As Syria’s civil war continues on, it has taken on an increasingly sectarian nature, and the rebellion is now dominated by factions affiliated either directly or ideologically with al-Qaeda, including the assorted al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and Jabhat al-Nusra factions.
Though there are surely Syrian Islamists fighting in these groups, large numbers of the jihadist fighters are foreigners, and their motivations don’t begin or end at the Syrian border.
Far from seeing Syria as a special case, these rebels see Syria as the beginning of a region-wide religious war, with the goal of installing ultra-conservative theocracies across the Muslim world.
The imposition of Taliban-style Sharia law in parts of northern Syria has been a major culture shock for Syrians, who have for centuries had relatively secular governments.
Most of the non-Sunnis in those towns are simply fleeing, since the foreign fighters are eager to call any religious minorities, from Alawites to Christians, pro-Assad infiltrators. Those who are staying behind are seeing very awkward attempts by al-Qaeda to do “outreach” to sell the locals on their style of rule. Those towns in the Aleppo Province are now ground zero for a region-wide war.