BEIRUT: The Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, intends to establish an Islamic “emirate” in the country but is holding off for now, according to statements that emerged over the weekend.
An undated audio recording purported to be by the group’s leader Abu Mohammad al-Golani was circulated Saturday, accompanied by doubts about the tape’s authenticity. Nusra’s media arm issued a “clarification” the following day, however, backing most of the main points raised by Golani during his address to a gathering of Nusra fighters.
In the 12-minute audio tape, Golani says “the time has come to establish an Islamic emirate” in Syria, generating cheers of support from his listeners.
He mentions, as part of the effort, the imminent establishment of Shariah courts and says defiantly that neither ISIS, the powerful Al-Qaeda splinter group, nor other armed political factions will be allowed to “reap the fruits” of three years of conflict.
It restated Nusra’s aim to establish Islamic rule, but stresses that the emirate “has not yet been declared.”
In the recording, Golani comments that the promised formation of Shariah courts will take place within seven to 10 days. Throughout most of the uprising, Nusra has cooperated with a range of Islamist and nationalist rebel groups in administering Shariah committees for civilian affairs in rebel-held areas, generally refraining from acting alone.
The clarification also states that the emirate will be announced upon securing the “agreement” of Islamist fighters and religious scholars, without going into detail about whether these are outside the ranks of Nusra.
An Aleppo-based anti-regime activist said the recording and the clarification represented a bid to “take the pulse” of both rebel groups and the general public, in the wake of last month’s declaration by ISIS – the arch-enemy of Nusra and many rebel groups – of a caliphate in area controlled in Syria and Iraq.
“There are people who think Nusra is going to follow in the steps of ISIS, and people who are against each group declaring its own ‘emirate,’ while the nationalists are against any reference to an Islamic state,” the activist said.
He said Golani is believed to be moving with relative freedom between Aleppo and Idlib provinces.
Nusra and other opponents of ISIS have had only intermittent success against the group since the beginning of the year, when began a campaign against it. ISIS militants were pressing ahead with a concerted offensive against the Kurdish YPG militia in northern Aleppo province Sunday, to link the area to the other territory the group holds along the Euphrates River.