Islamist Rebels in Hiding Ahead of U.S. Strikes

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has evacuated its militants from its headquarters in Raqqa city

An anticipated U.S.-led strike on Syria has not only put government forces on alert, it has also alarmed rebels, particularly Islamist groups linked to Al-Qaeda, who worry they too are targets, Reuters reported.


The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, an Al-Qaeda-linked group, has evacuated its militants from its headquarters in Raqqa city, in the north east of the country, to unknown locations, sources told Zaman al-Wasl.


Islamist forces have cleared many of their bases of fighters, vehicles and weaponry, according to rebels and sources close to the group.


"Of course we've been moving our fighters and equipment. Do you think we trust the Americans?" said a fighter from the moderate Islamist rebel group, Liwa al-Islam, speaking by Skype from a suburb outside the capital Damascus.


"They gave Assad two weeks' notice to clear his bases. We know we're the real target."


Al Qaeda-linked groups such as the Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria appear to be taking more extensive and secretive security measures.


"ISIS has evacuated many of its centers, mainly in northern and eastern Syria. They've increased security for the emirs, changing their locations and their cars – they fear homing chips could have been placed in their cars," said a source in Lebanon who is close to the Al-Qaeda-linked groups in Syria.


Charles Lister, an analyst at IHS Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency center, said there was nothing to indicate Western plans for an attack on such groups in Syria right now.


"But they are essentially hedging their bets. There's too much to lose if no precautions are taken," he told Reuters. "Syria has provided jihadists with an incredibly valuable opportunity to establish a concrete foothold in the heart of the Middle East."


Translated and edited by the Syrian Observer



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