BEIRUT: An alliance of seven Islamist rebel militias has accused the hard-line jihadists from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) of being “worse than the Assad regime,” after the latest outrage against a fellow jihadist.
ISIS militants were blamed this week for the kidnapping and killing of Hussein al-Suleiman, a physician who was also a commander in the Ahrar al-Sham militia.
Ahrar al-Sham is one of the country’s biggest rebel groups, and is a member of the Islamic Front alliance along with six other militias, most of which enjoy a nationwide presence.
A gruesome photograph of Suleiman’s disfigured body has circulated widely on social media.
The Front said that Suleiman was arrested after he went to meet with an ISIS delegation in order to settle a dispute that arose in the village of Maskaneh in rural Aleppo.
In a statement Wednesday, the Front demanded that ISIS hand over those responsible for Suleiman’s killing, while pointing to the blanket refusal by ISIS militants to cooperate with the Shariah Committees that have been established in rebel-held areas to handle local disputes.
“They kidnapped him and tortured him, and then killed him and disfigured his corpse, in a way unknown to the Syrian people prior to the revolution, even when it came to the branches of the criminal Assad regime’s security bodies,” the statement said.
“We hereby warn that if ISIS continues with its methodical avoidance of refraining from ... resorting to an independent judicial body, and its stalling and ignoring in settling its injustices against others, the revolution and the jihad will head for the quagmire of internal fighting, in which the Syrian revolution will be the first loser,” it added.
While the various factions of Islamists in Syria’s war are often lumped together in the minds of some people, the Front used the word “thawra,” which can mean revolution or revolt – the term is anathema to ISIS and the Nusra Front, both affiliates of Al-Qaeda, who denounce any struggle other than “jihad.”
Observers believe that the Islamic Front, which was formed in November, is trying to position itself as the most powerful rebel force on the ground.
However, its various groups have become embroiled in a series of disputes and clashes with both mainstream rebels from the Free Syrian Army as well as the ultra-extremists of ISIS and the Nusra Front.
One of the leading figures in the Islamic Front, Hassan al-Abboud of Ahrar al-Sham, tweeted about the recent infighting between the Islamists, but refrained from making harsh accusations against ISIS.
Some observers believe that the Ahrar al-Sham movement, one of the most powerful in the country, is for now seeking to avoid an all-out clash with ISIS even though other members of the Islamic Front favor such a move.
The mainstream opposition-in-exile, the National Coalition, also strongly condemned the crime and accused ISIS of being in league with the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
“The coalition believes that ISIS is closely linked to the terrorist regime and serves the interests of the clique of President Bashar Assad, directly or indirectly,” it said in a statement Wednesday.
“The murder of Syrians by this group leaves no doubt about the intentions behind their creation, their objectives and the agendas they serve, which is confirmed by the nature of their terrorist actions hostile to the Syrian revolution,” the statement added.
It called on rebels who had joined ISIS to abandon the group and for the “prosecution of the leaders of this terrorist organization along with the criminals of the regime.”
The statement said that Suleiman was shot to death after being subjected to “the worst forms of torture,” while according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, one of Suleiman’s ears was cut off before he was killed.
The Observatory said his body was handed over to representatives of the Islamic Front Tuesday, as part of a prisoner exchange.
The incident is merely the latest in a series of widely condemned actions by ISIS, which is believed to count a large number of non-Syrians within its ranks.
Some observers have focused on the growing clout of ISIS, as well as the notion that the Al-Qaeda-inspired group supposedly “learned its lessons” from years past in Iraq, where it had engaged in terrorizing civilian populations.
But in many areas, the group has been accused of engaging in systematic arrest campaigns of civilian activists, as well as clashing with rebel groups that are either mainstream or Islamist.
In November, a wounded commander from Ahrar al-Sham was murdered by ISIS militants, who reportedly heard him muttering prayers to figures venerated by Shiites while recovering under anesthesia in a hospital.
In the village of Sarmada in Idlib province, pro-opposition media outlets said that ISIS militants clashed Wednesday with fighters from the Islamic Front, reportedly over control of a checkpoint.
And ISIS has also angered Idlib’s famous small town of Kafranbel, where supporters of the uprising have regularly churned out posters and banners promoting the struggle against the regime as well.
After militants from ISIS attacked several media facilities there last week and briefly detained six people, they followed it up this week with a brief kidnapping of an activist.
An activist from the town said that due to “security reasons,” the town won’t take part in the nationwide Friday protests, which have been called for to denounce the “treacherous” killing of Ahrar al-Sham’s doctor-fighter, referring to him by his nickname Abu Rayyan.
Also last week, ISIS was obliged to release an FSA commander it had captured and held hostage – it came after hundreds of people demonstrated in the Idlib town of Maaret al-Numan against ISIS, demanding that that the group set free all of those it has seized.