Confronting al-Qaeda in Syria

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

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Former Kuwaiti MP, active salafist and professor Dr. Walid al-Tabtabaie dared to attack the most extremist Islamist group operating in the Syrian conflict - the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). He said the group harmed Islam and aims to “replicate Iraq’s failed experience of resistance and repeat it in Syria.” He announced that the group, “through scenes of beheading and acts of murder against civilians, harms the pure revolution in Syria.”

We have warned of extremist groups operating in Syria ever since videos of these groups emerged a year ago. These groups are planted by Syria and Iran to sabotage the revolution and spread chaos across the entire region. Since some people view everything as either black or white and think that whoever chants “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great) is a loyal jihadist, Islamic groups and prominent figures accused us standing against al-Nusra Front and similar groups.

Now, most of those who attack the ISIS and the al-Nusra Front are Islamic figures who actively provide aid to Syria and other places. Such figures include Sheikh Adnan al-Arour and Dr. Tabtabaie.

They have reached the same conclusion - that not everyone who uses the Islamic narrative deserves respect and support. They have learnt the lesson they previously failed to understand in Afghanistan, and later in Iraq. It is a very important development to see people publically repudiating these dangerous extremist groups.

We support their change of mind and their new positive stances. Through them, it will be possible to besiege the ISIS and similar groups and the Syrian revolution will be purged of what has befallen it. Whether it is pre-planned or it is a naive distortion, al-Qaeda will fail in Syria, just as it failed in Afghanistan, and it will be defeated in Pakistan just like it was defeated in Iraq after Sunni tribes fought against it.


Extremist groups infiltrated the Syrian revolution a year after it erupted, particularly after they realized that this revolution is ideal when it comes to stirring the emotions of millions of Arabs and Muslims against the evil Syrian regime. Al-Qaeda, from the very beginning, hid behind Syrian, national and Islamic ideals in order to infiltrate Syrian territory. It also prevented its fighters from appearing in videos. After getting settled in Syria and after gathering thousands of fighters from different countries and collecting financial donations, it revealed its identity - that it is in fact al-Qaeda. Consequently, some began to adopt brave stances opposing it and calling for its boycott. In particular, such calls were made against the ISIS and other similar groups.

Extremist groups infiltrated the Syrian revolution a year after it erupted, particularly after they realized that this revolution is ideal when it comes to stirring the emotions of millions of Arabs

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

But, it must be noted that the Syrian regime is behind these groups. The Syrian regime was one of the first parties to sabotage the revolution by releasing into the fray al-Qaeda detainees it had previously used in the Iraq war. It knew that these men would be a successful weapon to intimidate both Western and Arab governments. During the past few months, and to the confusion of many, these organizations only fought the Free Syrian Army on behalf of the regime.
After releasing dozens of videos in which these extremist groups bragged about beheading people, imposing restrictions on Syrian citizens, obstructing relief work and targeting Christians and houses of worship, the picture became clear. These are not rebels but terrorists.

Currently there are three groups fighting in Syria. There is al-Qaeda, represented by extremist organizations that have nothing to do with the Syrian revolution and that are exploiting chaos and the security vacuum. There are the rebels from among the Syrian people, like the Free Syrian Army, and they are fighting for the sake of freedom and for the sake of toppling the fascist Syrian regime. And finally, there is the Syrian regime with its forces and security apparatuses aided by militias from Hezbollah, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and the Iraqi regime.

Hopefully the rest of interested observers of Syria will join in and denounce ISIS and al-Nusra Front and call for the confronting it in order not to allow Assad realize his wish to destroy Syria and push it to a state of civil war and save his regime from collapse.

This article was first published in al-Sharq al-Awsat on Nov. 6, 2013.


Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

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