Qaeda group regains ground in northern Syria; executes dozens of rivals

Activists clean up the damage caused by suicide bombers belonging to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), January 12, Aleppo

A group linked to al Qaeda recaptured much of its stronghold in the northeast Syrian city of Raqqa on Sunday, activists said, dealing a blow to rival rebel groups backed by Gulf Arab and Western states.

Fighting between the al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and rival Islamists and more moderate rebels have killed hundreds of people over the last 10 days and shaken the hardline militant group led by foreign jihadists.

But with the latest counter-offensive, ISIL has regained much of the territory it lost, activists said. In Raqqa, the only provincial capital under rebel control, activists said ISIL fighters battled remnants of rival Islamist units including the Nusra Front, another al Qaeda affiliate, in several neighbourhoods.

In related news, ISIL executed dozens of rival Islamists over the last two days as the group recaptured most territory it had lost in the northeastern Syrian province of Raqqa, activists said on Sunday.

One of the activists, who spoke from the province on condition of anonymity, said up to 100 fighters from the Nusra Front, another al Qaeda affiliate, and the Ahrar al-Sham brigade, captured by ISIL in the town of Tel Abyad on the border with Turkey, the nearby area of Qantari and the provincial capital city of Raqqa, were shot dead.

There was no independent confirmation of the report.

“About 70 bodies, most shot in the head, were collected and sent to the Raqqa National hospital,” the activist said. “Many of those executed had been wounded in the fighting. The fact that Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham are ideologically similar to the ISIL did not matter.”

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