One of the more standout actions of the Islamist rebel group Ahrar al Sham has been their civilian outreach programs. They have made a concerted effort to get food, medical supplies, and other aid to the civilians in the war-torn areas of Syria, and have widely publicized their efforts. It’s an effective “Information Operation,” especially as none of the other groups appear to be doing the same. Ahrar will post a combat video then turn right around and put up another one showing how they are helping the victims of the civil war.
Yesterday, the Al Qaeda affiliate the Islamic State in Iraq and as Sham assassinated a man known as Abu Obeida, one of Ahrar al Sham’s chief humanitarian logistics people. According to reports, he was killed while delivering aid, though at the moment it is necessary to remind the reader that there is often a tendency in Arab propaganda to exaggerate the heinousness of a crime. So far this hasn’t come out on any of the major news wires; it was on Ahrar al Sham’s twitter feed last night.
The response has been bitter, if limited to the Salafist web networks for the moment. Several of Ahrar al Sham’s supporters have taken to the web to tell ISIS, “You have paved your own path to hell.” While a bunch of people throwing around threats and condemnations on Twitter may seem inconsequential, Twitter has become a major communications channel for rebel groups in Syria as well as Egypt. Furthermore, Ahrar al Sham is one of the more militarily organized and effective Islamist rebel groups. They are unlikely to let this go.
There have also been reports that other members of Ahrar al Sham who were with Abu Obeida were kidnapped by ISIS. Much like their parent organization, AQI, al Nusra and ISIS specialize in kidnappings as well as suicide bombings.
ISIS has demonstrated, again, the tendency of Al Qaeda-affiliated groups to attack and alienate even their allies. They are just about the ultimate extremists; either you do things their way, or you are an apostate and a heretic. They are at war with not only the government in Syria, but also the Kurdish PKK, and they killed FSA chief Kamal Hamami in Latakia on July 11th. Now they’re picking a fight with Ahrar al Sham. This could very well come around to bite them. It will be interesting to watch what comes out of this latest development.
It should be noted that a lot of the details of this incident can’t be confirmed. A lot of the information coming out of Syria is uncertain at best. As time goes on, more solid information should come out.