Al-Qaeda executes dozens of rebels near Turkey border
Rebel fighters man a checkpoint in al-Dana town in Idlib province after they captured the town from fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) January 9, 2014. REUTERS PhotoThe al-Qaeda-linked Islamist State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) executed dozens of rival Islamists over the last two days as the group recaptured most territory it had lost in the northeastern Syrian province of Raqa, activists said Jan. 12.
One of the activists, who spoke from the province on condition of anonymity, said up to 100 fighters from the al-Nusra Front, another al-Qaeda affiliate, and the Ahrar al-Sham brigade, captured by ISIL in the town of Tel Abyad on the border with Turkey, the nearby area of Qantari and the provincial capital city of Raqa, were shot dead.
“About 70 bodies, most shot in the head, were collected and sent to the Raqa National hospital,” Reuters quoted an activist as saying. “Many of those executed had been wounded in the fighting. The fact that al-Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham are ideologically similar to the ISIL did not matter,” he added.
Fighting between the ISIL and rival Islamists and more moderate rebels have killed hundreds of people over the last 10 days and shaken the hardline militant group led by foreign jihadists. But the ISIL regrouped and recaptured much of its stronghold in Raqa city on Jan. 12, activists said, dealing a blow to rival rebel groups backed by Gulf Arab and Western states.
Abdallah Farraj, a member of the opposition Syrian National Coalition from Raqa, said rebels had been able to expel ISIL from parts of the neighboring Aleppo province, but it would be hard to shake ISIL’s hold on Raqa and rural areas along key supply lines across the north.
“The rebels lack the organization and the firepower to win. It will be difficult to defeat ISIL without military strikes from someone like Turkey,” he said.
Abu Khaled al-Walid, an activist speaking from the border area, said many fighters from Ahrar al-Sham, one of the most powerful Islamist groups, chose not to confront ISIL because the combatants were local people with little enmity for each other. “Many did not see a point in fighting their own relatives. ISIL is now in control of 95 percent of Raqa and its rural environs. Tel Abyad is also back with it,” he said.
Raqa is the most significant city to have fallen completely to al-Assad’s opponents since the revolt broke out in March 2011.
ISIL pulled out of Raqa and other towns in northern Syria this month after an Islamist rebel alliance attacked its strongholds, taking advantage of growing popular resentment of the group’s foreign commanders, their killing of other rebels and a drive to impose a strict interpretation of Islamic law. But ISIL has regrouped in the last few days, using snipers, truck-mounted commando units and suicide bombers.
Opposition sources said the expertise of its foreign commanders, including a senior figure known as Omar al-Shishani, had been crucial to its advance.