MESOP NEWS TODAYS EXPERT SAMPLER : First Assad, Then the World: Al Qaida’s Strategy in Syria (CIA & CIPHER BRIEF)

While ISIS’s territory has dwindled, al Qaida has managed to build a strong following in Syria, and may use the civil-war-torn country as a base from which to target the West.The group has evolved into the network’s largest global affiliate by strategically positioning itself as a key opposition movement battling the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. • Al Qaida’s Syrian offshoot, formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra or the al-Nusra Front, emerged in 2011 against the backdrop of the Syrian civil war. In July 2016, the group announced it was “splitting” from the al Qaida network and rebranded itself as Jabhat Fateh el-Sham (JFS), but many believe no real separation occurred. 

  • Last January, JFS merged with four smaller Syrian jihadist factions to form an umbrella organization called Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). It now dominates approximately two million people living in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, the most populous area held by rebels.
  • HTS has seized upon the opportunity presented by the Syrian civil war to champion itself as a defender of the Syrian people, administering key social services and emerging as the strongest opposition force fighting the Assad regime. But U.S. intelligence officials assess that ultimately, the group still aligns itself with al Qaida’s worldview and maintains a long-term focus of attacking the West.

Read the full brief, with expert commentary from:

– Nicholas Rasmussen, former director of the National Counterterrorism Center

 – Rob Richer, former Associate Deputy Director of Operations, CIA

 – Emile Nakhleh, former member of CIA’s Senior Intelligence Service 

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