Syrian spillover? Salafis rumored to be expanding 'holy war' into neighboring states
Syrian Jihadi Salafi groups have begun pushing to carry out military acts in neighbouring states such as Jordan, Islamist sources say, creating new divisions among Islamist militants fighting in the country.
According to an Islamist source, foreign Jihadi Salafis in Syria have begun a push to “expand” their so-called holy war into Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey amidst their ongoing campaign against Damascus.
The new drive comes in direct contradiction with the declared stance of the Jabhat Al Nusra Li-ahl Al Sham — the largest Jihadi Salafi coalition in Syria, which has reportedly played a pivotal role in rebel gains across the country in recent weeks — which has restricted its fighters to military acts against Syrian regime forces.
“There is concern among Jabhat Al Nusra leaders that many of these foreign fighters are bringing with them a foreign agenda,” said Mohammed Abu Suleiman, a Jihadi coordinator with ties to Jabhat Al Nusra.
“The last thing we want is to have outside groups hijack our battle to defend the Muslim nation from the Godless regime of Assad.”
According to Jihadi Salafi sources, the split over expanding military activities has created new friction between Syrian Islamists and the some 400 veteran Jihadi Salafis who have trickled into the country from Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Jordan and Yemen.
“There is not a lot of trust or coordination between foreign fighters and Syrian fighters,” said Ahmed Al Halabi, a Syrian Jihadi who has spent the past three months fighting regime forces in Aleppo.
“Any act or threat to neighbouring states drains resources and is a victory for the regime’s propaganda war against the revolution, but many foreign fighters seem not to care.”
The rising tension comes in response to press statements by a Syrian Jihadi Salafi splinter group that Islamist militants’ so-called holy war against Damascus will be exported to the entire region.
In a report last week, British network Sky News quoted leaders of Jabhat Al Haq — one of several Jihadi Salafi groups fighting in Aleppo, as stating that Islamist militants’ “holy war” will “stretch from North Africa to the Middle East”, encompassing Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Israel/Palestine.
Jabhat Al Nusra was quick to distance itself from the comments, stressing in a statement last week that its fighters’ mission remains restricted to “liberating Syria.”
The Jordanian Jihadi Salafi movement, which, at some 400 fighters, has become the largest foreign contributor of militants to Syria, has also distanced itself from the comments — stressing that the movement does not support military acts on Jordanian soil.
“We support all Jordanian men, all Muslims to fulfil their duty by protecting the Muslim nation from the crimes and massacres of the Godless Alawite regime of Assad,” said Mohammed Shalabi, aka Abu Sayyaf, a leader of the Jordanian Jihadi Salafi movement.
“There is no jihad in Jordan, there are no plans for jihad in Jordan, and any talk of military acts in neighbouring states is nothing but Syrian-Zionist propaganda,” Abu Sayyaf said.
Officials claim Islamist militants in Syria represent an emerging threat to regional security, pointing to last October’s foiling of an alleged terror plot on diplomatic sites in Amman as proof of Jihadi Salafis’ regional ambitions.
“Jihadi Salafi militant groups are one of the several threats facing Jordan due to the Syrian crisis, and we are doing everything to tackle this,” Government Spokesman Samih Maaytah said.
Security officials say a total of 20 Jordanian and Arab nationals have been arrested in the border region over the past month on suspicion of planning to carry out military acts in the Kingdom.
Yet senior Jabhat Al Nusra coordinators say that Al Qaeda-linked coalition’s leadership has succeeded in reducing voices pushing for a wider regional jihad to a “marginalised minority” — refuting the charges against them as “baseless”.
“There are no plans for a regional jihad and there will be no discussion of a regional jihad until we see the end of Assad,” said a Jordanian Jabhat Al Nusra battalion commander.
Yet as “dozens” of foreign Jihadi Salafis reportedly cross into Syria each day, Islamist sources say pressure is rising to transform a battle of “liberation” to a regional holy war.
“From the beginning we only wanted to defend our families against a Godless regime, not a global jihad,” Halabi said.
“Yet with each day of bloodshed we may be moving closer to that direction.”
By Taylor Luck
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