Charles Lister writes: In a video issued late on September 24, the chief political leader of Liwa al-Tawhid, Abdulaziz Salameh, speaking on behalf of 12 other Islamist militant groups in Syria, condemned the “unrepresentative” Western-backed Syrian National Coalition (SNC) and called explicitly for “an Islamic framework based on sharia [Islamic law].”
The video was issued along with a scanned statement, personally signed by the senior leadership of all 13 groups, encorporating existing members of the SNC, members of the hardline Salafist coalition the Syrian Islamic Front, and also Jabhat al-Nusra. As such, a new “Islamic Coalition” was formed.
All 13 groups – specifically, Jabhat al-Nusra, Harakat Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya, Liwa al-Tawhid, Liwa al-Islam, Suqor al-Sham, Liwa al-Haq, Harakat Fajr al-Sham al-Islamiyya, Harakat al-Nour al-Islamiyya, Kataib Nour al-Din al-Zinki, Liwa al-Furqan, Liwa al-Ansar, Tajamu Fastaqm Kamr Umrat and Forqat al-Tisaa Ashr – represent Syria’s most sizeable and powerful insurgent groups. The inclusion of the core of the SNC force – incorporating Liwa al-Tawhid, Liwa al-Islam and Suqor al-Sham – effectively depletes the SNC’s armed wing, the Syrian Military Council (SMC). As all four groups were also members of the SNC-linked Syrian Islamic Liberation Front coalition, with Suqor al-Sham leader Sheikh Ahmed Abu Issa its leader, it is likely that that moderate Islamist coalition has ceased to exist as a single organisational structure.
The announcement is potentially extremely significant for the long-term nature of the Syrian opposition. The SNC has long been accused of retaining minimal on-the-ground control of insurgent groups technically under its command, and this public renunciation of its leadership and its political foundations will likely prove extremely damaging for its long-term role inside Syria. The group’s 13 signatories currently play the lead roles in insurgent theatres across Syria, particularly throughout the north, in Homs, Damascus and as far south as al-Quneitra governorate.
While the significant Aleppo-based Asifat al-Shamal did not sign into the alliance, it issued a written statement expressing support for its objectives. Meanwhile, moderate forces Alwia Ahfad al-Rasoul and Jabhat al-Asala wa Tanmia will likely remain the SMC’s most significant multi-governorate-level actors, although the latter notably without one of its key constituent groups, Kataib Nour al-Din al-Zinki. [Continue reading…]