Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—While the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) continues to hold onto territory it has secured in Iraq’s western Anbar province, the group has suffered a number of setbacks in its original base in Syria.
An alliance of secular and moderate Islamist Syrian rebels seized ISIS’s headquarters in the disputed city of Aleppo, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Wednesday. The Observatory said that the rebels had found dozens of prisoners at the base, in addition to the bodies of several men who appeared to have been executed, adding that fighting between ISIS and other Syrian rebels was ongoing.
Opposition fighters also stormed the town of Al-Dana, an ISIS stronghold in Idlib, while fighting continued between ISIS and Syrian rebels in a number of Aleppo towns on Thursday.
In an audio recording posted online, ISIS spokesman Abu Mohammed Al-Adnani pledged to “crush” the group’s opponents among Syria’s anti-Assad rebellion, part of the latest round of inter-rebel violence. Adnani described members of the West-backed Syrian National Coalition as “legitimate targets” for ISIS.
“The Syrian National Coalition, the Syrian National Council and the Supreme Military Council are infidels, and anyone belonging to these groups is a legitimate target . . . unless they publicly announce their disavowal of those groups and their fight against the Mujahideen,” he added.
Adnani also announced that ISIS is offering a reward “to anyone who beheads one of [the opposition] leaders,” urging Al-Qaeda fighters to “kill them wherever they find them.”
ISIS’s reversal of fortunes in Syria comes following the outbreak of fierce clashes between the Al-Qaeda-backed group and more moderate Syrian Islamist rebel groups, including the Islamic Front coalition and the Jaysh Al-Mujahideen. The Islamic Front, a relatively new coalition of seven major Islamist rebel groups fighting in Syria, does not include any Al-Qaeda-linked groups. While the Islamic Front had previously clashed with the Free Syrian Army (FSA), it has lately increased its campaign against ISIS in an attempt to take advantage of the group appearing to overextend itself following a foray into neighboring Iraq.
Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat, anti-government activist from Aleppo Abu Firas Al-Halabai confirmed that “rebels have managed to retake control of large swathes of Aleppo [from ISIS], releasing dozens of prisoners detained at ISIS’s headquarters.”
“Confrontations are mainly taking place in [Aleppo’s] Al-Inzarat, Hanano, Al-Haidarieh and Al-Dana districts,” Halabi said, adding that “ISIS fighters have resorted to carrying out intensive suicide operations against fighters from the FSA and Islamic Front battalions.”
According to Halabi, retaliatory bombings by ISIS have “intensified over the past two days, claiming the lives of several FSA fighters, particularly near Al-Tawheed checkpoint in Al-Shaar district and around the city in Hureitan and Tal Rifaat.”
Anti-ISIS activists released videos showing dozens of corpses reportedly uncovered at the ISIS headquarters, the result of what was described as a massacre carried out by the Al-Qaeda-linked group before its flight from Aleppo.
The Syrian opposition is more fragmented today than ever before, with the ongoing situation in Aleppo serving as a perfect example of the complex alliances and agreements among Syria’s rebels. The Al-Nusra Front, also a branch of Al-Qaeda operating in Syria, has fought alongside the FSA in Aleppo, despite previous clashes between the two groups and the Al-Nusra Front’s shared ideology with ISIS.
The Al-Nusra Front has lately called for a “ceasefire” between ISIS and its opponents, affirming that rebel infighting only serves to strengthen the embattled Assad regime. Al-Nusra Front leader Abu Mohammad Al-Golani said that Syria’s rebels should concentrate their efforts against Bashar Al-Assad.