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Senior Al Qaeda-Linked Group Commander Killed in Syria – But Will That Slow the Struggle for Sharia?

“…they just want to build an Islamic state.”

Syrian rebels hunt for snipers near Aleppo last year (File photo: Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images)

Abu-Abdallah al-Libi, a local leader of the Al Qaeda affiliate the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant was killed Sunday in Syria during clashes with rival rebel groups, according to news reports quoting the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Al Arabiya characterized al-Libi as a “top commander” of the group, which is also referred to as “The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).”

The clashes, which killed another 12 jihadi militants, occurred in the Idlib province in northwest Syria, French news agency Agence France-Presse reported.

Syrian rebels hunt for snipers near Aleppo last year. (Getty Images/Bulent Kilic)

While the opposition Free Syrian Army denied responsibility, al-Libi’s killing comes amid increased reports of rebel groups attacking each other in a struggle over what kind of Syria they are fighting for.

Al Arabiya wrote of ISIS, the Al Qaeda-linked group which spread from Iraq to Syria: “The militant group is posing growing challenges for the armed opposition fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power and aspire to build a democratic civilian system in the country.”

ISIS rebels clashed in recent days with Free Syrian Army troops in Azaz, with the extremist rebels taking control of the town near Syria’s border with Turkey.

“Syrian rebel fighters initially welcomed the arrival of hardened jihadists affiliated with Al-Qaeda, but have turned against the hardline fighters in several places after abuses and disputes over tactics and ideology,” AFP reported.

Al Arabiya reported that worried young activists have started an online campaign called, “ISIS doesn't represent me.”

“They failed against the Americans in Afghanistan, and against the Iranians in Iraq. Now they are here to bully the Syrians, who are fighting a criminal regime,” one activist posted, according to Al Arabiya.

Another activist wrote of his fears about the imposition of Islamic law in Azaz: “Sharia law would only be imposed to allow the killing of people, and we don't want that,” he said.

For months, relations between more secularist rebels and pro-Sharia jihadis have been deteriorating. Deborah Amos of NPR who has traveled to Azaz wrote:

ISIS radicals posted snipers on rooftops, erected checkpoints in Azaz and imposed a curfew on civilians. "They closed cigarette shops and detained people who were smoking on the street," said one activist, in hiding because he feared arrest. The ISIS have also detained hospital staff and closed the courthouse.[…]

The battle in Azaz demonstrates the growing power of the jihadists, as they make a play to control cities and towns across northern Syria. But the crackdown against civilians is a repeat of the tactics employed by al-Qaida in Iraq, tone deaf to a civilian population because they are outsiders.

Free Syrian Army Spokesman Louay Moqdad told Lebanon’s Daily Star, “ISIS is inflicting on the people the same suppression of the Baath party and the Assad regime.”

“They have their own agenda, they lied to us saying that they were coming to help us fight Assad, when they just want to build an Islamic state,” he added.

The Daily Star reported:

Divisions between opposition factions are multiplying in Syria’s north, further complicating an already chaotic battle ground and distracting from what rebel leaders say should be their first priority: fighting the regime of President Bashar Assad.

Competition for territory, resources and influence, as well as ideological differences are contributing to the divisions, which FSA leaders say have reached a critical point.

And within the jihadi groups, there is also infighting. According to the Daily Star, in Hasakeh, ISIS fighters attacked Al Nusra Front rebels, another group that expresses loyalty to Al Qaeda, and seized their regional headquarters in Shehadi which housed weapons and oil production equipment.

TheBlaze is unable to independently confirm the opposition group’s report about al-Libi’s killing.

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