The rise of Syria’s ‘third army’, Jabhat al-Nusra
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A third force has emerged in Syria's civil war in the form of Jabhat al-Nusra, Islamist militants who have claimed responsibility for some of the conflict's most deadly bomb attacks. US officials on Monday labelled the group a terrorist organisation.
Amid Syria’s bloody civil war a third force has emerged to join the fight against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Despite its relatively small numbers – only several hundred fighters compared to the rebels’ tens of thousands and the regime’s hundreds of thousands – Jabhat al-Nusra (“the Support Front”) was officially recognised as a foreign terrorist organisation on Monday by the United States, which believes it is essentially a wing of al Qaeda in Iraq.
Officially, Jabhat al-Nusra militants are independent, loyal only to their goal of establishing a caliphate ruled in accordance with Sharia law. But on the ground they have often teamed up with the Free Syrian Army, according to one of FRANCE 24’s Observers, a local rebel commander.
The group first appeared in January 2012, vowing to fight against the Assad regime. Since then it has claimed responsibility for some of the conflict's most deadly attacks, including bombings in Aleppo, Deraa and Damascus that killed scores.
Describing themselves as “soldiers of God”, Jabhat al-Nusra is made up of mostly foreign militants from Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Central Asia. The radical Islamists say they have carried out 500 attacks since their formation earlier this year, with numerous victories helping to boost their notoriety. Their latest coup – Monday’s capture of the Sheikh Suleiman army base, the last major base west of Aleppo still under the control of Syria’s armed forces – was strategically vital.