Al-Nusra doubles as Syrians join from Iraq

Al-Nusra doubles as Syrians join from Iraq

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Al-Nusra doubles as Syrians join from Iraq

A Syrian youth stands next to a rebel waving a pre-Baath Syrian flag currently used by the opposition during an anti-regime protest in Aleppo. AFP photo

The members of the al-Nusra Front, rebels allegedly allied with al-Qaeda and operating in Syria against regime forces, have doubled from 300-400 to almost 1,000, as Syrian jihadists in Iraq continue to join the group.

Those who recently joined the forces of the al-Nusra Front are Sunni Islamists who were previously sent to Iraq by the Syrian regime to advance the interests of the al-Assad regime.

Their gradual return to Syria is related to al-Nusra’s rising reputation among small jihadist groups. Washington blacklisted the group as a terrorist organization for its deadly suicide attacks in December 2012, fearing that money and arms meant for the rebels would instead flow into the hands of the jihadist group.

Syrian jihadists have been returning to Syria in small numbers and isolated groups, thus their mobility has not drawn the attention of the international community, particularly the United States, until the last quarter of 2012. Before the U.S. move, Turkey had warned Washington that designating the Front as a foreign terrorist organization would increase the “popularity” of the group and such an act could make al-Nusra a center of attraction for al-Qaeda-related groups in the region.

‘Best-trained’ fighters

There have been claims that the flow of Syrian jihadists based in Iraq back to Syria in the past few months was encouraged by the labeling of al-Nusra as an “anti-American” group and that this is the main reason behind the rapid increase in its members. The Front has taken a role in numerous recent assaults against Syrian troops, including suicide attacks. Although the Front – considered to be the best-trained and most-experienced fighters among the Syrian rebels – never falls under the banner of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the FSA collaborates with the group. However, it has also condemned the al-Nusra Front’s use of suicide bombings.

The group released its first public statement in January 2012, in which they called for armed struggle against the Syrian government and claimed responsibility for the Aleppo and Damascus bombings in 2012. The Syrian National Coalition (SNC) also urged the U.S. to review its blacklisting of the al-Nusra Front. “We can have ideological and political differences with certain parties, but the revolutionaries all share the same goal: to overthrow the criminal regime” of President Bashar Assad, the coalition’s leader Moaz al-Khatib said in December.