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Islamist Rebels Seize Al-Qaeda Base

Michael Johnson

Syrian Islamist Rebels raided the Aleppo headquarters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria on Wednesday. ISIL fighters, linked to al-Qaeda, used the hospital compound to plan attacks and hold prisoners as they fought Syrian government forces. The hospital takeover highlights increased tensions between nationalist Syrian Islamist groups and ultra-conservative foreign fighters associated with al-Qaeda.

Activists report that ISIL housed hundreds of prisoners in the hospital and killed most of them as the group lost control of the area. A video released to local media reportedly depicts the scene left by foreign fighters. Specifically, bruised bodies suggest inmates were tortured before being bound and shot.

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant headquarters in Aleppo Syria. (Photo: AFP)

Summary executions and arbitrary, but exceedingly strict, enforcement of Islamic law have caused a backlash against foreign fighters in Syria. The killing of a rebel doctor, Hussein Suleiman, earlier this year outraged local Islamists and helped concentrate rebel minds against al-Qaeda fighters. The Islamic Front, an umbrella group of different religious militias, accused ISIL of being “worse than the Assad regime” following the attack against Hussein.

Another well known al-Qaeda affiliate, the al-Nusra Front, has called for a cease fire, but neither side seems intent on rapprochement. Infighting between opposition group will surely weaken their ability to launch successful attacks or a coordinated campaign against government forces. Ultimately, greater fighting between these fighters gives President Bashar al-Assad a new strategic advantage.