The WaPost has an interesting report today on a struggle at the heart of al-Qaeda in Syria. Since 2011, the Al-Nusra Front has been the (more or less) official arm of al-Qaeda there, and it profited immensely from the power vacuum opened by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) driving the Assad regime from many regions across the country. But four months ago, a group of mostly Iraqi fighters entered the conflict under the banner “the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” (ISIL) and announced that they would henceforth truly represent al-Qaeda in Syria. Many Al-Nusra fighters have gladly joined up with ISIL, but some have maintained their independence, claiming that ISIL is too extremist even for their notoriously exotic tastes.
ISIL tactics include regular doses of something like the following:
In one town close to the Turkish border, al-Dana, Islamic State fighters consolidated their authority by shooting people who demonstrated against them, confiscating the weapons of the local unit of the Free Syrian Army and beheading its commander.
And in the increasingly likely event that neither the Assad regime nor the FSA is able to secure control over the entire country, parts Syria could become the sort of (nearly) failed-state haven for such lunatics that we now associate with Somalia or Waziristan; except that Syria has borders with Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Israel, four states that could really do without a maniacal al-Qaeda affiliate skulking on their borders.