Gabriele Del Grande writes: This is my third visit to Aleppo in the last year, but the first time that I saw fear in the eyes of my Syrian activist friends accompanying me. They are not afraid of Bashar al-Assad’s regime or of bombs or of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Rather, what scares them are the checkpoints manned by fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS — also known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria), the main al-Qaeda force in Syria. Kidnappings and executions have been steadily increasing.
Hazim al-Azizi, a photographer at the media center in Azaz, was the latest Syrian activist to be killed by al-Qaeda. An ISIS sniper shot him on Sept. 18, when the town of Azaz, 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) from the border with Turkey, became the scene of two days of heavy fighting between the ISIS and FSA. On the same day, ISIS gunmen kidnapped Mohammed Nur Amuri, director of the Azaz media center, along with nine other activists in his office. One man, Abu Mohammad, managed to save himself.
Abu Mohammad was supposed to go to Azaz to install an aerial for a free radio network, Radio Nevroz, which was to begin broadcasting in Kurdish and Arabic to the opposition-controlled areas of northern Syria. When he heard that the ISIS was involved in fighting there, he canceled everything. In his opinion, the presence of al-Qaeda in Syria poses a serious threat to the entire civilian activist movement.
In an interview in Kilis, a Turkish town on the border with Syria, Abu Mohammad told Al-Monitor, “For us, it is extremely dangerous even just to move around. We are civilians, without any military escort when we travel. The areas in the countryside of Aleppo and Idlib have become a no-man’s-land, and the slightest suspicion is enough to get you killed by the men of ISIS.”
According to Wassim, however, the real problem is not al-Qaeda, but the ever-widening rift with the FSA. An activist living in Aleppo, Wassim explained, “When the revolution started, we used to sing ‘One, one, one. The Syrian people are one.’ Nowadays, the most popular song goes like this: ‘Alawites wait for us! We are coming to slaughter you! We will cut your throats.’ The activists abroad will tell you that it is not true, that we are a moderate people and sectarianism will not prevail. But this is true only of us civilians, not for those who fight. [Continue reading…]