Ahrar al-Sham takes battle against IS to YouTube

The Islamic Front-Ahrar al-Sham movement recently released a YouTube video in which it harshly criticizes the Islamic State in a bid to come out as part of the moderate opposition fighting in Syria, which the West said it was ready to arm.

al-monitor Rebel fighters from the Islamic Front-Ahrar al-Sham movement cover their ears during the launch of grad rockets from the Idlib countryside toward forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, who are stationed at Jureen town in al-Ghab plain in the Hama countryside, April 24, 2015.  Photo by REUTERS/Mohamad Bayoush.

Topics covered

video, syrian army, propaganda, is, aleppo, ahrar al-sham, abu bakr al-baghdadi

Aug 21, 2015

The Islamic Front-Ahrar al-Sham movement posted Aug. 17 a YouTube video dubbed “They are the enemy; Blessed are those who kill them and who were killed by them,” in reference to the Islamic State (IS), its strong enemy.

The video spoke of the nature of the battles in Aleppo’s northern countryside from Ahrar al-Sham’s perspective. It showed the fighters in military uniform, with their live ammunition, while they are repelling “the perfidious IS cells infiltration” into the area. The Ahrar al-Sham fighters talked successively to the camera — some of whom revealed their faces, while others were masked or disguised. They spoke of IS’ behavior and agreed on IS brutality and that “it has swerved from the real Islam.”

The video started with the battles in Aleppo’s northern countryside, which prompted armed groups to head to Tell Rifaat, Azaz and the areas surrounding Nubl, Zahraa and Bachkoy in order to prevent IS from reaching them. The video commentator described IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as a criminal and considered IS joining the Syrian war as “black tunnel.”

Abu Jaafar, a speaker in the video, said that the armed factions had control over 70% of Aleppo’s countryside, but IS’ participation in the battle “pushed the people to fight each other, under the title of confiscating weapons and apostasy.” One of the reasons why IS deems the rest of the factions apostates is that it accuses them of “collaborating with the West,” according to Abu Jaafar. He denied the accusation of collaboration and asserted that they “suffer from hunger.”

As the testimonies followed in succession, skepticism is raised by the YouTube video viewer on the party producing it, as it seems that Ahrar al-Sham hates IS more than it hates the Syrian army. A participant in the video who called himself Suleiman Abu al-Walid indicated that IS fighters are the first to have started the bloodshed and that any disagreement with it evolves into an armed clash.

Abu al-Walid gave internal information on the nature of the fighting between extremist factions. He said that the existence of a Sharia court — which IS is promoting — is inaccurate. “In the beginning, they [IS] tend toward resolving any issue militarily in order to achieve their goals, then they say they are under the Sharia law.” In another segment, he described IS as Kharijites (Muslims who rebelled against the ruling powers in early Islamic history) and added that “any scholar’s opinion is to fight them.”

The video is counter-propaganda to IS’ videos, and the only difference is that it addressed different audiences. Unlike IS’ high-end videos — which have preoccupied the Arab and Western media — this video addressed the mujahideen and advocates of the extremist thought to explain that it is keen about Islam more than “Baghdadi’s soldiers.”

Abu Alyaman, a fighter on “the Kharijites front,” explained that the scholars do not deem IS as fighter apostates, contrary to IS, which deems everyone apostates. In the video, Abu Qatada said that he wants a state “based on the good Salaf and Sunnah, not on IS fatwas and ideas.” At the end of the video, the speakers addressed IS, vowing to fight its members “as Prophet Muhammad commended,” and to defeat them in the Levant.

The video included a segment showing live battles between Ahrar al-Sham and IS, as well as suicide bombings and executions carried out by Baghdadi’s fighters against the other organizations’ fighters. The video was uploaded seven times on YouTube with different links. After it was repeatedly removed, Ahrar al-Sham’s supporters shared the video to prevent it from being deleted.

Just like any other video produced by extremist armed groups, it has used the expression “They are the enemy” and Quranic verses to justify the fight to the sound of upbeat music. The Islamic Front has continuously posted its military operations on YouTube and insists on translating them into multiple languages. It has also insisted on characterizing itself as “moderate.” This is perhaps an attempt to promote itself as part of the moderate armed opposition, which some Arab and Western countries said they are ready to arm and support.

Continue reading this article by registering at no cost and get unlimited access to:
  • Al-Monitor Archives
  • The Week in Review
  • Exclusive Events
  • Invitation-only Briefings

More from  Wissam Abdallah