While the civil war in Syria continues to rage, nearly 2 years into the bloody conflict an al-Qaeda linked Syrian rebel group seems to be gaining some popular support. The ravages of war suffered by the civilians in the embattled country have elevated the profile of Jabhat al-Nusra after the disparate rebel groups took so long to unify.
Jabhat al-Nusra is believed to be the Iraqi branch of al-Qaeda. The United States recently designated them a terrorist group in a bid to cut off their funding. The group is thought to have 7,000 fighters in Syria and analysts believe many of them are foreigner jihadis veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.
The Sunni jihadist group is open about their desire to turn Syria into an Islamist state based on Sharia law after they oust President Bashar al-Assad, saying all other codes make people unhappy. And they have embraced using suicide attacks, as they demonstrated to terrible effect in Aleppo where a blast killed 48 people and injured 122.
Jabhat al-Nusra also recently declared Jihad on Hezbollah, the Lebanese based Shia Islamist group, which the UN confirmed has fighters in Syria aiding President Assad. Within the same report the UN also confirmed that Iran had lent fighters to the regime to attempt to hold off the Syrian rebels who continue to gain ground against Assad’s military.
With the Al-Nusra Front openly declaring holy war on their Shia enemies, the fears over the growing sectarian nature of the conflict seem to be correct, with a recent UN report confirming such concerns.
Indeed Jabhat al-Nusra is the group most point to when explaining the religious cleansing that took place in Homs earlier this year, when some 50,000 Christians were forced to flee their homes. With such incidents at the hands of those opposed to the president, it is little wonder many Christians side with the Alawite leader who allowed them to live in Syria in peace.
Although with President Assad’s downfall looking increasingly probable, Christians and Jews face questions over their security as a senior Jabhat al-Nusra leader vowed they would turn their attention to Israel once they finish in Syria.