Senior al-Qaeda Figures Sent to Syria to Establish ‘Emirate’

Leadership Sees Nusra Front Emirate as Key to Challenging ISIS

by Jason Ditz, May 15, 2016

There’s already one Islamist faction, ISIS, which has carved out a de facto independent state in Syria, but they may soon be joined by another, as al-Qaeda in reportedly sending their top leadership to northern Syria to help with the establishment of an “emirate” under the control of their Syrian affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra.

The reports come just a week after a speech by al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was released, in which he urged Nusra to unify Islamist factions, and expressed support for their establishment of an emirate. It seems that he was not leaving them to their own devices, however, and has dispatched seasoned leaders from the parent organization to help.

Nusra controls virtually the entire Idlib province in northwestern Syria, as the leaders of a coalition of Islamist factions therein. They have also contested territory around this province, pushing into the area around Aleppo as well as previously holding territory around Hama and Latakia.

Nusra has reportedly been courting other Islamist groups to unify with them, but has struggled to get any to agree, with many fearing it would cost them Western aid. Al-Qaeda has been struggling in recent years to compete with ISIS, both as a recruiting destination and on the battlefield, and the establishment of another state could go a long way toward presenting them as a credible “alternative” for recruits.

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