is very much competing for influence in the Syria that will take shape if and when the embattled regime falls.

Through a growing role on the battlefield and a rising reputation as an organisation that can get things done, al-Nusra has become a player in the power vacuum that has emerged from the civil war. It is also increasingly known as an enforcer, whose unbending demands are unsettling regular rebel units as well as the societies the group claims to protect.

The rebel, who gave his name as Hassan, worried that eavesdroppers might somehow pick up his whispered English even in this vast, deserted playground, decided the noisy street outside would be a better place to talk.

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