Syrian Islamist Rebels Announce New Alliance Against al-Qaeda

Ahrar al-Sham Says Nusra Front's Rejection of Talks a 'Declaration of War'

Major Islamist rebel faction Ahrar al-Sham has announced that several small Islamist factions in the Idlib Province have joined them as part of a new alliance aimed at fending off an offensive by al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front. The move follows Nusra virtually wiping out the Jaish al-Mujahideen, one of the factions which joined the Ahrar al-Sham coalition.

Though Ahrar al-Sham has presented itself as a “moderate Islamist” faction for years, and one with some international recognition, the leadership has been relatively open about being ideologically aligned with al-Qaeda. They were never a formal al-Qaeda affiliate, however, unlike the Nusra Front, which until a few months ago was an affiliate, “rebranding” at the behest of the al-Qaeda parent group as a way to gain more allies.

Nusra’s exclusion from the ongoing ceasefire and peace talks set the stage for a big blow-up, with Nusra officials accusing the rebels who were participating in the peace talks of being part of a “conspiracy” against them, and insisting they decided to attack first.

At the same time, Ahrar al-Sham said they were trying to get Nusra Front forces to agree to mediation to stop the fighting, saying Nusra rejected the mediation and that they viewed that rejection as a “declaration of war.”

Nusra is the largest faction in the Idlib Province, but myriad evacuations have put a lot of other rebel groups into the area too, potentially setting the stage for a major battle over the area, one of the few non-ISIS areas in Syria still under rebel control.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.