Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Special Report: Syria's Islamists seize control as moderates dither

    Wednesday, June 19, 2013   No comments

As the Syrian civil war got under way, a former electrician who calls himself Sheikh Omar built up a brigade of rebel fighters. In two years of struggle against President Bashar al-Assad, they came to number 2,000 men, he said, here in the northern city of Aleppo. Then, virtually overnight, they collapsed.

Omar's group, Ghurabaa al-Sham, wasn't defeated by the government. It was dismantled by a rival band of revolutionaries - hardline Islamists.

The Islamists moved against them at the beginning of May. After three days of sporadic clashes Omar's more moderate fighters, accused by the Islamists of looting, caved in and dispersed, according to local residents. Omar said the end came swiftly.

The Islamists confiscated the brigade's weapons, ammunition and cars, Omar said. "They considered this war loot. Maybe they think we are competitors," he said. "We have no idea about their goals. What we have built in two years disappeared in a single day."

The group was effectively marginalized in the struggle to overthrow Syria's President Bashar al-Assad. Around 100 fighters are all that remain of his force, Omar said.

It's a pattern repeated elsewhere in the country. During a 10-day journey through rebel-held territory in Syria, Reuters journalists found that radical Islamist units are sidelining more moderate groups that do not share the Islamists' goal of establishing a supreme religious leadership in the country.

The moderates, often underfunded, fragmented and chaotic, appear no match for Islamist units, which include fighters from organizations designated "terrorist" by the United States.

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Isr Ed

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