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
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
News
Lois Pryce... Life Without a Postcode. Lois lives on a boat with her husband.. Registering to vote in the election has prooved to be very difficult without a fixed residential post code. (David Sandison)
newsHow living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
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

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing