BEIRUT – Syrian rebels ousted an al-Qaida linked group from its local headquarters in a key northern city Wednesday, part of a widening campaign against the extremist group in opposition-held areas, activists said.
The capture of the base, formerly a hospital in Aleppo, underscores the intensity of the rebel-on-rebel fighting that has raged for days between moderate factions and their one-time allies, fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Meanwhile, two Swedish journalists who were abducted in Syria were released after a month and a half in captivity. Dozens of local and foreign journalists have been killed or kidnapped in Syria.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and another al-Qaida linked group known as Jabhat al-Nusra, or Nusra Front, initially joined forces with moderate rebels fighting to oust President Bashar Assad in a conflict that began in March 2011 as a popular uprising but morphed into a civil war. The extremists proved well-organized and efficient fighters, giving the ragtag rebels a boost. But the Iraqi-based network began employing brutal tactics and trying to impose its strict interpretation of Islamic law, alienating other factions and leading to some of the worst infighting of the conflict.
A spokesman for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant vowed to crush the rival rebel groups.
“Know that we have armies in Iraq and Syria … we warn you,” the spokesman, known as Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, said in an audio clip posted overnight on militant websites. “We will crush them and kill the conspiracy in its cradle,” he said. The authenticity of the recording, which was posted on militant websites, could not be independently verified.
The fighting has spread from the northern province of Aleppo to nearby Idlib and Raqqa, a bastion of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. At least 300 people have been killed in the past five days, said Rami Abdurrahman, the head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The Observatory and other activists reported that dozens of detainees held by the extremists had been freed, but several others had been shot to death.