0

Comments

Facebook

Twitter

Google

send


Myra Abdallah

Why did Nusra Front attack the FSA’s Division 13?

Nusra Front, angered by people’s support for the Free Syrian Army, attacked Division 13 bases in Idlib's Maarat al-Numaan

Maarat al-Numaan civilians took to the street protesting Nusra Front’s behavior, attacked the the militant group’s positions and freed arrested people. (beirutpress.net)

Last Sunday, Nusra Front took over Maarat al-Numaan in Syria where Division 13 of the Free Syrian Army was based, killing seven fighters, injuring 20 others and imprisoning tens of the division’s members. Division 13 is a Syrian rebel group affiliated with the Free Syrian Army that is reportedly funded by sources within Saudi Arabia and was the first rebel group to receive US-made anti-tank missiles. Nusra Front’s attack was fast, sudden and coincided with attacks on other areas in Syria also controlled by Division 13. Ever since the inter-rebel conflict began in Syria, more specifically during the fight against the Islamic State, the Free Syrian Army and Nusra Front were rarely on opposing sides. However, Nusra Front choose to attack Division 13 during a ceasefire in Syria brokered by the United States and Russia.

 

“The attack started on Saturday night,” a high-ranking official at Division 13 told NOW. “Nusra Front installed checkpoints at all the town’s entrances around 6:00 p.m. and started arresting people without any reason. They arrested around 30 people and then published a false statement claiming that Division 13 was assaulting Nusra’s members. Almost 3,000 fighters from Nusra Front and Jund al-Aqsa attacked Maarat al-Numaan’s base and two other Division 13 bases and managed to take over them. Division 13 was able to resist the attack till 3:00 a.m. when it decided to surrender. We laid down our arms upon requests from civilians, who did not want a big battle to occur in the town.”

 

Experts whom NOW spoke to said that, despite the popularity of Division 13 fighters among civilians, there was always a competition between Nusra Front and Division 13 in Maarat al-Numaan for the support of the populace. “Before the latest attack, Nusra Front was popular because it was a strong rebel group fighting and launching battles,” said Syrian activist Manhal Bareesh. “However, they recently changed their strategy and started trying to control civilians. This created a confrontation between them and civilian residents of the town, especially since Division 13 has a very good reputation and a large number of supporters in Maarat al-Numaan because of their good treatment of people and the services they offer. Attacking Division 13 was seen as an attack against people’s interests.”

 

In fact, it is not the first time Nusra Front, in coordination with Jund al-Aqsa, attack a Free Syrian Army group. The group previously attacked the Syrian Revolutionaries Front in 2014 and Haraket Hazm in 2015. Yet, the most shocking element of the attack was the timing, during the first major ceasefire in five years of war in the country.

 

“Ever since the Zabadani battle, Nusra Front has been trying to control the Governorate of Idlib and transform it into an ISIS-like Emirate,” said analyst Fidaa Itani. “Although Nusra tried to make use of the Zabadani battle for propaganda purposes, many people expressed their support to Madaya and raised the Syrian revolution’s flag.” According to Itani, Nusra Front does not recognize the Free Syrian Army and does not fight under any flag that is not a religious one. Therefore, Nusra refused to see the flag of the revolution being raised in areas under their control. “When the ceasefire took effect, a lot of protests took place. Nusra Front tried to stop these protests and forbid any flag to be raised that does not have ‘La Ilah illa Allah’ on it. Consequently, a conflict happened in Maarat al-Numaan and Nusra Front attacked the town, especially Ahmad al-Saoud’s division.”

 

Yesterday, Syrian activists reported the liberation of arrested civilians and Division 13 fighters. Maarat al-Numaan civilians who earlier took to the street protesting Nusra Front’s behavior later attacked the militant group’s positions and freed arrested people. Later the same day, Nusra Front claimed that all arrested people had been liberated. “This is a false statement too,” said a Division 13 official. “Civilians were able to free a number of arrested people but Nusra Front still holds 15 fighters from Division 13. I don’t think that there will be more battles but there will definitely be more protests supporting the Free Syian Army.” Analysts whom NOW spoke to confirmed that the main reason behind Nusra Front’s attack was the numerous protests that showed support for the Free Syrian Army and the popular revolution since the beginning of the ceasefire.

 

“[Nusra] did not want to see the revolution’s flag being raised again and the revolution being revived. The attack was an attempt to control and silence people. However, the people did not get scared. After the revolution, people are not ready to go back to an era of suppression, especially those who stayed in Syria,” Itani told NOW.

 

Myra Abdallah tweets @myraabdallah

Maarat al-Numaan civilians took to the street protesting Nusra Front’s behavior, attacked the the militant group’s positions and freed arrested people. (beirutpress.net)

'The attack started on Saturday night,' a high-ranked official at Division 13 told NOW. 'Nusra Front installed checkpoints at all the town’s entrances at around 6:00 p.m. and started arresting people without any reason.'