ISIS Eyed as Blast Wipes Out Syria Rebel Leaders
Suicide bomber takes out hardline Islamist group
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 9, 2014 11:48 PM CDT
Updated Sep 10, 2014 12:01 AM CDT
Members of the Ahrar al-Sham brigade exercise in a training camp in Syria.   (AP Photo)

(Newser) – The leadership of a hardline Islamist group battling the Syrian regime has been wiped out by a suicide bomber—and suspicion has fallen on the even more hardline Islamists of ISIS. The blast hit a meeting of Ahrar al-Sham, a powerful member of the Islamic Front rebel coalition, killing leader Hassan Abboud and 11 other top commanders among a total of around 40 victims, the BBC reports. The group has clashed with ISIS—which "accidentally" beheaded one of its leaders last fall—before, and in a BBC interview in June, Abboud said the rival group represented "the worst image ever of Islam."

Analysts say that the blast has thrown anti-Assad and anti-ISIS forces in Syria into even more disarray, although Abboud's group was probably too hardline to have worked with the US. "Ahrar al-Sham had been one of the best-led and most organized, and overall, one of the most effective groups on the ground," a a Syria analyst for the International Crisis Group tells the AP, describing the group's political strategy as "relatively pragmatic" despite its fundamentalist beliefs. "It's a loss of talent within the rebel spectrum as a whole," the analyst says. "Ahrar al-Sham was one of the strongest, if not the strongest rebel group, and the question is, what will it look like going forward?"