Syria crisis: US air strikes driving Syrian rebels and civilians into arms of Isis

Free Syria Army soldiers, as well as ordinary civilians caught in the crossfire of the civil war, are attracting to Isis after US bombing campaigns

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The Independent Online

US air strikes are pushing Syrian fighters and civilians into the arms the extremist Islamic organisation Isis.

In a series of interviews fighters from Free Syria Army (FSA) and other Islamic military groups told the Guardian they were forging alliances with Isis, which calls itself the Islamic State.

Although some units appear to have defected, others claim to be forming tactical alliances or truces with the extremist group. There were also claims that civilians, hundreds of thousands of whom have been killed in Syria’s bloody civil war, were seeking Isis rule out of desire for safety - and resentment against the US's bombing campaign.

FSA Fighter Assam Murad, part of a 600-strong FSA al-Ribat brigade near Homs, said there was “no way” his force would fight Isis after the US campaign. Three months ago they turned down food and advanced weaponry from the US-backed Hazem group offered to fight against Isis.

“This [US-led] military coalition is not against Isis, it is against entire Islam,” he explained.

In north-west Syria, around the town of Idlib, the Jaish al-Mujahideen army, al-Sham brigade, Ahrar al-Sham brigade and al-Nusra Front were all in conflict against Isis earlier this year: now they are calling for an alliance.

Outside Idlib FSA brigade commander Abu Zeid – who defected from Bashir Assad’s army – explained the reason behind the switch in alliances - or maybe just in outlook.

“All the locals here wonder why the US coalition never came to rescue them from Assad’s machine guns, but run to fight Isis when it took a few pieces of land. We were in a robust fight against Isis for confiscating our liberated areas, but now, if we are not in an alliance, we are in a truce with them.”

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A man runs at a site hit by an airstrike in Aleppo

The movement towards Isis appears to be motivated by initial US apathy towards the Syrian conflict, combined with their current policy of air strikes, according to these interviews which were conducted via telephone and Skype.

Over the phone, FSA fighter Omar Waleed, who is currently north of Damascus in Hama, said: “I’m really scared that eventually most of the people will join Isis out of their disappointment with the US administration. Just have a look on social media websites, and you can see lots of people and leaders are turning to the side of Isis.

“We did not get any weapons from the US to fight the regime for the last three years. Only now US weapons arrived for fighting Isis.”

 

Fadhil Ali, a restaurant worker in Ghouta, also near Damacus, claimed: “We can’t wait for the day we have Isis in Ghouta.”

Abu Talha, a former FSA fighter who defected to Isis a few months ago nd now negotiates with other dissident groups, said: “Isis is like a magnet that attracts large numbers of Muslims”.

Talha broke away from the FSA after growing disillusioned and encouraged his followers to join him: “I told my fighters: ‘I’m going to join Isis, you are free to follow me or choose your own way’,” he said.

“All those who were cursing and attacking us for joining Isis came to pledge their loyalty to Isis. A couple were FSA commanders, others were members of Islamic brigades. Even ordinary people now demand to be governed by Isis,” he added, claiming that the group had opened 57 free public restaurants in Raqqa with residents seeing a free-fall in crime after the implementation of Sharia law.

The former FSA member also claimed that so many fighters were clamouring to join Isis that the force did not have enough weapons. “Jihadis in Algeria, Morocco and Yemen are declaring their allegiance to Isis. Soon we will be in Gaza and then in Iran.”

“There are senior leaders of al-Nusra Front who are waiting for the zero hour to unite with us. They are more conscious now of the great risks that lie behind the new US crusade against Muslims and jihadis,” he said.

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