Russia Kills Top Rebel Leader Zahran Alloush In Airstrike Near Damascus

A suspected Russian airstrike east of Damascus has killed Jaysh al Islam chief Zahran Alloush, Retuers reports.

According to the London-based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights (so, according to Rami Abdulrahman's on the ground sources), five other commanders were also killed when Moscow's warplanes targeted one of the group's meetings in Eastern Ghouta, the site of the infamous chemical attack of 2013 that nearly resulted in the launch of a US air campaign against the Assad government.

This, allegedly, is footage of the strike:

Alloush, the son of Saudi-based Salafist cleric Abdallah Alloush, commands an army of thousands and as Reuters notes, "has been effectively running the administration of Eastern Ghouta." He was suspected in the 2013 kidnapping of Razan Zaitouneh, an award-winning Syrian human-rights activist, charges he denies. Alloush's soldiers have fought ISIS in Ghouta and Qalamoun among other places. 

Earlier this month, he granted an interview to The Daily Beast. Here are some excerpts which should give you some idea of where Jaysh al Islam stands vis-a-vis the hodgepodge of rebels, militants, and extremists fighting for control of the country:

TDB: In one of your prior interviews, you said that you do not have any differences with Jabhat al Nusra, the al Qaeda franchise in Syria. You said that your Sharia adviser does not disagree with the Sharia adviser of al Nusra. Does that mean that you have no ideological differences with al Qaeda?


ZA: Back then, I was referring to Abu Maria al-Qahtani, one of [al Nusra’s] Sharia advisers. We saw that Qahtani was showing a moderate face and we wanted to encourage those efforts. Now al Nusra has different Sharia advisers, and ours have many disagreements with them, ideologically and intellectually.


TDB: How is your relationship with Ahrar al-Sham, the powerful Salafist rebel group in Syria? Why were you excluded from its new coalition against Assad called the Army of Conquest?


ZA: Jaysh al-Islam stands alongside Ahrar al-Sham and all revolutionary forces that fight Assad and refuses ISIS’s takfiri mentality. You should ask them this question. We have heard that one component of the army which has ties with ISIS is the one that lobbied against us.


TDB: Do you apply Sharia law in the areas you control? What are your views on democracy and the future of Syria?


ZA: Jaysh al-Islam does not intervene in the judiciary body in our areas. We have representatives in the judiciary councils. The judiciary councils include many sheikhs and jurists who represent the diversity of our community. We believe in the rule of institutions.


When I criticized democracy, I was referring to the manipulation of people through lies covered by attractive colors. The democracy of Assad, the pluralism of the Baath, and the Islamism of ISIS are a few examples. The Western double standards are also applied to democracy. While democracy is used to serve people’s interests in the West, democracy is manipulated in our countries to bring villains to rule as agents for outside powers.  We believe that the future of Syria after Assad should be governed by a technocratic body which has the skills and the qualifications. We do not believe that Syria should be ruled by sectarian or partisan rule, but by a technocratic body that represent the diversity of the Syrian people. We do not see ourselves as Islamic. We are Muslims.


TDB: Unlike many areas of Syria, ISIS was not able to recruit or control any area in Ghouta. Why is that?


ZA: Although most of the people in our area are conservative, they aren’t radical. We have many Muslim scholars who belong to civic and moderate schools of religion. People of Ghouta are fortified from radicalization due to these facts. The West intervened after ISIS took control of Mosul in Iraq. We fought ISIS early on when we discovered their deviation from Islam and the danger they pose to our revolution and people. The West knows well that Jaysh al-Islam and other revolutionary forces are not terrorist, but the wish to reproduce the regime may affect its designation policy.

According to Joshua Landis, Oklahoma University's Director for the Center of Mid-East Studies, Alloush's ideology calls for the eradication of Shiites and Alawites:

This is an anti-Shiite tirade and “bring-back-the-Umayyad-Empire” propaganda piece. It shows how sectarian Alloush is. He refers to Shiites, and reduces the Nusayris into this grouping, as “Majous”, or crypto-Iranians. “Majous” is the old term for pre-Islamic Persians or Zoroastrians. Arab Christians use the term in Christmas carols about the Magi, or “three kings from the Orient” (or east) who come to pay homage to Jesus—Magi are Persians or Easterners. Here it is an Islamic term of abuse meant to suggest that Alawites and Iranians not only have the wrong religion but also the wrong ethnicity—they are not Arabs, but crypto-Iranians. The term Majous is used in many rebel videos to refer to the Assad regime—”al-nizam al-majousi”—or simply to refer to Shiites (or Alawites) generally. It demonstrates how demonized the Alawites are in the propaganda of the new Islamic Front.


Zahran calls for cleansing Damascus of all Shiites and Nusayris. (“Nusayris” is the old term that referred to the Alawites prior to the adoption of “Alawite.” It is considered a term of abuse by Alawites. 

The "tirade" to which Landis refers can be found in the following video:

On a lighter note, Alloush is also known for a viral video which appears to depict him preaching in full military garb with a Hello Kitty notepad lying on the desk in front of him:

Syrian state media has confirmed his death of and says several other group members were also killed in the strike.According to al-Arabiya TV, ten rockets hit the compound. 

Jaysh al Islam was invited to attend a Saudi-brokered opposition summit in Riyadh earlier this month, where rebel leaders were set to discuss a common position from which they could seek to bring about a change of government in Damascus.

In short, Moscow has just eliminated a powerful and exceptionally influential figure who, although he has fought ISIS and apparently now has ideological differences with al-Nusra, was violently anti-Shiite and anti-Alawite. In other words: this is a major blow for the opposition and an important symbolic and strategic victory for Assad. We close with one last exchange from the Daily Beast interview excerpted above:

TDB: Is the Russian air force targeting Jaysh al-Islam? And will you cooperate with Russia if it restricts its targets to ISIS?


ZA: Russia bombed Jaysh al-Islam positions for a time, and then stopped.