THROWING SHADE: Jabhat a-Nusra took on and defeated the Western-backed moderate opposition group Syrian Revolutionaries Front (SRF) in Idlib province only after the group began attacking Nusra, Abu Mohammed al-Jolani said in an audio recording on Tuesday.
“After repeated attacks on our people and our men in Idlib, Nusra, Ahrar a-Sham and Jund al-Aqsa and the people of the region made the decision to end the SRF,” said Jolani.
Jolani’s speech capped a rapid turn of events in Idlib province, which prior to last week had been occupied by Nusra, SRF and the regime.
Nusra essentially pushed the SRF out of the province over the weekend, capturing its base in Jabal a-Zawiya in southern Idlib on Saturday and seizing the hometown of SRF leader Jamal Maruf.
“It is no secret that some of the factions present here [in Syria] gathered in Turkey, labelled by the West as the moderate opposition, and were supplied with money and weapons, the most prominent of them the so-called Jamal Maruf,” said Jolani in the recording.
Local media outlets have circulated pictures of Nusra fighters claiming SRF weapons– possibly given by the United States–hidden in a secret cache in Maruf’s house.
“[Maruf] was a man of the revolution before he entered the political labyrinth and attracted Bander bin Sultan [head of Saudi intelligence] and American intelligence,” Jolani said.
Maruf came to prominence earlier this year when the SRF received American and Saudi aid to fight the Islamic State (IS), then known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS). In a combined effort with other Islamist battalions, Maruf was able to drive IS out from Aleppo province.
Despite the seemingly severe blow to America’s policy to arm moderate rebels, at least one Syria analyst says the United Staes has other options besides Jamal Maruf.
“We shouldn’t overstate Maruf’s importance,” said Noah Bonsey, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group over Twitter.
“Other potential mainstream partners in north are more reliable and have more growth potential.”