Syrian rebels appoint successor after commander slain in airstrike

BEIRUT -- Militant groups in Syria on Saturday mourned the death of a powerful rebel commander who was killed in an airstrike near Damascus -- a high-profile assassination that may shift the balance of power in rebel-held suburbs of the Syrian capital.

See Full Article

Zahran Allouch, the head of the Army of Islam group, was killed Friday in an airstrike that targeted the group's headquarters during a meeting. He was instantly killed along with other commanders from the ultraconservative Ahrar al-Sham and the Faylaq al-Rahman groups.

His assassination a month before peace talks are scheduled to begin between the Syrian government and opposition rebel groups is a blow to insurgents fighting to topple President Bashar Assad and a boost to government forces who have been bolstered by the Russian military intervention in Syria in the past few months. Syrian government forces have been on the offensive in several parts of the country since Russia began its military campaign in late September to shore up Assad's forces.

The Army of Islam took part earlier this month in an opposition meeting held in Saudi Arabia to agree on an opposition delegation that would negotiate with government representatives in peace talks planned for late January in Geneva. The Syrian government describes the group as "terrorists" and has said it will not negotiate with such factions.

The Syrian army claimed responsibility for the airstrike that killed Allouch, although many among the opposition blamed Russia.

"The martyrdom of Sheikh Zahran Allouch should be a turning point in the history of the revolution and rebel groups should realize they are facing a war of extermination by (Russian President Vladimir) Putin's regime," said Labib Nahhas, a senior member of the Ahrar al-Sham group.

"The next stage will witness the liquidation of those leaders who began the uprising," wrote Abu Hassan al-Muhajer, another senior member of the group on Twitter.

Other insurgent groups, including the al-Qaida branch in Syria, the Nusra Front, lamented his killing.

The Army of Islam group swiftly appointed Essam al-Buwaydhani, a field commander known as Abu Hammam, as the new leader of the group, replacing Allouch.

In a video posted on the Internet late Thursday, a spokesman for the Army of Islam said Allouch's killing "will only increase our fight" against Assad's government and the Islamic State group.

"We are moving forth on the path, and we do not change or alter," the unidentified speaker said, reading from a statement.

In a statement, the Nusra Front said Allouch died after years of "sacrifice" and wished his successor luck.

Allouch, who was in his mid-40s, was widely known to be supported by Saudi Arabia and Turkey. He was one of the most powerful rebel commanders with thousands of fighters controlling large parts of the eastern Damascus suburbs of Eastern Ghouta and Douma. In addition to fighting government forces, the Army of Islam faction fought pitched battles against its rival, the Islamic State group near Damascus.

A former prisoner who was released in a general amnesty after the uprising against Assad began in March 2011, Allouch joined the armed opposition and formed the Army of Islam -- which became one of the most organized rebel factions in Syria.

Critics accused him of sectarian politics and brutal tactics similar to that of the Islamic State group.

He is blamed by other opposition groups for the December 2013 disappearance of four prominent activists including human rights activist and lawyer Razan Zaytouni. He denies holding them although they were kidnapped from an area under Army of Islam control.

Earlier this year, after government airstrikes on the suburbs of Damascus killed dozens, Allouch placed some Alawites that his group was holding in cages in public areas and markets, using them as human shields to try to prevent further airstrikes. Men and women were put in large metal cages on pick-up trucks that drove around Damascus suburbs.

Associated Press writer Maamoun Youssef in Cairo contributed to this report.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Wildfire rages close to Yosemite National Park

    World News CBC News
    A blaze burning in foothills west of Yosemite National Park destroyed dozens of structures and forced thousands to flee Gold Rush-era towns but fire crews have been able to stop it from reaching a threatened community on the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Source
  • He's back: Ryan Seacrest to host new American Idol

    World News CBC News
    ABC's American Idol revival is bringing back one of the original stars: Ryan Seacrest. Seacrest confirmed the long rumoured news on his morning show Live with Kelly and Ryan on Thursday after teasing the announcement via social media. Source
  • Police seek to ID man accused of sexually assaulting boy at subway station

    Canada News CTV News
    Toronto police are asking for help in identifying a man they say sexually assaulted a seven-year-old boy at a west-end subway station. Police say a woman reported that her son was sexually assaulted from behind while they were on the escalator at Ossington station Wednesday evening. Source
  • Cop suspended, defence lawyers say video shows drugs planted

    World News CTV News
    BALTIMORE -- A Baltimore officer's police powers have been suspended after defence attorneys released a body camera video that they said shows an officer planting drugs. Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said at a news conference Wednesday that two other officers were put on non-public-contact administrative duty. Source
  • For 1st time, over half of people with HIV taking AIDS drugs

    World News CBC News
    For the first time in the global AIDS epidemic that has spanned four decades and killed 35 million people, more than half of all those infected with HIV are on drugs to treat the virus, the United Nations said in a report released Thursday. Source
  • Western Michigan woman convicted of murder in parrot case

    World News CTV News
    WHITE CLOUD, Mich. - A jury has convicted a western Michigan woman of first-degree murder in the shooting death of her husband in a crime apparently witnessed by the man's pet parrot. The Newaygo County jury deliberated about eight hours before finding 49-year-old Glenna Duram guilty Wednesday of killing 46-year-old Martin Duram. Source
  • Police trying to piece together last hours of 13-year-old B.C. girl found dead in park

    Canada News CTV News
    Investigators are trying to piece together the final hours of Marissa Shen, a 13-year-old girl whose body was found in a park in Burnaby, B.C. Burnaby RCMP are treating the case as a homicide, although they’re still waiting for autopsy results to determine a cause of death. Source
  • Julie Payette's vetting for governor general questioned amid 'disquieting' revelations

    Canada News CBC News
    Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is refusing to say what he knew — and when he knew it — about a dismissed, non-felony charge against his choice for Governor General. Julie Payette is calling the six-year-old incident a case of an "unfounded" allegation for which she was "immediately cleared" without any prosecution. Source
  • U.S. hotel, NFL arena may have same flammable panels as Grenfell Towers

    World News Toronto Sun
    In promotional brochures, a U.S. company boasted of the “stunning visual effect” its shimmering aluminum panels created in an NFL stadium, an Alaskan high school and a luxury hotel along Baltimore’s Inner Harbor that “soars 33 stories into the air. Source
  • 10-year-old trips over a 1.2 million-year-old Tusk fossil

    World News Toronto Sun
    LAS CRUCES, N.M. — A boy’s misstep on a family hike in New Mexico has given the world a prehistoric wonder. Ten-year-old Jude Sparks was on a desert hike in Las Cruces in November when he tripped over what turned out to be the fossilized tusk of a 1.2 million-year-old elephant-like creature, called a stegomastodon. Source