The Syrian Civil War appears to be becoming increasingly three-way (four-way if you count the Kurds). The Islamic State of Iraq and as Sham assassinated Ahrar al Sham’s chief humanitarian aid worker on Sept. 11, apparently in keeping with an operational strategy voiced by Ayman al Zawahiri the next day. On Sept. 12, Zawahiri issued a statement in which he warned the Al Qaeda affiliates in Syria, the Al Nusra Front and Islamic State of Iraq and as Sham, that the United States would try to push them into alliances with more secular groups backed by the Gulf States and the West. He said, “I warn my brothers and people in the Syria of unity and jihad against coming close to any of these groups.” Just how much actual influence Zawahiri has over the Emirs of either Al Nusra or ISIS is open to question, but it is apparent that they have no intention of allying with any group that doesn’t fit their philosophy of jihad.
To accentuate the differences, fighting broke out in Boukamal, a village in the east of Syria that was one of the initiation points for the rebellion, on Friday, Sept. 20. Reportedly, elements of the FSA and other more moderate groups commandeered the local mosque loudspeakers to demand that the Al Qaeda elements leave the city. Boukamal’s place in the history of the rebellion so far has made it a major symbolic location, explaining the Al Qaeda attempt to establish themselves there. In doing so, they establish their primacy in the rebellion.
The ISIS response to the demand was a car bomb that killed the brother of Saddam al Gamal, a commander of the Allahu Akhbar Brigades, affiliated with the FSA. Gamal’s men counterattacked on Sunday, killing at least four ISIS fighters.
The FSA has so far tried to avoid directly clashing with Al Qaeda’s affiliates, reportedly wanting to wait until the Assad regime is gone before mopping up the more radical Salafist fighters. Recent events have possibly rendered that strategy unworkable, especially with the events of Sept. 24.