Fighters from the al-Qaida group in the Levant

Extremist foes fight in the Syrian civil war.

The Radicalization of Syria

July 2014, Number 05.03

“Al-Qaida, its branches and sympathizers viewed the 2011 Syrian uprising, which turned into a civil war, as a great opportunity to expand their reach. Of all of the Arab Spring countries, Syria was the most prized because of its religio-historical significance, relative closeness to the West (compared with other battlefields of jihad) and proximity to Israel with its jihadistcoveted city of Jerusalem and al-Aqsa Mosque. What al-Qaida viewed as a promise, though, has turned into a nightmare because of its now existential battle with the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) for supremacy of the global jihadist movement.

When the uprising in Syria first broke out in March 2011, jihadists, specifically al-Qaida, were flat-footed in their response. Al-Qaida would recover relatively quickly, though. Jabhat al-Nusrah (JN), al-Qaida’s official branch in Syria and increasingly called “Al-Qaida in Bilad al-Sham” by its members, announced itself in late January 2012, but evidence suggests it was originally established in late July 2011. Abu Lokman, a senior JN commander in Aleppo, told the BBC in January 2013 that he joined the group in its infancy six months before its first public video release...”

Excerpt from Aaron Y. Zelin, “The Radicalization of Syria,” per Concordiam: Journal of European Security Defense Issues  5, No. 3, 2014: 26-29.

Aaron Y. Zelin is the Richard Borow Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and the Rena and Sami David Fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence. He is a doctoral candidate at King’s College London and runs the website

This article reflects the views of the author and are not necessarily the official policy of the United States, Germany, or any other governments.