Syria: test ground for anti-Shia jihad?
A terrifying report on Communities Digital News April 25 notes an "Anti-Shia Alliance" convention held the previous week in Jakarta, capital of Indonesia, attended by thousands of militant Sunnis who called for "jihad" against Shi'ite Muslims. Several Indonesian government officials were in attendance. During the conference, a Shi'ite journalist, covering the program for Ahlulbait Indonesia, reported being detained, interrogated, and beaten by group organizers and attendees. The international conference issued an "Anti Shia Declaration" which resolved that "The alliance will take any necessary measures to maximize the prevention of the proliferation of heretical teachings by Shia followers." In a speech, bin Zein al-Kaff, leader of Indonesiia's Anti-Heresy Front, said "It's time that we declared jihad against them…We should not tolerate them anymore."
As the conference was underway in Jakarta, Syria witnessed the surreal spectacle of the regime preparing for what it called "free and transparent" presidential elections—amid ongoing sectarian war. So far the only two hopefuls have registered their candidacies. President Bashar al-Assad has yet to announce his own candidacy, but his victory is nonetheless a foregone conclusion. Prospective candidates must win the support of at least 35 of Syria's 250 MPs to do so. Of those, a full 160 are members of the Baath party, which has ruled Syria for nearly 50 years. Under a new constitution adopted in 2012, those who have not lived in Syria continuously for the past 10 years are barred from standing—effectively excluding most of the opposition. Previously, under the current president and his late father, only one candidate was presented, and his name submitted to a "referendum." (AFP, April 26)
Regime forces are mounting what they hope will be a finall offensive to take back the rebel-held city of Homs, looked to as a potential "turning point" in the war. (NYT, April 22) The regime's aerial terror in the divided city of Aleppo continues; an army helicopter dropped "barrel bombs" on a vegetable market in the city's Atareb suburb on April 24, killing 24 people, according to the Local Coordination Committees opposition network. (CNN, April 24)
Rebel-held Homs and the rebel-held areas of Aleppo are both controlled by a patchwork of Sunni jihadist factions and more secular militias loosely affailiated with the Free Syrian Army. Concern is growing over the fate of hundreds who have "disappeared" in Raqqa, in a city held by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). Mothers of the detainees gather every day outside ISIS bases in the city demanding the return of their loved ones. "They cry, begging for information and for their sons’ release," said Amer Matar, whose citizen journalist brother Mohammad Nour has been detained by ISIS for nine months. "My mother suffers every day, because she is not given any information about her youngest child," added Matar, a filmmaker from Raqqa who became a refugee in Germany because of his own opposition to Assad. (Lebanon Daily Star, April 27)
In an ominous internationalization of the conflict, Iraqi army helicopters hit a jihadist convoy in eastern Syria April 27, killing at least eight—the first strike inside Syria claimed by Iraq since the uprising against Assad vegab in March 2011. (Daily Star, April 27) The strike comes just as ISIS is stepping up its terror campaign against Iraq's Shi'ites.
And in another sign of growing fragmentation, ISIS on April 11 launched a surprise attack on its Qaedist rival the Nusra Front in a town on the Iraqi border, killing dozens of fighters. The clashes were in al-Bukamal, from which ISIS was expelled earlier this year. Observers said the Qaeda splinter group was trying to regain a presence in the border town in a bid to bolster its supply lines stretching into Iraq. (Daily Star, April 11)