London/Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—Infighting among Islamist opposition groups erupted in the Syrian rebel-held city of Al-Raqqa on Wednesday.
The violence ensued as elements affiliated with Ahfad Al-Rasul Brigade refused to pay homage to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), an Islamist groups that intends to declare Raqqa an Islamic emirate by the end of August, Asharq Al-Awsat has learned.
After two years of fighting, the city of Raqqa, located in the eastern Jazira region of Syria on the banks of the Euphrates, is the only provincial capital currently in rebel hands.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights announced that elements linked to ISIS seized the Ahfad Al-Rasul Brigade’s headquarters in Raqqa after a suicide car bomb went off near the building, causing dozens of casualties. The SOHR added that at least “18 elements from Ahfad Al-Rasul were executed after their headquarters were stormed.”
An opposition activist from Raqqa, Ibrahim Msallam, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the dispute between the two Islamist groups began as ISIS demanded that all rebels pay homage to its leader, as the group intends to declare Raqqa an Islamic emirate by the end of the month.
Meanwhile, There are conflicting accounts of the fate of the Italian Jesuit priest Paolo Dall’Oglio, who went missing in the city of Raqqa last month. While many activists opposed to embattled president Bashar Al-Assad based in the city confirmed reports of his death at the hands of the radical Islamist ISIS, Rami Abdulrahaman from the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights told Asharq Al-Awsat that “he cannot confirm Dall’Oglio’s death at the same time he cannot conceal the news” especially after he received it from a source he said it was “trusted.”
The Italian priest, who was known for his support of the Syrian uprising, was reported kidnapped in Raqqa two weeks ago after he headed to the city in a bid to achieve reconciliation between several Islamist groups and Kurdish militants.
Opposition activists accuse ISIS of abducting the priest, who was reportedly on his way to meet ISIS’s leader two weeks ago when he went missing.
For his part, Msallam dismissed reports of the priest’s death, saying that “this is not the first time such news has spread.” He also accused the ISIS of kidnapping the priest for ransom.
Free Syrian Army spokesman Luai Mekdad told Asharq Al-Awsat that “since Father Paolo was declared missing, the FSA military council has exerted efforts to know his fate.”
“Local efforts from Raqqa to mediate with the kidnappers over the fate of Father Paolo have not come to fruition yet,” he said, adding, “If news of his death were true, this would be considered as a service to the Syrian regime.”
Elsewhere, the Syrian government denied reports that Bashar Al-Assad’s residence in the upscale Al-Maliki district in the Syrian capital, Damascus, was targeted on Wednesday.
The Syrian presidency’s official Facebook page announced that “news of Assad’s residence in Damascus being targeted is completely false.”
The presidency’s statement came after opposition activists claimed that rebels attacked Assad’s house, as well as the embassies of Iran and China in Damascus, on Thursday.