The sad part is McRINO and his allies in Congress know how prevalent jihadist factions have become among the rebels and yet they still call for direct arms shipments.
ALEPPO, Syria — A shadowy jihadist organization that first surfaced on the Internet to assert responsibility for suicide bombings in Aleppo and Damascus has stepped out of the shadows and onto the front lines of the war for Syria’s cities.
Here in Aleppo, the al-Nusra Front for the Protection of the People of the Levant, widely known as the Jabhat al-Nusra, is fielding scores of fighters, some of them foreigners, in the battle for control of Syria’s commercial capital, a key prize in the bitter war of attrition being waged across the country.
The group, suspected of affiliations to al-Qaeda, says it is also fighting in other locations, including the cities of Homs and Idlib and the suburbs of the capital, Damascus. Its growing role has prompted concerns that the 17-month-old uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime is becoming radicalized as the bloodshed soars.
On a recent morning, three jihadist fighters chambered rounds into their AK-47 rifles as their bearded driver sped through Aleppo’s streets in a bullet-ridden white van.
“If shooting starts, put your head down,” one of the jihadists said as the van headed toward the flashpoint Salahuddin neighborhood, blending in with the battle-scarred vehicles of other fighters hurtling through the streets.
In an interview at the mosque that serves as his headquarters in the Shaar neighborhood of Aleppo, Jabhat al-Nusra commander Abu Ibrahim said he has 300 men under his control. About 50 of his fighters were seen milling around the mosque, many wearing the baggy, calf-length pants and long beards associated with devout Islamists. Others were inside.
Jabhat al-Nusra is the only Syrian rebel group that posts on a Web forum that is used by al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri and known affiliates of the terrorist network. This suggests a link, at least through its media department, to the main al-Qaeda organization, a connection that endows Jabhat al-Nusra with a credibility among jihadists that other groups lack, said Aaron Y. Zelin, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
“This is the premier jihadi organization in Syria right now,” Zelin said.
Abu Ibrahim said his fighters are part of Liwa al-Tawhid, or the Unity Brigade, a newly formed battalion of rebel groups fighting in and around Aleppo. “We are together,” he said. “There is good coordination.” And although many in the Free Syrian Army say they reject the ideology of Islamist extremism, the fighters of Jabhat al-Nusra are regarded “as heroes” in Aleppo, said Abu Feras, a spokesman for the Aleppo Revolutionary Council. “They fight without fear or hesitation,” he said.