March 23, 2015

Earlier this month, the Zahran Aloush-led opposition group Jaish al-Islam announced the formation of Ali bin Abi Talib, a brigade specially trained to fight the Islamic State [IS], reported pro-opposition news agency Orient News.

Jaish al-Islam, led by Zahran Aloush and headquartered in the Damascus suburbs of East Ghouta, has fighters throughout Syria and is one of the most prominent rebel groups in the country. 

The formation of the new brigade underscored rising tensions between Jaish al-Islam and IS, which escalated when IS kidnapped an Islamic judge in south Damascus last week who was associated with Jaish al-Islam, reported the Lebanese pro-regime news agency Al-Hadath News. 

tAM ip5JIn response, Jaish al-Islam has captured a number of IS members and continues to support the brigade designed to combat IS, says Islam Aloush, the Idlib-based official spokesperson for Jaish al-Islam and an early defector from the Syrian army.

“We represent true Islam, which is far removed from the fanaticism and takfir” of the Islamic State, Aloush tells Syria Direct Mohammed al-Haj Ali.

Q: Why has IS kidnapped and targeted Jaish al-Islam members and leadership?

We represent the biggest threat to IS in two ways:

The first is militarily, as we have prevented IS from expanding into the Damascus countryside, ousted them from East Ghouta [east of Damascus] and attacked them in the Qalamoun mountains. In the past few days we were able to free east Qalamoun from their control, so IS has resorted to treachery and kidnapping.

The second way is religious, as we represent true Islam, which is far removed from the fanaticism and takfir [of IS].

Q: Will IS be able to control the Damascus countryside and create a state?

God permitting, we will never allow them to do that.

Q: Jaish al-Islam says there were attempts by IS to kidnap other Islamic judges. How many Jaish al-Islam supporters has IS kidnapped?

I cannot disclose the number, but we have captured some IS members.

3-small IS fighters claim control over a neighborhood in south Damascus. Photo courtesy of mnbr.

Q: Where is IS based in around Damascus? What are the areas that IS controls and seeks to control?

IS is currently holed up in [the town of] al-Hajjar al-Aswad in southern Damascus. In terms of areas it wants to control, IS has targeted East Ghouta in order to implement the regime’s plans and agendas [This reflects a not-uncommon sentiment in Syria that the Islamic State serves the regime’s interests].

Q: What is the mission of the “Ali bin Abi Talib army” that was formed in northern Syria?

Its goal is to attack IS in Syria. But the name has changed; “Ali bin Abi Talib” is now the name of the camp that produces fighters. Camp Ali bin Abi Talib is a part of Jaish al-Islam.

Q: According to a statement from Zahran Aloush, every time civilians are targeted or affected in Ghouta, the response will be 600 to 1,000 missiles in a single [attack]. The cities of Ghouta have experienced bombing many times and yet there was no response from the Jaish al-Islam. What is your comment?

Ultimately, the response to these attacks will not be sudden because the regime would expect that. The other thing to keep in mind is that there are many logistical and military considerations, such as studying the weather and wind speed.

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