While the al-Nusra Front gains most of the headlines in the Syrian Civil War, there is another group, called Ahrar al Sham, which is at least Al Nusra’s equal, if not even more important. A loose conglomeration of Islamist groups from across Syria, Ahrar al Sham, “The Islamic Movement of the Free Men of Greater Syria,” has considerable support, an active IO campaign that surpasses anything Al Nusra has put out, and is growing fast, claiming 83 rebel units under its banner as of January 2013, up from 50 in July 2012.
The group’s leadership has kept itself in the shadows; only one commander, known only as Abu Anas, has his name anywhere in the public domain. There are rumors of a leader known as Abu Abdullah al-Hamawi, but his identity is similarly murky. They say only that their leadership were political prisoners of the Assad regime, released from Sednaya Prison in May 2011 as part of an amnesty by the government.
Ahrar al Sham’s Information Operations campaign has made a big deal about being more moderate than the Al Nusra Front. While overtly Islamist in character, they stress that they are willing to replace the Assad regime with a secular government, as long as Islamic law is established and observed. They do tend to prefer traditional insurgent attacks and avoid the suicide bombings that Al Nusra is known for, and while Al Nusra really just blows stuff up, Ahrar al Sham also conducts outreach and relief programs for civilians in Syria.