Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Ajnad al-Sham Islamic Union: Islamist alliances have emerged to overshadow the rest

    Tuesday, March 04, 2014   No comments

Like everywhere else in Syria, the rebel groups fighting in the Damascus region are badly divided on the ground.

A year ago, one could identify at least a handful of rival alliances among the many dozens of factions in and around the Syrian capital. All these factions seemed to be just as busy splitting from each other as they were fighting the regime. But in the past few months, as new money has started to flood in from abroad, a haphazard process of unification has begun to yield results. Today, although many smaller groups continue to fight on separately alongside them, two Islamist alliances have emerged to overshadow the rest.


THE ISLAM ARMY

The most well-known and probably largest faction in Damascus is the Islam Army of Zahran Alloush. From humble roots in the northeastern satellite town of Douma in 2011, it has grown into one of Syria’s largest guerrilla groups, with affiliates in several areas of the country. Formerly known as the Islam Brigade, it took its current name at a ceremony marking the inclusion of new groups on September 29, 2013.

While many of the Islam Army’s subfactions seem to have been cobbled together from local rebel groups that began without any discernible ideology, its leadership is firmly Islamist: Alloush is a longtime Salafi activist and the son of a Saudi Arabia–based theologian. His virulently sectarian rhetoric has found support among like-minded groups, and in November 2013 the Islam Army became a founding faction in the Islamic Front, a large, countrywide alliance that seeks to transform Syria into a Sunni theocracy.


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