BEIRUT (AP) — A group of extremist Islamist factions in Syria has rejected the country's new opposition coalition, saying in a video statement they have formed an "Islamic state" in the embattled city of Aleppo to underline their rejection of the Western-backed bloc.
The statement was a reaction to the Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces, formed Nov. 11 in Qatar to unify groups trying to topple the regime of President Bashar Assad. The coalition is led by a popular Muslim cleric and is seen as a way to counter the growing influence of Islamic extremists in the 20-month old revolt that has claimed more than 36,000 lives.
A militant website released the video late Sunday. In it, an unknown representative for the Islamist fighters spoke beneath a black Islamic battle flag at the end of a long table seating some 20 men. Reading from a statement, he said the group rejects the new opposition body, and declared the northern city of Aleppo, a major front where many radical groups have been fighting since the summer, an "Islamic state."
"We are the representatives of the fighting formations in Aleppo and we declare our rejection of the conspiratorial project, the so-called national alliance," the statement said. "We have unanimously agreed to urgently establish an Islamic state and to reject any foreign project." The authenticity of the video could not be independently confirmed, but the website it was released on carries al-Qaida and other militant statements.
The Syrian uprising started as peaceful protests in March 2011. It quickly morphed into a war that has deepened sectarian divisions in the country. Many of those trying to depose Assad are Sunni Muslims, while the regime is dominated by Alawites, followers of a Shiite offshoot sect.