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Thursday, February 21, 2013 

Islam gains footholds in Syria

CNN reports that Islamic cells like Jabhat al-Nusra have gained ground in Syria:
"Jabhat al-Nusra continues to make gains," Jouejati said. "They continue to increase in popularity, particularly as they begin to implement social services."

In the last year, the Nusra Front has grown from a shadowy group claiming responsibility for deadly car bombs to what Syrians describe as a highly disciplined fighting force that continues to attract recruits from the more secular Free Syrian Army rebels.

Nusra Front fighters are said to be leading the ongoing siege of the Khweiris military airbase in Aleppo province. They are also credited with helping lead the capture of the Taftanaz helicopter airbase in Idlib province last month.

The high-profile Islamist victories on the battlefield have been accompanied by another trend. Gradually, black Islamist banners have replaced the distinctive green, black, white and red flags of the Syrian rebels at weekly anti-government protests.

"After two years of killings and butchering and the entire world standing by and watching us, now we depend on God only. So we started raising the banner of Shahada, the black banner of war," explained a Syrian activist who has spent much of the last two years organizing anti-government protests in Idlib province.

The Shahada refers to the Islamic creed "There is no god but God, Mohammed is the messenger of God." It is one of the most important pillars of Islam. It is also invoked for martyrdom on the battlefield.

The rapid rise of hard-line Sunni Muslim groups like the Nusra Front -- some of which have seen their ranks swelled by foreign jihadi fighters -- is a trend that makes Jouejati and other more secular revolutionaries deeply uncomfortable.

It is also making Washington uneasy. In December, the U.S. government blacklisted the Nusra Front, labeling it a terrorist organization.

"We blacklisted the Nusra Front because of its intimate links with al Qaeda in Iraq ... which is responsible for the killing of thousands of Iraqis and hundreds of Americans," said Robert Ford, the U.S. ambassador to Syria, in an interview with CNN last month. "We know what al Qaeda in Iraq did and is still doing, and we don't want it to start doing that in Syria."

But some Syrian opposition leaders blame Western inaction for the recent growth of the Islamist groups.

"The U.S. and the European Union didn't help us, and that created an increase in Islamic radicalism here," said Marwan Gayed in an interview in Aleppo last month. Gayed was a judge who defected from the Syrian government and helped launch the United Courts Council, an opposition-run court that is trying to institute law and order in rebel-controlled parts of Aleppo.
Alas, he's right, the foreign governments turned their backs on Syria and didn't show any serious opposition to the Islamist gangs that are now rising in Syria. Now, look what's happened - sharia has been imposed in many parts of the country, including oppression of women's rights to drive.

Update: and in related news, there was a big explosion in Damascus near the Baath HQ that killed dozens of people. We can only guess who caused that.

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