Terrorists against

(To Paolo Palumbo)

In a hypothetical political scenario, could a terrorist organization ally with the United States to get rid of a common enemy? It looks like the complicated plot of a novel by the late Tom Clancy, or a feasible prospect if you can't get out of the Syrian quagmire. It is certainly a perverse fantasy, nevertheless the theater of war in Syria has manifested, several times, an aspect that is highly fluctuating where, even within the forces opposed to Assad, unlikely betrayals and unexpected alliances have been consummated.

ISIS, or rather the Islamic State (the al-Baghdadi army hates the acronym used by Westerners), is not an irresistible military power: the well-known political scientist Edward Luttwak, with the typical American presumption, has repeatedly stated that only a brigade of any Western army would be enough to defeat the Sunni black horde. Let us add that the Islamic State itself has not collected - thankfully - the support and consensus of the whole anti-Assad team, (in primis) among the militants of the Free Syria Army (FSA - Free Syrian Army) whose members have repeatedly expressed that they have no intention of subrogating a dictatorial secular regime with another, theocratic and oppressive.

Dissent, perhaps less noticeable, but equally important, was also born within the various Islamist organizations that roam freely between Aleppo and Damascus. Without a doubt, if compared with other Sunni groups, ISIS turns out to be an excellent one parvenu with a rather young curriculum, which owes its fortune above all to his modus operandi and the ability to have created an enviable and terribly efficient propaganda apparatus. Precisely for this reason ISIS has managed to penetrate the hearts of Islamists, of the many who have chosen to sacrifice themselves to its cause anywhere in the world.

In the 2013, the jihadist world has experienced a very important schism, which has seen the much acclaimed Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra, the organization representing al-Qaeda in Syria. Both have common origins and projects, but the two friends / enemies al-Baghdadi and al-Golani, at a certain point, have taken different paths: a choice that could lead to complications and even violent clashes, both doctrinal and military. Why did this divorce take place that split the Sunni world in Syria in two? What has - if he has - Jabhat al-Nusra so different from ISIS fighters?

In the Syrian revolution

The Syrian conflict was born in a very ambiguous manner and with assumptions dissimilar to the pseudo-libertarian movements of the so-called "Arab Spring": the implication of the jihadists was much more incisive and the popular uprisings masterfully orchestrated by dark forces with the direct collaboration of the Mass-media. It is no coincidence, in fact, that in Syria, Ayman al-Zawahiri decided to send out some of his most loyal followers to test the terrain and understand how the organization could benefit from the war. Al-Qaeda was thus able to constitute a sort of "sleeping cell", waiting for the most favorable moment to infiltrate the rebels and accelerate the course of the fight against Assad.

The war, the evident inefficiency of the rebel forces and the excessive fragmentation between the fighting groups formed the backdrop for the official birth of the Jabhat al-Nusra, 23 January 2012 officially emerged. The ideological father of the new group was called Abu-Musaab al-Suri, returned from Afghanistan, then leader of the jihadist school of Damascus and author of The Global Call for Islamic Resistance, guiding text for the latest generation jihadists. His proclamations became law for Abu Mohammad al-Golani (photo opening), Adbulmuhsen Abdullah Ibrahim al-Sarik, Hamid al-Ali and Abu Yusuf al-Turki executors and operational officers of the new Qaedist formation.

At the base of the group was a new concept developed by Abu-Musaab who, deviating from the traditional organization, placed the concept of the "resistance brigade" at the center of his strategy. Jabhat al-Nusra he presented himself from the beginning as a particular team, capable of channeling the sympathies of the various extremist groups active on the Syrian scenario. The "brigade" had the sacred duty to inspire the whole Islamic world to the global resistance against the enemies of Islam, to fight against the regime without any ambition, to found a new Caliphate and to live thanks to the proceeds brought by voluntary donations and the booty of war.

The advent of Jabhat al-Nusra undermined the prestige of the Syrian resistance: the leaders of the liberation army tried to distance themselves from the terrorists, also because they knew that their help would invalidate every possibility of winning the support of the West. For his part, still in the initial stages, the al-Golani leader forbade his fighters to mingle with other Syrian groups, judged incapable, misguided and compromised with the infidels. The evolution of the conflict, the charisma of the brigade leaders and the efficiency demonstrated in battle transformed al-Nusra Front in a winning force from which to draw lessons, and above all let yourself be guided. Behind every victory of the Free Army of Syria or any resistance group, there was the hand of al-Golani's officers who displayed motivation and sufficient training to achieve maximum results, although they had relatively little strength.

The fame of Jabhat al-Nusra it soon spread among the non-combatant population that benefited from the presence of terrorists: a wise application of the Da'wa in fact, it guaranteed food, medical assistance and protection for the weakest. All this at what price?

The overall conduct of the al-Golani network was not absolutely accidental and was part of the teachings disclosed first by Osama bin-Laden and then by the Egyptian doctor Ayman al-Zawahiri. The interpretation of al-Nusra Front on the correct conduct of jihad is, in fact, a central node useful for understanding the subsequent and traumatic division by the Islamic State. Al-Qaeda's approach to the occupied populations was more cautious and respectful of local traditions: this policy materialized in the composition of the various decentralized governments, where the fiery minds of the extremists and the moderation of the moderates coexisted. The governments of Aleppo (governed by the Sharia Commission) and Deir ez-Zour are two tangible examples of the actual value of the direction of Jabhat al-Nusra. In these cities, even the strict application of the Sharia he obtained derogations because of the war: many executions were suspended, including those which imposed the amputation of limbs. The urban center of Aleppo, for example, was equipped with an Administrative Office, a Civil Office, a Juridical Office and a Police Inspectorate for the management of public order and the surveillance of prisons.

The schism

The birth of the Islamic State and the subsequent self-proclamation of al-Baghdadi to Caliph dealt a blow to al-Qaeda: Jabhat al-Nusra he did not expect such an immediate rise in the new movement. The thundering statements of al-Baghdadi startled Ayman al-Zawahiri who, in an open letter, transcribed all his doubts about the operation undertaken by the young ex-Qaedist. According to bin-Laden's successor historian, the establishment of a Caliphate was too reckless, and risked not being shared by the whole Muslim world. Despite the open condemnation of the al-Qaeda leader, in a short time the ISIS expanded its dominion in a large part of Syria, inexorably crushing the group of al-Golani. The first hints of a subtle battle came when the Islamic State began to make converts right in the ranks of Jabhat al-Nusra, convincing his militiamen to change party in the face of more generous compensation. A fighter of Jabhat al-Nusra received a monthly payment of 400 dollars, the ISIS offered 800, exactly double. In the 2013, al-Golani shouted to the Islamist world his loyalty to al-Zawahiri thus producing a split between jihadist organizations, the first of these dimensions.

The Islamic State, stronger numerically, had by now compromised the position of Jabhat al-Nusra in different regions of Syria, including the stronghold of Aleppo; in other areas, such as Raqqa, the faithful of al-Qaeda were even wiped out without the possibility of return. Was it therefore a definitive break? He could Jabhat al-Nusra to become a declared enemy of the Islamic State and trigger an advantageous internal conflict for Assad and the anti-ISIS coalition?

Abu Mohammad al-Golani and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi were children of the same ideology with a similar past, the same experiences of war, but on different fronts. The friction between the two arose from historical and geographical considerations, linked to the age-old conflict between Damascus and Baghdad. Al-Golani considered al-Baghdadi a simple Iraqi leader who, if things went wrong in Syria, he would repair in his native homeland; secondly, he did not accept the idea of ​​handing over the government of his land to a foreigner. It is also clear that the head of Jabhat al-Nusra Front the formation of a Caliphate certainly did not decline, nevertheless his vision saw Damascus or Aleppo, not Baghdad at the center of the dream.

The clash between the two organizations was extremely attributable to a generational fact. As the historian Sami Moubayed rightly points out in his Under the Black Flag, Ayman al-Zawahiri was the proud representative of a generation of jihadists now in decline, with an almost monastic style of life, vice versa the young al-Baghdadi hailed the crowd as a courageous leader, alongside his men, apparently contemptuous of danger. The attempt at mediation imposed by the elderly leader of al-Qaeda was, therefore, rejected by the two contenders who rejected any accommodation by infuriating al-Zawahiri himself, who distanced himself from all the military actions committed by ISIS.

The leader of al-Nusra Front in some fiery statements, he pointed the finger at the Islamic State, its leader and even more his methods. Al-Golani accused al-Baghdadi of being a violent leader and indiscriminately using the weapon of suicide attacks. His words seemed to be built and following the best practices to set a firm boundary between the two organizations, as if to attract sympathies among the Islamists, which did not happen on time. Just the one who threw mud on al-Baghdadi had behind him a long trail of death, which had nothing to envy of the ISIS massacres. Between March 2011 and June 2013 the Front of al-Nusra Front had claimed responsibility for 57 on 70 suicide bombings in Syrian cities. On the battlefield then, the ethic of al-Golani did not differ much from that of ISIS: several mass graves of Syrian soldiers executed by al-Qaeda terrorists have recently been discovered. To reveal the true face of al-Nusra Front it is always the historian Sami Moubayed who reports how, on several occasions, the militiamen of al-Golani abandoned themselves to the worst wickedness, transforming themselves from virtuous Muslims into petty blackmailers.

Let us not forget then that the division between the two terrorist realities has been transformed, on several occasions, into a marriage of convenience, especially when the loot had to be shared. In November 2015, ISIS e Jabhat al-Nusra Front they shook hands with Yarmouk, where they came into possession of a large quantity of American weapons and ammunition destined for the anti-Assad rebels. A fact that has aroused much concern also because, if this example were followed throughout Syria, the only opposition to Assad would be entirely formed by ultra-radical Islamists.

The conflict between the two groups of terrorists therefore appeared "elastic", opportunistic and totally devoid of fixed rules.

Deal with the devil

In September, 2015, General Petraeus publicly stated that in order to beat ISIS, possible alliances with al-Nusra Front, thus distorting the sense of the whole American policy towards terrorism. His remarks, certainly born from the worst nightmare of a former CIA agent, reproduce the strong embarrassment with which the Obama administration is handling the ISIS problem; others have instead called it a dangerous and inconclusive "strategy of despair". The same month, former US ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, interviewed by the The Daily Beast, reported that al-Golani's group is in decline and has been largely replaced by Ahrar al Sham considered to date the most important group fighting against Damascus. However, Petraeus's statements conceal a truth and this is demonstrated by the statements of analyst Christopher Harmer who claims that if he wants to continue not to send troops to Syria, the only way to get any results against the Islamic State is to go down to pacts with some Islamist opposition groups. In all this no one has taken into account that own Jabhat al-Nusra Front is engaged in a strenuous struggle for his own survival: earlier this year a representative of the Syrian Human Rights Observatory revealed the killing of several Qaedist leaders, in particular belonging to Ahrar al Sham e Jabhat al-Nusra Front, for other targeted attacks never claimed by anyone. The suspicion falls, of course, on ISIS, little inclined to accept competitors for its domination in Syria and Iraq. In addition, the coalition's actions against Jabhat al-Nusra Front they get the exact opposite of what they fancied by General Petraeus, definitely pushing what remains of the Qaedist organization into the arms of ISIS.

The incontrovertible fact is that among the anti-Assad forces there are no good or bad, moderate or extremists: the Islamic State or Jabhat al-Nusra Front they produce the same result of death which, in light of the most recent facts, does not seem to produce the desired successes. Damascus is reacting vigorously with what remains of its armed forces at the black horde of al-Baghdadi, demonstrating that, beyond the western media, there are those who fight in the field, risking their lives against terrorists , since - let us always remember - they are the enemies and no one else.