A Top Anti-Assad Leader Proclaims His al-Qaeda Links, Posing Problems for Washington
January 19, 2014 • 9:55AM

What could cause serious problems to the Obama Administration's plans to continue supplying arms to the anti-Assad opposition within Syria, Abu Khaled al Suri, who is a top figure in the rebel group Ahrar al-Sham, through a Twitter message has made clear that Ahrar al-Sham is run top down by the al-Qaeda leaders.

In that message, al Suri said that Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), whose outposts in northern and eastern Syria have been attacked by other rebel groups for the past two weeks, had committed crimes against fellow rebels and Muslims in its attempt to use the Syrian rebellion to form its own radical Islamist state. The statement cited al Suri's close relationship with bin Laden and Zawahiri, and said that despite the ISIS claims to be an al-Qaeda franchise, bin Laden, Zawahiri, and Zarqawi could not be held responsible for ISIS' crimes or behavior. Zawahiri had designated al Suri to mediate disputes between ISIS and other rebel groups, including the Nusra Front, another al-Qaeda affiliate battling in Syria.

Until al Suri had sent this message, Ahrar al-Sham was considered by the Obama Administration as a non-al-Qaeda-linked hardline group, aligned with the Islamic Front. As a result, it is likely that Ahrar has received a significant chunk of U.S. arms.

McClatchy cited Will McCants, the director of the Brookings Institution's Project on U.S.-Islamic World Relations and an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University, saying that Suri's prominence in Ahrar al Sham and his public statement praising Zarqawi and Zawahiri will make it very difficult for the U.S. administration not to designate Ahrar. "If Ahrar is designated, it will be hard for [aid groups] to move humanitarian aid through the country since they control large swathes of it. The designation will also put the U.S. at odds with Qatar, al-Ahrar's main state sponsor," McCants added.