Syrian rebels consider joining forces with regime troops to fight al-Qa’ida

Alliances are shifting after West warns war-torn country poses greatest terror threat

The spectre is looming of a second Syrian civil war with the head of the opposition’s official forces declaring that he is prepared to join regime troops in the future to drive out al-Qa’ida-linked extremists who have taken over swathes of rebel-held territories.

General Salim Idris, the commander of the Free Syrian Army warned that in particular Isis (Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham), with thousands of foreign fighters in its ranks, was “very dangerous for the future of Syria” and needs to be confronted before it becomes even more powerful.

Western security agencies now believe that Syria poses the most potent threat of terrorism in Europe and the US from where hundreds of Muslims have gone to join the jihad. MI5 and Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorist branch recently tackled the first case of men sent from there specifically to carry out attacks in London.

One senior Western intelligence official stressed that the Syrian regime’s forces must be preserved for the battles ahead against the Islamists and the need to avoid the mistakes made in Iraq and Libya, where the army and police were disbanded with the fall of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi, allowing terrorist groups to rise in a security vacuum.

The official held that talks between the regime and rebels set to take place in Geneva in January could be the beginning of the formation of an anti-al-Qa’ida front in Syria, along with a negotiated settlement to end the conflict which has claimed more than 117,000 lives so far and made millions refugees inside and outside the country.

Speaking in Istanbul, General Idris, a former officer in the regime’s army, said he and his associates were dropping the precondition that Bashar al-Assad must leave power before the Geneva meeting takes place. Instead they would be satisfied if his departure were to take place “at the end of the negotiation process” when General Idris will join forces with the remainder of the regime to mount an offensive against the Islamists.

However, the opposition would like to see evidence of good faith from the regime, which would include allowing supplies to get through to communities trapped by the fighting.

General Idris complained his men were having to fight a war on two fronts: they have, he claimed, fought al-Qa’ida at 24 different locations in the last six months while at the same time facing poundings from President Assad’s warplanes and artillery.

What is left of the moderate opposition forces are bitterly critical of Western powers, including Britain, for encouraging people to rise up against the regime, but then doing little to help. Meanwhile, Isis and another Islamist group, Jabhat al-Nusra, have grown in numbers and influence due to money and arms from Qatar, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.

There was particular disillusionment when no military action was taken by the West despite the crossing of Barack Obama’s “red line” with use of chemical weapons in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta by the regime in August. Moderate groups complained this was followed by some of their younger members defecting to the jihadists.

Fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra prepare barricades in eastern Syria (Reuters) Fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra prepare barricades in eastern Syria (Reuters)
The jihadists have been occupying areas in the provinces of Aleppo and Idlib with moderate fighters being killed or forced to flee. Senior officers in the FSA have been among the casualties, one of the most high profile Kamal Hamami, a commander who was shot dead when he travelled to Latakia, an enclave of the Alawite community from which President Assad is drawn, to try and avert a sectarian massacre by the besieging Sunni Islamists.

The FSA has now produced an intelligence dossier charting the rise of the jihadists with Isis “seeking complete domination in liberated areas”. The document estimates that Isis alone now has 5,500 foreign fighters, who “form its main backbone in sensitive operations” as well as 2,000 indoctrinated Syrians from the northern part of the country. In addition there are 15,000 others who provide support to the group.

The foreign fighters are recruited by a network headed by Abu Ahmad al-Iraqi who, as the name suggests, had served in Iraq. The “most dangerous and barbaric” of these are 250 Chechens based in Aleppo under Abu Omar al-Chechen. Once they reach Syria the foreign volunteers are “fitted with explosive vests and threaten all who dare to confront them”, says the report.

“Isis employs the policy of kidnapping in the areas in which it is deployed,” the dossier continues, pointing out its prisons now hold more than 35 foreign journalists as well as 60 political activists, and more than 100 FSA members. It has set up ambush points in the routes from the Turkish border for abductions.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashion
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all