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Several Western-backed groups join forces with Al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria

A statement issued online by the Islamist militant groups announced the formation of the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (Liberation of the Levant Committee).

Several Islamist extremist factions in Syria, including al Qaeda’s branch in the country announced on Saturday they were joining forces, as militant infighting grips parts of Idlib, in northwestern Syria.

A statement issued online by the Islamist militant groups announced the formation of the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (Liberation of the Levant Committee).

It said the alliance was formed to mend splits among radical insurgent groups and strengthen opposition to the Syrian state

Included in the signatories of the statement was the Nour al-Din al-Zinki group, infamous for its beheading of 13-year old Palestinian boy Abdullah Tayseer in Aleppo last year.

The group was one of many “vetted” organisations that were part of a US-backed alliance, and received arms including anti-tank missiles. The Nour al-Din al-Zinki movement and others have been accused of widespread atrocities and human rights abuses.

The other signatories were Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (Nusra Front) , Liwa al-Haqq, Jaish al-Sunna and Jabhat Ansar al-Din. Abu Jaber al-Shaykh – former leader of Ahrar al-Sham, is to be the leader of the alliance.

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham
The statement published online by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham

Abu Mohammed al-Joulani, leader of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (Jabhat al-Nusra) has reportedly been selected as the general military leader of the new formation.

Jabhat al-Nusra declared in July 2016 its independence from Al-Qaeda, renaming itself to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham – but commentators believe the move was an effort to conceal the organisation’s merging with western-backed opposition groups.

The well-armed Jabhat Fateh al-Sham this week launched attacks against more militant factions west of Aleppo and in the insurgent stronghold province of Idlib, and routed at least one Free Syrian Army faction.

Some groups fighting against the al-Qaeda affiliate also joined forces earlier in the week under another Western-backed Islamist group, Ahrar al-Sham.

Syria, the United Arab Emirates, Russia, Iran and Egypt have all designated Ahrar al-Sham as a terrorist organisation – however, the United States, Britain and others have so far not considered designating the group as such. In May 2016, the U.S., Britain, France, and Ukraine blocked a Russian proposal to the United Nations to blacklist Ahrar al-Sham as a terrorist group.

The two alliances formed on both sides of the militants’ infighting underline reports that the foreign-backed groups fighting to topple the Syrian government are largely made up of extremists.

On Saturday, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham took over at least one village from rebels in Idlib province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

Last year, an unnamed senior commander of the terrorist group al-Nusra Front said that the group had received weapons from the United States, according to an interview by German weekly news magazine, Focus.

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Breaking news from global agencies and outlets by GEOPOLMonitor's team of writers.

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