Thursday 26 April 2018

Isil 'within mile' of Baghdad despite wave of US air strikes

Rebel fighters carry their weapons as they walk towards their positions near Nairab military airport in Aleppo
Rebel fighters carry their weapons as they walk towards their positions near Nairab military airport in Aleppo

Lizzie Dearden

ISIL fighters are reportedly just one mile away from Baghdad as reports emerge of al-Qa'ida militants bolstering their ranks in Syria.

According to the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East, Isil was approaching the Iraqi capital yesterday morning.

"The Islamic State are now less than 2km away from entering Baghdad," a spokesperson said.

"They said it could never happen and now it almost has. President Obama says he overestimated what the Iraqi Army could do. Well you only need to be here a very short while to know they can do very very little."

The news comes amid reports of an emerging alliance between Isil forces in Syria and Jabhat al-Nusra, also known as the Nusra Front.

The group is the Syrian offshoot of al-Qa'ida and has been fighting against the Assad regime in the civil war.

Despite months of clashes between its forces and Isis (also known as Islamic State) militants, the two groups appear to be forming a loose coalition in parts of the country to fight increasing attacks by the US and its allies.

al-Nusra has called US air strikes against Isil "a war against Islam"

Al-Nusra's official spokesperson, Abu Firas al-Suri, threatened the coalition nations with retaliation at the weekend.

"These states have committed a horrible act that is going to put them on the list of jihadist targets throughout the world," he said.

"This is not a war against al-Nusra, but a war against Islam." Al-Nusra and Isil leaders are now holding war planning meetings together, a source told reporter, although no formal alliance has been confirmed.

The reports follow growing defections from other Islamist groups to Isis, which is seen as better organised and equipped to create an "Islamic State" straddling Iraq and Syria.

A loyalty pledge was reportedly made by al-Nusra in June in the town of Al-Bukamal near the Iraqi border, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, and the two groups have fought together against Government forces.

The report appeared to be confirmed on Twitter by a photograph showing an Egyptian al-Nusra Front commander shaking hands with an Isil leader of Chechen origin.

Although both Isil and al-Nusra are rooted in al-Qaeda, the two have been rivals since Isis started its involvement in Syria's civil war in spring last year and have engaged in bloody battles killing more than 3,000 militants from both sides.

A merger had been declared by Isil leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2013, when Isis was known as al-Qa'ida in Iraq (AQI), but the alliance was rejected by al-Nusra and overruled by al-Qa'ida leader al-Zawahiri. But the international response to Isis' bloody rampage through Iraq and Syria, and the be-headings of British and American hostages, is pushing the groups towards an alliance. An al-Nusra source told Reuters: "There are hardline voices inside Nusra who are pushing for reconciliation with Islamic State." A formal alliance is believed to only be possible on the orders of al-Qa'ida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.

A deal between the militant groups would strengthen the Islamist force in Syria as air strikes cripple Isil funding sources, equipment stores and slow its advances.

Last night the head of the al-Nusra Front said that air strikes will not defeat Islamists in Syria and warned again that militants might launch retaliatory attacks against Western countries. Abu Mohamad al-Golani, in an audio message posted on pro-Nusra jihadi forums, urged European and US citizens to denounce the US actions if they wanted to keep out of the war.

"Muslims will not watch while their sons are bombed. Your leaders will not be the only ones who would pay the price of the war. You will pay the heaviest price," he said, warning that the battle would be brought "to the hearts of your homes".

"You should protect yourselves from this war by standing against the decisions of your rulers and stop them from bringing you the woes (of war)," he said. At least 50 fighters from the al- Nusra Front were killed in the first wave of US-led attacks in Syria last Tuesday, a British-based monitoring group said. The air assault is also believed to have killed Mohsin al-Fadhli, the leader of another al-Qa'ida linked organisation, the Khorasan group, which worked in league with the Nusra Front. Mr Golani did not directly mention Mr Fadhli, but said the air attacks had killed fighters .

(© Independent News Service)

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