That means their jihad won’t end with Syria. “Rival al-Qaeda-linked groups fortifying in Syria with mix of pragmatism and militancy,” by Loveday Morris, Joby Warrick and Souad Mekhennet in the Washington Post, October 13 (thanks to Jacob):
GAZIANTEP, Turkey “” Shortly before its operatives killed 14 Iraqi Shiite children in a school bombing this month, the group once known as al-Qaeda in Iraq sent guerrillas into northern Syrian villages with orders to reopen local Sunni classrooms. In a series of early fall visits, the militants handed out religious textbooks along with backpacks bearing the group’s new name: the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
A four-hour drive to the east, a rival al-Qaeda faction called ÂJabhat al-Nusra was busy setting up a jobs program in Ash-
Shaddadi, a desert town it has held since February. The Islamists restarted production at an oil field that had been idled by fighting, and they fired up the town’s natural gas plant, now a source of income for Ash-Shaddadi and its new rulers.
The two rebel groups, with their distinct lineages to the terrorist network founded by Osama bin Laden, have become the focus of Western fears that jihadist influences within Syria’s rebel movement are rising. Two and a half years after the conflict in the country started, Islamists are carving out fiefdoms and showing signs of digging in.
“We all have the same aqidah [Islamic creed] as al-Nusra or the Islamic State,” said a 23-year-old Jordanian Palestinian who gave his name as Abu Abdallah in an interview in Jordan and who fights for a rebel brigade allied with the Islamists. “The aim is to free the Muslim lands and have the Islamic flag there.”
The prominence of the two groups “” as fighters, as recruiters and, more recently, as local administrators “” appears to have accelerated even as the Obama administration seeks to bolster moderate and secularist Syrian rebels with new weapons and training. Multiple independent studies, as well as assessments by Western and Middle Eastern intelligence officials, show the hard-line Islamists surging ahead by almost every measure, undermining Western efforts to find a democratic alternative to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The al-Qaeda affiliates have clashed with other rebel groups, and, occasionally, with each other, and their use of foreign fighters and attempts to impose an ultraconservative ideology have alienated some Syrians accustomed to secular rule….
A 22-year-old Syrian fighter who identified himself as Abu Bahri said in an interview here that about 100 people from his home town of Azaz joined ISIS after becoming frustrated with the inefficiency of the more moderate Northern Storm brigade, which was in charge of the town. And the failure of the West to end the bloodshed has strengthened the message of extremists. “I support them because they hate the U.S., they hate the West, which has cheated us,” said Mohammed Saeed, a humanitarian aid worker from Palmyra now based in the Turkish border town of Reyhanli….