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4 battalions from Qatar-backed Islamist brigade defect to wage 'armed jihadist struggle'

Four battalions from the Ahfad al Rasoul Brigade, a large rebel group in Syria that is funded by the Qatari government, defected and vowed to continue to fight the "armed jihadist struggle." Meanwhile a senior leader of the Ahfad al Rasoul Brigade recently defected and joined the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham, one of two official al Qaeda branches operating in Syria.

The four rebel battalions "issued a statement declaring their dissent from the Ahfad al Rasoul brigade in northern Syria and their complete political and military independence," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Dec. 3. The battalions were identified as the "al-Ansar, al-Naser al-Qadem, al-Naser ,and al-Muntaser Billah."

The battalions cited "the unfamiliarity of the brigade's leaders" as the reason for breaking ranks with the Ahfad al Rasoul Brigade. They also "assured that they will proceed with their 'armed Jihadist struggle' and cooperate with all forces on the ground to uphold god's oneness and fight the criminal regime."

The defections of the four battalions took place after Saddam al Jamal, a senior leader, left the Ahfad al Rasoul Brigade and joined the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham. Jamal formerly led Ahfad al Rasoul's Allah Akbar Battalion, and served as the Free Syrian Army's Eastern Front representative to the Supreme Military Council. The SMC is led by Salim Idriss and is backed by the United States.

Al Jamal recently released a videotape that "speaks about the relationship between his brigade and Western and Arab intelligence services," according to the SITE Intelligence Group. "In the video, al Jamal 'confesses' that Arab and Western intelligence were heavily involved in funding and directing brigades affiliated with the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian Military Council." Al Jamal claimed that Saudi Arabia, and not Qatar, is now the primary backer of the Ahfad al Rasoul Brigade.

Despite the Ahfad al Rasoul Brigade's cooperation with the SMC and the FSA, the group has fought alongside al Qaeda against its enemies in the past. In July, the Ahfad al Rasoul Brigade banded together with al Qaeda's other branch in Syria, the Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, as well as the Islamic Kurdish Front and the Ahrar al Sham, a known Syrian Islamist group that is sympathetic to al Qaeda and has fought alongside them in the past, to fight Kurdish rebels in northern Syria.

The Free Syrian Army and the Syrian Military Council have become significantly weaker, as units are breaking away and joining Islamist coalitions that share the same goals with and fight alongside al Qaeda. In mid-November, seven large Islamist brigades (Ahrar al-Sham, Jaysh al-Islam, Suqour al-Sham, Liwa al-Tawhid, Liwa al-Haqq, Ansar al-Sham, and the Kurdish Islamic Front) with an estimated 45,000 fighters broke from the Free Syrian Army and formed the Islamic Front. The group declared that its primary aim is to "topple the Assad regime ... and build an Islamic state," with sharia, or Islamic law, as the basis of governance.

[Source: By Bill Roggio, The Long War Journal, NJ, 05Dec13]

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