Nusra factions threaten group's coherence in Syria

Nusra factions threaten group's coherence in Syria
Analysis: Sources tell al-Araby al-Jadeed that the death of a Nusra Front military commander would do little to hurt the group. The bigger danger is a factional conflict among the leadership.
3 min read
07 March, 2015
Nusra is torn by internal rivalries [AFP]

The reported death of a Nusra Front commander in an airstrike in Syria has raised questions of the al-Qaeda affiliates structure, with sources inside the group saying there are two rival factions competing to control it. 

Nusra insiders have denied the death of Abu Hamam al-Shami in the airstrike on Nusra positions at Abu Talha, Salqin village, in northern Idlib countryside last month. They do say he was injured but is recovering.

Shami was, or is, believed to be the military commander of Nusra. His real name is Samir Hijazi and he hails from Idlib. He has fought with al-Qaeda since joining in Afghanistan in the late 1990s, where he was known as Farouq al-Souri.

One Nusra commander contacted by al-Araby said that even if Shami was killed, "we have the top of the pyramid, councils and operations chambers", and that losing leading military commanders was far less damaging than losing religious figures.

More dangerous, it appears, is the emergence of factions within the group's structure. Nusra's relationship with the Islamic State group is at the core of these rivalries. Both groups share ancestral roots but have fought for dominance in Syria.

Signs of a conflict started to emerge when the Nusra heirarchy attempted to rid itself of an anti-IS faction, led by Abu Maria al-Qahatani and Sultan al-Atwi, who believed in working with the Syrian people rather than imposing their will on the country.

Nusra replaced this faction with another one advocating for an Islamic emirate in order to maintain the coherence of the group. This faction is spearheaded by Jordanian national Sami Al-Aridi, who succeeded Al-Qahtani as the group's sharia cleric following the major defeat of Nusra by the IS in Deir ez-Zorr.

     Nusra's relationship with the Islamic State group is at the core of these rivalries. Both groups share ancestral roots but have fought for dominance in Syria.

It seems that this change fomented further differences, leading to numerous disputes, both ideological and organisational.

There are now also factions known as the Muhajirin (emigrants) and al-Ansar (supporters). The main disagreement between the factions is the secession from al-Qaeda.

"Today, the Muhajirin faction is headed by Sami al-Aridi, the sharia cleric of Nusra in Syria. Aridi is very strict and is described by his followers as the 'IS' of Nusra. This faction strongly opposes Nusra seceding from al-Qaeda," according to the source.

"They are the old guard. Most of them were under Ayman al-Zawihiri's command," he added in reference to al-Qaeda's leader.

"The second faction consists of al-Ansar (supporters), represented by the Syrian fighters who joined the group during the revolution. This faction is headed by Qahtani, who despite being an Iraqi national enjoys a strong support among al-Ansar in Deir ez-Zorr.

He also managed to establish good ties with other factions and tribes in this region. This faction is not against Nusra's independence from al-Qaeda.

This is an edited translation of the original Arabic.