Posted by Aron Lund on Tuesday, March 19th, 2013
The Swedish Institute of International Affairs just published a 51-page report I’ve written about the Syrian Islamic Front (SIF), one of the main salafi alliances fighting in Syria. The SIF is an interesting group – not quite as radical as Syria’s de facto al-Qaida affiliate, Jabhat al-Nosra, but still very clearly part of the hardline religious camp. Its creation in December 2012 further strengthens the Islamist bloc, on the expense of more moderate revolutionary factions, but depending on how this plays out, it could also represent something of a challenge to Jabhat al-Nosra.
I’m posting some segments from the introduction below, followed by a a link to the full report. — Aron Lund
Syria’s Salafi Insurgents: the Rise of the Syrian Islamic Front
As the Syrian revolution descends further into sectarian civil war, radical Islamist groups gain in influence. The world’s attention has so far been focused on Jabhat al-Nosra, a salafi-jihadi organization with links to the Iraqi wing of al-Qaida, but there are several other hardline Islamist groups in Syria.
Unlike the salafi-jihadi radicals, many Syrian Islamist groups are primarily interested in establishing an Islamic state in Syria – not in a global holy war. They lack the strong ideological and personal links that bind Jabhat al-Nosra to the international salafi-jihadi community and al-Qaida, and they are in some ways more moderate in their political outlook. Some are intellectually disciplined salafis, but others have opportunistically adopted elements of the salafi discourse, without much ideological sophistication. Fighters are drawn to the black-and-white moral scheme and Sunni-sectarian chauvinism of contemporary salafism, and, not least, to the possibility of financial support from Islamic charities in the Persian Gulf.
In December 2012, eleven of Syria’s Islamist rebel factions gathered to form the Syrian Islamic Front (SIF), a salafi coalition that has since emerged as one of Syria’s most important insurgent groups. The SIF presents its creation a step towards the complete unification of Syria’s Islamic movement, but it may also have been a way for its dominant faction, Ahrar al-Sham, to gather ideological allies under its own wings. Ahrar al-Sham and the SIF have now emerged as a wedge, or a link, between two rival flanks of the Islamist movement in Syria: the soft-Islamist rebel mainstream, which is backed by the West, and the salafi-jihadi radicals of Jabhat al-Nosra, which have been designated a terrorist movement by the USA.
Part one of this paper discusses the rise of salafism in Syria during the current conflict, and the role of religious alliances in the disorganized insurgency. Part two focuses on the SIF and its emergence as a salafi ”third way” between Jabhat al-Nosra and more moderate Islamist groups. The third and final part takes a brief look at each of the eleven founding factions of the SIF.
You can download the full report here.