National Security

Al-Qaida Returns To Prominence In Syria As ISIS Continues To Be Beaten Back

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Russ Read Pentagon/Foreign Policy Reporter
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While the Islamic State continues to lose significant amounts of territory and manpower, al-Qaida’s branch in Syria is returning to prominence with increased suicide attacks.

Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly known as the Nusra Front, claimed responsibility for twin bombings Sunday near a Shiite holy shrine in Damascus, which left 40 dead. The deadly attack signifies not only a return to sectarian attacks in the Middle East, but also the resurgence of al-Qaida as a whole.

JFS has steadily increased its power since ISIS began to be beaten back in Syria and Iraq. The group re-branded to its current name in August, shortly before leading a major counter offensive to break the Syrian government’s siege on Aleppo. The short-lived victory was not only the group’s most notable victory, it also helped garner support from the Syrian public.

“The victory improves the Syrian public’s perception of the Islamist groups, even Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formally the al-Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front, while hurting their perception of United States because it did not intervene,” wrote Saleem al-Omar, a veteran Middle East journalist, in a post for the Atlantic Council in August.

JFS engaged in a similar attack in February, when it attacked two Syrian government security posts in Homs with suicide bombs, killing 50.

The fall of Aleppo in December, one of the primary battlegrounds in the Syrian civil war, represented a major turning point for the terrorist group, as the likelihood of a conventional victory over the Assad regime is now highly unlikely. JFS’s guerrilla tactics and suicide bombings are much more conducive to an insurgency-style fight, meaning the Syrian rebels will lose primacy in the struggle.

Indeed, there is already some evidence that some rebels have already joined forces with JFS. Syrian rebel groups reportedly fought side-by-side with JFS in August while trying to break the siege on Aleppo.

JFS may  be ready for a prolonged insurgency, as it is recruiting and training children to be suicide bombers in future operations, according to report by Syria Deeply. Suicide bombings are also effective, cheap, and are good for publicity in the terrorist community.

ISIS overshadowed al-Qaida over the last four years with aggressive tactics, gruesome propaganda videos and effective recruitment. Al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri went as far as to condemn the group’s actions, citing their wanton brutality. Though ISIS leadership ignored Zawahiri, al-Qaida’s patience may pay off as ISIS continues to be overwhelmed by the U.S.-backed Operation Inherent Resolve coalition.

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