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Al-Qaeda Vows to Fight Daesh for Place Under the Syrian Sun

© AFP 2023 / RAMI AL-SAYEDFighters from the al-Qaida group in the Levant, Al-Nusra Front, stand among destroyed buildings near the front line with Syrian government solders in Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp, south of Damascus on September 22, 2014
Fighters from the al-Qaida group in the Levant, Al-Nusra Front, stand among destroyed buildings near the front line with Syrian government solders in Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp, south of Damascus on September 22, 2014 - Sputnik International
US and European intelligence and counterterror officials have confirmed to the New York Times that Al-Qaeda's top leadership has dispatched over a dozen seasoned veterans to Syria, in an effort to spruce up its Nusra Front franchise there and reengage in competition with Daesh (ISIL) for the leadership of the global Islamist terrorist movement.

Paraphrasing Western officials, NYT reported that "the movement of senior Qaeda jihadists [into Syria] reflects Syria's growing importance to the terrorist organization and most likely foreshadows an escalation of the group's bloody rivalry with the Islamic State."

Members of al Qaeda's Nusra Front gesture as they drive in a convoy touring villages, which they said they have seized control of from Syrian rebel factions, in the southern countryside of Idlib, December 2, 2014 - Sputnik International
Al-Qaeda’s Resurgence in Syria ‘Predictable’, Complicates Peace Process
Al-Qaeda operatives are believed to have begun the establishment of an "alternate headquarters" in the country, with terrorist group leader Ayman al-Zawahiri calling for the establishment of a 'new caliphate' in the territories under Nusra Front's control.

Earlier this month, al-Zawahiri issued a 10-minute audio recording talking about a new Syrian caliphate, and saying that it would have nothing to do with the "renegades and extremists" from Daesh. The two Wahhabist terrorist splintered off from one another in 2013, with periodic political infighting going back to the mid-2000s.

According to sources cited by NYT, al-Qaeda's establishment of a firmer presence in war-torn Syria "would present the group with an invaluable opportunity."

"A Syria-based Qaeda state would not only be within closer striking distance of Europe but also benefit from the recruiting and logistical support of fighters from Iraq, Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon," NYT warned.

The Importance of the Brand

Members of jihadist group Al-Nusra Front take part in a parade calling for the establishment of an Islamic state in Syria, at the Bustan al-Qasr neighbourhood of Aleppo, on October 25, 2013 - Sputnik International
Some 100 Terrorists Reinforce Al-Nusra Front in Aleppo Outskirts
Earlier this month, Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Middle East Institute, wrote in Foreign Policy that the establishment of a self-proclaimed caliphate, combined with "a revitalized Al Qaeda central leadership" in Syria, "would represent a confidence boost for the jihadi organization's global brand." 

The terror group "would present itself as a smart, methodical and persistent jihadi movement [which], in contrast to the Islamic State, had adopted a strategy more aligned with everyday Sunni Muslims," Lister added.

'Get 'Em All, Let God Sort 'Em Out…'

Speaking to Russia's Izvestia newspaper, Vyacheslav Tetekin, a member of the Russian parliament's Defense Committee, said that there is no need to dramatize the situation around Al-Qaeda's apparent plans. 

"In Syria there aren't just two fronts, or two caliphates. Each terrorist organization participating in the hostilities thinks itself to be the master. In addition to al-Qaeda [through Nusra Front] and Daesh, there are plenty of other groups of bandits. However, each of them is under the direct or indirect control of Western intelligence agencies. Therefore, I would not talk about any fundamental changes."

In any case, Izvestia wrote, "whatever happens, al-Qaeda should hardly expect to find a warm welcome in Syria. And it's not even so much about Syrian government forces' readiness to destroy extremists of all stripes, so much as the reluctance on the part of their fellow terrorists to see competitors in the occupied territories. This is particularly true of Daesh. It's worth recalling that this group, which was initially called 'Al-Qaeda in Iraq', was subordinate, as the name suggests, to al-Zawahiri."

This image posted on the Twitter page of Syria's al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front on Friday, April 1, 2016, shows a Nusra Front tank firing at Syrian troops and pro-government gunmen in the northern village of al-Ais in Aleppo province, Syria - Sputnik International
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Recalling the history of Al-Qaeda's presence in Syria through its Nusra Front franchise, the Russian newspaper recalled that "in the early stages of the Syrian conflict, militants from the organization fought shoulder to shoulder with Daesh terrorists, although soon, armed clashes began on a regular basis, claiming the lives of several thousand fighters on both sides. As a result, in January 2014, al-Zawahiri released an audio address in which he called Islamists 'to stop the fratricidal infighting'. In early February, when it became clear that the armed conflicts had not subsided, al-Qaeda's high command announced the severance of relations with Daesh."

Speaking to Izvestia, Lev Korolkov, a veteran of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) emphasized that ultimately, al-Qaeda's primarily goal "is not to lose face. Furthermore, its leaders understand that the key to a terrorist organization's future existence is funding; it allows the group to purchase weapons and recruit fighters. Obviously, the militant group has faced problems, and because of this its leader is attempting to draw attention to himself and to restore al-Qaeda's former standing," among the adherents of jihadi terrorists, anyway.

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