Nearly fifty senior commanders of a major coalition of Islamic ‘moderates’ opposed to ISIS in Syria have been killed by an explosion at their secret command bunker as they met to discuss strategy against the the Islamic State.
The blast in the Northwest region of Idlib, Syria on Tuesday killed senior members of rebel group the Ahrar-al-Sham brigade (AaS), including leader Hassan Abboud and 45 others including senior members from other rebel alliance groups, reports The Times. The Idlib region stands in AaS territory, but it is close to the front-line with ISIS in neighbouring Aleppo.
Sources dispute the source of the blast, with it being unclear whether it was an opposition group, suicide bomber, or accidental explosion at a nearby ammunition dump. Regardless, the incident will destabilise and possibly tear apart the AaS group and associated Islamic Front Coalition which was recently described as “the most powerful armed group in Syria”.
Islamic group Ahrar-al-Sham, whose name translates as ‘The Free Men of Syria’, is one of many movements competing in the inter-rebel conflict in Syria. A number of rebel groups are presently fighting each other as well as besieged Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose power base is in West and South-West, for overall control of the Region.
As the main rival to ISIS for control of Syria, the AaS blast if not orchestrated by the Islamic State will certainly be greatly beneficial to them. The ‘decapitation’ strategy, targeting Ahrar-al-Sham’s political, military and spiritual leadership is reminiscent of the United States’ targeted strikes against the leadership of Al-Qaeda.
The death of Abboud and his followers in Idlib highlights the difficulty of Western involvement in the conflict, where enemies of the apparent first enemy ISIS also make fairly poor potential allies. Many members of AaS have come from groups like Al-Qaeda and would in any other context be considered hard line Islamists.
The Ahrar-al-Sham brigade has also been extremely critical of Western involvement in the conflict. In an interview before his death leader Abboud rejected the Geneva peace conference saying: “We see Geneva as a tool of manipulation; to derail the Syrian revolution away from its goals and objectives …. Whatever outcome the conference may yield, will be binding on the Syrian National Coalition only. For us, we will continue to fight for our revolution until we restore our rights”.
Ahrar-al-Sham has appointed a new leader, Hashim al-Sheikh, who will attempt to hold together the fragile coalition which has lost most of its senior thinkers and strategists. al-Sheik said the attack “will only make us more resilient to fight and continue the fight until we liberate our homeland” on Wednesday.