The assassination of a top rebel commander in Syria has led to speculations of a turf war between two of the country’s main Islamist rebel groups.
Rebel sources have told Reuters that the northern commander of al-Farouq Brigades, a man by the name of Thaer al-Waqqas, was shot dead in a rebel held area close to the Turkish border on Wednesday morning. The same sources claimed that al-Waqqas had been accused of involvement in the killing of Firas al-Absi, a top leaders of the al-Nusra front, around four months ago.
“The assassins came in a white car, disembarked and riddled Waqqas with bullets as he was at a food supply depot. Absi’s brother is a commander in (the city of) Homs. He vowed revenge for Firas, and it seems that he has carried out his promise,” an unidentified rebel source told Reuters.
Despite attempts by the the Syrian National Council to unite opposition to Assad’s regime, serious divisions remain between many of the rebels groups fighting in Syria’s civil war. Both al-Nusra and al-Farouq, as well as Ahrar al-Sham – who together are the three largest rebel brigades in the north of the country – have chosen not to cooperate with a new rebel command center set up in the Turkish city of Antalya in December. Much of the infighting between rebels seems to be focused in areas away from the front line, and could be connected to control of lucrative border crossings. We have previously reported on Islamist and Secular rebels fighting for control of a border crossing between Syria and Turkey. Such disputes could have a serious impact on rebel fighters on the front lines, who are already suffering from chronic supply problems.
It also highlights the difficulties that the country would face if rebels succeeded in toppling Assad. Bringing together such a wide range of disparate rebel groups, each with their own vision for the future of Syria, and their own militias, power-bases and operations within the country, would be no easy task. The end of Assad’s regime, where it to happen, may not mean an end to the conflict.
An anonymous official from the al-Farouq Brigades has acknowledged that the killing had created a tense situation in the area, but said:
“The regime is behind the killing of Waqqas. We do not have any policy of targeting al-Nusra and we cooperate militarily in some regions with them.