Syria Al Qaeda Beheading Mix Up Highlights Fog Of War

Syrian rebels linked to Al Qaeda mistakenly beheaded an allied commander after believing him to be a government loyalist. The claim was made Saturday by activists, showing the confusion that is commonplace in a civil war that has raged for more than two years. They say the beheading happened in Aleppo.

As ABC News reports, two rebel fighters proudly carried the head through the streets, as captured on video. They claimed that the dead man had been an Iraqi Shiite militant fighting alongside Assad’s government troops. However, others soon recognized the dead man to instead belong to a rebel commander named Mohammed Fares Marrouche, sometimes known as Abu Abdullah al-Halaby.

Concern has already spread among anti-government militant groups over the fallout from the incident. It is not known if it will lead to a rift between allied Syria rebel factions. The group responsible for the mistaken beheading is the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL or ISIS. ISIL is known for its radical stance and often brutal tactics that sometimes target civilians.

The murdered rebel commander is believed to have fought for another hard-line faction, Ahrar al-Sham. Both Ahar al-Sham and ISIL are known to have ties to international terrorist organization Al Qaeda.

In-fighting among anti-Assad rebels has become more frequent in recent times, showing a lack of a unified rebel presence in Syria. One website affiliated with Syrian rebels says ISIL has accepted responsibility for the beheading. It also pleads with disgruntled rebel factions to remain calm and not disband alliances. Another militant-linked website posted a picture of the two ISIL fighters seen carrying the decapitated commander’s head with the caption “Wanted: Two killers wanted for judgment in the Islamic court.”

According to BBC News, Syrian activists say ISIL militants discovered Marrouche in an Aleppo hospital. As they carried the anesthetized man out, hospital staff were too terrified to tell the jihadists who the man was. Before executing Marrouche, he began to emerge from his drug-induced unconsciousness and was supposedly heard uttering the names of Shiite saints in prayer.

To the militants, this confirmed his connection to Assad sympathizers. In general, the act shows the sectarian nature of the Syrian civil war. Shiite factions have largely allied themselves with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, himself an Alawite, a Shiite-related Islamic sect.

Syrian rebels linked to Ahrar al-Sham are already furious over the mistaken beheading, calling ISIL fighters “idiots.”

[Image via Wikimedia Commons / Patrick Wells]