Al-Nusra ‘kills’ Free Syria chief, stirring revenge call

Al-Nusra ‘kills’ Free Syria chief, stirring revenge call

Al-Nusra ‘kills’ Free Syria chief, stirring revenge call

A Free Syrian Army fighter aims his weapon as he takes a defensive position in Deir ez-Zor. A senior FSA commander has been killed by al-Nusra fighters. REUTERS Photo

Syrian rebels said July 12 the assassination of one of their top commanders by al-Qaeda-linked militants was tantamount to a declaration of war, opening a new front for the Western-backed fighters struggling against President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

Rivalries have been growing between the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the Islamists, whose smaller but more-effective forces control most of the rebel-held parts of northern Syria. “We will not let them get away with it because they want to target us,” a senior FSA commander said on condition of anonymity after members of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISIS) killed Kamal Hamami July 11. “We are going to wipe the floor with them,” he said.

Hamami, also known by his nom de guerre, Abu Bassir al-Ladkani, is one of the top 30 figures in the FSA’s Supreme Military Command. The FSA commander said the al-Qaeda-linked militants had warned FSA rebels that there was “no place” for them where Hamami was killed in Latakia, a northern rural region of Syria bordering Turkey.

Other opposition sources said the killing followed a dispute between Hamami’s forces and the Islamic State over control of a strategic checkpoint in Latakia and would lead to fighting.

“A war between the FSA and the Islamic State would cause a black hole and exhaust the Syrian opposition. Local conflicts might happen but if this spreads to whole of Syria then it would be very dangerous,” Khaled Khoja, the Syrian National Coalition’s Turkey representative, told the Hürriyet Daily News.

The two sides have previously fought together from time to time, but the FSA, desperate for greater firepower, has recently tried to distance itself to allay U.S. fears any arms it might supply could reach al-Qaeda. There are two main al-Qaeda-linked factions, both with Iraqi origins, the al-Nusra Front, which has operational independence, and the ISIS, a front for al-Qaeda in Iraq.

No expectation of receiving arms

SNC said it was concerned U.S. lawmakers had succeeded in holding up U.S. weapons deliveries. “The Syrian Coalition and the FSA have already introduced the necessary measures to ensure full and comprehensive vetting of all armed forces under our command,” the coalition said in a news release.

“We will strictly enforce these controls to ensure that weapons remain in the control of moderate opposition forces.”

“We have received arms from some countries, apart from European countries and the U.S., but they are not game-changing arms as there were very few anti-tank and anti-weapons among them. We’re not expecting to obtain any arms from the U.S. or from Europe after their most recent statements. They are still afraid of the weapons ending in the hands of radicals,” Khoja said.

Louay Mekdad, FSA Supreme Command political coordinator, said Abu Ayman al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State’s Emir of the coastal region, personally shot dead Hamami and his brother at the roadblock. He said a fighter who was traveling with them was set free to rely the message that the Islamic State considers the FSA heretics and that the Supreme Command is now an al-Qaeda target. “If these people came to defend the Syrian revolution and not help the al-Assad regime, then they have to hand over the killers,” Mekdad said.