Most Syrians do not consider Al-Nosra fighters as terrorists
The United States announced on Tuesday 11 December, the inscription on their terrorist list Nosra Al-Front, a group of jihadists fighting in Syria and accused of being affiliated with Al-Qaeda. A contested decision Wednesday by the Syrian opposition. For Aron Lund, a Swedish journalist specializing in the Middle East and author of a report on Jihadism Syrian Swedish Institute of International Affairs, "groups within the rebellion believe that the United States would do better to help opposition to oust Assad rather than tackling Al-Nosra Front. "
How did the Al-Front Nosra?
Aron Lund: Front Al-Nosra has most likely emerged in late 2011, but its creation was officially announced in January 2012. It is formed from veterans of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, a branch of Al-Qaeda. In the 2000s, many Syrians had actually fought against the U.S. presence in Iraq. When opposition to the regime of Bashar al-Assad began to organize, it seems that these men returned to Syria, supported and coordinated by Al-Qaida in Iraq - they refute officially.
These founders were then recruited other militant extremists in Syria but also in foreign countries like Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. If they fight across Syria, they nevertheless seem more active in the Sunni cities such as Damascus, Aleppo, Idleb or Jazira region, bordering Iraq.
Al-Nosra Front, which now probably several thousand heads, led by a man calling himself Abu Mohammed al-Djoulani. We do not know who he is, because the group is very secretive and does very few interviews, whether in Syria or outside.
What is the procedure and what purpose he says?
At its inception, the Al-Front Nosra chose actions spectacular explosion of bombs and suicide attacks, followed by the publication of videos. He attacked the heart of the city and official buildings, such as Damascus and Aleppo, that other rebel groups did not dare to do. This procedure allowed him to make himself known to attract media attention and thus be able to recruit. Now, the group's base is much wider. It has changed its strategy: in addition to bombings, militants are fighting at the front and in the streets.
The purpose of this group is Salafi jihadist establish an Islamic state in Syria but, more generally, to fight against the West and Sunni governments. Today, they are struggling against the Syrian government, but when the plan will be dropped - if it falls - some of them will fight elsewhere. They want to establish Islamic governments throughout the Muslim world.
How the group is perceived inside and outside Syria?
On the international scene, only the United States has so far ranked on their list of terrorist groups. But this decision could push European governments to do the same. Western states, and Gulf countries have always been concerned about the Al-Front Nosra: they worry about his rise within the Syrian opposition and support which it is subject. And they tried to cut its financing coming from preachers or religious extremist groups, especially based in Saudi Arabia.
As for the Syrians, most do not perceive as terrorists, but as rebels, perhaps extremists, but fighting the government. This is why many Syrians opposed to the regime will be annoyed by this American decision to criminalize some of the opposition. They believe that this is not the right time.
What impact for Al-Front Nosra this designation as a terrorist organization?
On the one hand, the U.S. decision can be isolated from other Syrian rebel groups, which will probably be tempted to distance themselves, and thus make it more difficult financing. But it depends on the measures that the United States and its allies will be able to take thereafter to put pressure on Al-Front Nosra.
On the other hand, these activists will be better known after this event. As they try to recruit within the segment and extremist Islamist rebellion Syrian such designation as a terrorist organization could be seen among these groups as a "badge of honor". Thus we see groups already in the rebellion who express dissatisfaction à-vis the U.S. decision, and say that the United States would do better to help the opposition to oust Assad rather than Front tackle Al-Nosra.
Can it affect the attitude of the opposition coalition and the Free Syrian Army (SLA)?
The opposition coalition and the ASL, both supported by the United States and its allies may be forced to take much more distance from the Al-Front Nosra. The coalition could thus emerge stronger: if the extremist wing is crushed, the modernist wing will probably have more space to grow.
However, the coalition can not stray too far from Al-Front Nosra at risk of losing support on the ground: it would indeed be seen as fighting for the West and Washington, rather than the fighters on the ground . The coalition leaders are very cautious in their statements. They do not react too strongly against the Al-Front Nosra, because they know the fighters on the ground fighting and dying alongside Front and do not want to hear being called "terrorists." National Coalition groups in exile and will therefore take this into account. They must both domestic allies of the West and the Persian Gulf, but also try to avoid alienating any part of the Syrian opinion.
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