Hassan Abboud, the leader of the Syrian Islamist rebel group Ahrar al-Shamm, has been killed with 27 other top deputies in a bomb blast at a meeting.
BBC News reports that activists say a suicide bomber detonated a vest in the attack in the north-western town of Ram Hamdan. Ahrar al-Sham is part of the Islamic Front, a coalition of seven Islamist rebel groups. Ahrar al-Sham is one of the biggest rebel groups fighting the government of President Bashar al-Assad. Although the group is hard-line Islamist in orientation, it has opposed and clashed with the ultra-radical Islamic State (IS) group, which is the most likely quarter to be blamed for the attack, reports BBC News' Jim Muir.
EuroNews reports that at least 28 top members of al-Sham, including leaders and deputies, were killed in the suicide bomb attack. The meeting in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib was attended by 50 leaders of Ahrar al-Sham, said Rami Abdulrahman, who runs the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The Wall Street Journal notes that the death of Mr. Abboud and the other leaders is a significant setback for the group and Islamists in general in Syria who are now fighting both the Syrian regime and their main rival, the even more extremist group known as Islamic State. Mr. Abboud was among the staunchest opponents of Islamic State. Activists estimate nearly 5,000 fighters with Islamic Front have been killed in battles against Islamic State since the start of the year.
On Abboud's official twitter account, he stated some reasons for the opposition of ISIS.
So many executions & beheading incidents committed by "IS" against Sunnis. No one cares unless victims are of a minority or Yanks. #Criteria
— حسان عبود (@HassanAbboud_Ah) August 23, 2014
"IS" relies heavily on social media in order to spoil the image of Islam, attract new devotees and lure young people into their ideology. — حسان عبود (@HassanAbboud_Ah) August 21, 2014
It's very strange how the "IS" has been able to advertise gory executions and beheadings against the social media websites rules. #Foley
— حسان عبود (@HassanAbboud_Ah) August 20, 2014
Interestingly, Mr. Abboud was an English teacher before the war, but was placed in a Sednaya prison for his Islamist leanings and suspected ties to the Syrian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood party, which is banned by the regime and labeled a terrorist organization.
Prior to the death of Abboud, the group had been in talks with Turkey and Qatar to collaborate on a less jihadist position and focus more on collaborative approach to taking down ISIS.