Key Syrian Rebel Leader Considers Himself al-Qaeda Member, Complicating US Relations

Comments Undercut Western Efforts to Paint Group as 'Moderate'

In between the debates about “good al-Qaeda and bad al-Qaeda” in the fighting between Jabhat al-Nusra and al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the other major Islamist rebel faction, the Islamic Front, has gotten pushed by Western nations as a potential ally, and the comparative moderates.

Abu Khaled al-Suri, the leader of one of the Islamic Front’s top fighting groups, sought to lay out his position clearly, claiming he considers himself a member of al-Qaeda as well, and that he believes AQI are not doing the work Osama bin Laden would’ve wanted.

Suri’s comments come as AQI is fighting the Islamic Front in several provinces, and suggest that far from being the moderate Islamists the US could start bankrolling wholesale, he sees the group as simply the more pure al-Qaeda faction in the war.

The comments have fueled speculation that Suri’s group will be designated as terrorists because of his open claims of membership in al-Qaeda. Aid workers warn this could really complicate sending aid into northern Syria since they control so much territory, and diplomats warn that it could harm US-Qatari relations, since Qatar is already cheerfully bankrolling Suri.

Experts say Suri’s stance was never really a secret, but having gone public with it could be a game-changer, particularly if Ayman al-Zawahiri endorses Suri in an upcoming statement.

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Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is news editor of Antiwar.com.