June 27, 2014
A unit of al Qaeda's Syria branch has pledged loyalty to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Iraq‘s premier has ruled out a government of national unity in the face of the campaign by the mostly Sunni militants.
In a region of fractured alliances, the merger announced Wednesday could allow the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to control both sides of the border. The well-financed ISIS had seized Abu Qaim on the Iraqi side of the border earlier this week. Albu Kamal sits just opposite it, in Syria.
After months of clashes between ISIS and al Qaeda's al Nusra Front in Syria, Nusra's Albu Kamal branch "pledged loyalty to ISIS," Rami Abdel Rahman, the director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Wednesday. "They are rivals, but both groups are jihadist and extremists," Abdel Rahman added. "This move will create tension now with other rebel groups, including Islamists, in the area."
Although both groups began as offshoots of al Qaeda, they became rivals after ISIS became involved in Syria's civil war in 2013. The central leadership of al Qaeda disowned ISIS and proclaimed the Nusra Front as its official affiliate in Syria.
In its efforts to create an Islamic state straddling both countries, ISIS has captured swathes of Iraq, beginning June 10 with Mosul, the main northern city. ISIS also controls large parts of eastern Syria, where it has clashed with rival rebels groups and occasionally fought alongside them, complicating the three-year-old insurgency against President Bashar al-Assad.
Omar Abu Leyla, a rebel spokesman in Syria's Deir Ezzor province, warned that "Albu Kamal is a red line." If ISIS fighters cross over from Iraq, he said, the opposition "Free Syrian Army will fight them."