Syrian extremist group pledges allegiance to Al Qaeda-linked militants

The extremist group Jund Al Aqsa, which has been battling the powerful Ahrar Al Sham group in northern Syria, pledged allegiance to Jabhat Fatah Al Sham.

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BEIRUT // An extremist group embroiled in infighting with one of the largest Syrian rebel groups yesterday pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda-linked militants in Syria.

The move threatens to deepen divisions in the already disparate insurgency.

The extremist group Jund Al Aqsa has been battling the powerful Ahrar Al Sham group in northern Syria for days, after Al Sham accused it of ambushing its leaders.

The infighting killed several Ahrar Al Sham members and stalled an offensive led by Jund Al Aqsa against government troops in Hama province.

Scores of Syrian rebel factions rallied behind Ahrar Al Sham, accusing Jund Al Aqsa of espousing extremist ideologies and seeking to dominate other rebel groups.

Rebel factions accused Jund Al Aqsa of serving ISIL, who are at odds with all Syrian insurgents including the Al Qaeda-linked Jabhat Fatah Al Sham. Fatah Al Sham yesterday said Jund Al Aqsa would join its ranks “to stop the bloodshed”.

The handwritten declaration was signed by Abu Mohammed Al Jolani, Fatah Al Sham’s leader, and the local commander of Jund Al Aqsa, Abu Diab Al Sarmini.

The declaration is expected to put an immediate end to the infighting because Jund Al Aqsa will now enjoy the protection of the powerful Fatah Al Sham.

But the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported intense fighting in the northern province of Idlib after the declaration, which has also drawn criticism from other rebel groups, who view the move as divisive, providing cover for Jund Al Aqsa.

Charles Lister, a researcher who has focused on the Al Qaeda affiliate, said the move was a huge risk for Fatah Al Sham, as it might alienate other rebel groups.

A spokesman for Ahrar Al Sham said it was not consulted about the move, adding that it would continue its fight against Jund Al Aqsa.

“The decision to uproot them was taken in consultation with other rebel groups and we will not halt a task we started,” the spokesman said.

Yasser Alyousef, a member of the Nour Al Din Al Zinki rebel group, said it would hate to see Fatah Al Sham offer “refuge to extremists”, warning that it might lead to another incarnation of ISIL.

“All factions have united to fight against Jund Al Aqsa until it dissolves or is uprooted,” Mr Alyousef said.

“Any attempt to dilute the issue or offering superficial solutions is treason to the blood of martyrs.”

* Associated Press