Monitor: Turkey Grants Power to Al-Qaeda-Linked Group in Syria’s Afrin

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Turkey is expected to give an al-Qaeda-affiliated group known as the al-Rahman Corps the police command of the Afrin region in Syria along with authority to impose Sharia, or strict Islamic laws, on the residents, which include members of the persecuted Yazidi and Christian minorities, a monitor group revealed over the weekend.

Ankara has also been resettling hundreds of jihadists linked to al-Rahman and their families from the Eastern Ghouta region in houses owned by the displaced residents of Afrin, formerly controlled by the Kurds, the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a group that monitors the conflict using a network of sources on the ground, warned, once again emphasizing the move on Sunday.

Turkey is “carrying out an organized demographic change by settling the displaced people of the Eastern Ghouta in houses owned by the displaced people of Afrin,” the Observatory noted.

Since around mid-April, the Observatory has been documenting ongoing discussions over the future of Afrin between Turkey and al-Qaeda-linked al-Rahman Corps fighters.

The Observatory reports that after ten days of deliberations, “Rahman Corps [are] preparing to be given the command of the police of Afrin area, in addition to opening Sharia and religious centers and institutes, and to be run by the former judges and Sharia men of Rahman Corps.”

As part of the Operation Olive Branch that Turkey launched on January 20, Ankara seized Afrin on March 18 from the U.S.-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG/YPJ), the armed wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) that controls most of northern Syria.

U.S. NATO ally Turkey considers the YPG to be a terrorist a group, but America continues to support the Kurdish fighters.

During Operation Olive Branch, activists warned that Turkish-allied jihadists from al-Qaeda and other groups were taking advantage of the offensive slaughter Christians and Yazidis in Afrin.

Nadia Murad from the United Nations, a Yazidi human rights advocate who survived the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) genocide in the Middle East, accused Turkey and their allies of committing “war crimes” in Afrin against Yazidis and Christians that mirror “ethnic cleansing and genocide.”

The Observatory notes that Turkey is recording personal data on the displaced people it is allowing to enter and exit Afrin.

According to various assessments, al-Qaeda’s Syria affiliates — the Nusra Front, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (JFS), and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS — are the international terrorist groups’ “strongest” branch at the moment, courtesy of the international community’s near single-minded focus on eradicating al-Qaeda rival the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL).

Turkey’s ally Al-Rahman is reportedly allied with the Nusra Front or JFS.

Turkey’s move to enhance the jihadists influence could further improve the conditions for the group to establish an Islamic emirate in Syria as foretold by an analyst from the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) last year.

Ankara is forcibly resettling pro-Ankara Syrians, including jihadists, from Ghouta in the south to Afrin in the north. 

The monitor group reported Sunday:

SOHR also monitored the arrival of 700 families of the people displaced from the controlled areas of Al-Rahman Corps in the Eastern Ghouta, in Afrin area where they have been settled down by the Turkish authorities after an earlier coordination between…both parties, and the people who have been settled in Afrin included the leader of Al-Rahman Corps (Abdul Nasr Shamir), and tens of the commanders and members of Al-Rahman Corps with their families.

About two weeks ago, the SOHR claimed that al-Rahman Corps leaders met with Turkish intelligence officials to prepare for “settling the fighters of Al-Rahman Corps and their families as well as other displaced people from the Eastern Ghouta, in Afrin area in the north-western part of Aleppo province.”

On Saturday, the Observatory pointed out:

Turkish authorities [have already] transferred more than 150 families of the displaced people from the Eastern Ghouta and repatriated them in Afrin area, where these families settled in houses whose owners were displaced…as result of the attack of the Turkish forces and the Syrian opposition factions participating in ‘Olive Branch’ Operation which started on the 20th of January 2018.

Some Ghoutan residents have refused to relocate to houses belonging to people who were forced out by Turkey.

In addition to destroying property and overall infrastructure, Turkey’s Afrin offensive left some 300 fatalities and hundreds of others wounded, the Observatory revealed.

The power and influence of al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate mainly lie in northwestern Idlib province, a map from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) depicting control of territory in Syria as of April 2018 shows.

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