In a pair of suicide bombings in the town of Idlib, Abu Salqeen, the leader of Ahrar al-Sham, and six other members were killed including senior figures. Other top figures were among those killed.
Ahrar al-Sham is the most powerful group in the umbrella organization the Islamic Front. The latter is composed of Islamists who reject the western demand for a secular state in Syria and intend to create a state based upon Sharia law. The Islamic Front is widely regarded as funded by rich individuals in Saudi Arabia and perhaps even by the state. The members are conservative Islamists, many of the Salafist orientation that is very much like the official Saudi version of Islam. Ahrar al-Sham co-ordinates with other groups in the fight against Assad and also the Islamic State. Some of its members have been linked to Al Qaeda, although the official Al Qaeda group in Syria is the Nusra Front. The relations of Ahrar al-Sham with the Nusra front has varied from cooperation to conflict. Al-Sham is said to be partially funded by wealthy donors in Kuwait.Even though Ahrar al-Sham is composed of conservative Islamists and the Islamic Front is not part of the overall western-supported military structure in Syria, there have been recent attempts for al Sham to rebrand itself along with the rest of the Islamic Front as "moderate." The move is intended to allow the group to receive aid from the U.S. Given the challenge of the Islamic State and the relative lack of moderates with any significant power in Syria, the U.S. has itself been rethinking who they will consider a moderate. James Clapper, the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, recently said:" Moderate these days is increasingly becoming anyone who is not affiliated with ISIL." While the U.S. has not itself yet provided funding for Ahrar al-Sham, it has not complained when the Saudis and Turkey decided to fund radical Islamist groups in Syria. The Saudis and Turks appear to make defeating Assad a priority rather than defeating the Islamic State first, as seems to be the U.S. policy.No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, although many suspect the Islamic State is the culprit. Lately, there has been disagreement with the Al Nusra Front as well. The attack comes shortly after a senior al-Sham member published an op-ed article in the Washington Post in which he denied the group espoused al-Qaeda ideology. He claimed the group is composed of moderate Islamists anxious to defeat the Islamic State.Last September, there was also a devastating suicide attack on al-Sham that killed many of their leaders as well. A video of the attack is appended.