As Islamic State Fades in Syria, Another Militant Group Takes Root by Sune Engel Rasmussen – Wall Street Journal
A new and dangerous extremist group spawned from al Qaeda is consolidating power in northwestern Syria, while the U.S. has focused on fighting remnants of Islamic State elsewhere in the country and striking the Assad regime’s chemical-weapons facilities.
Since surfacing as the country’s most potent militant group, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham has battled Western-backed rebel groups to extend its control across Idlib province, enforcing its version of Shariah and raising funds by taxing flows of people and goods.
The group’s leader, Abu Mohammad al-Julani, a former al Qaeda fighter, has vowed to conquer Damascus and impose Islamic rule across Syria. in a January speech, he exhorted followers to engage in “a war of ideas, a war of minds, a war of wills, a war of perseverance,” according to the SITE Intel Group.
Thousands of fighters with the group—an offshoot of the Nusra Front, al Qaeda’s former Syrian affiliate—have dug in around Idlib, analysts say, as the U.S. concentrates on Syria’s other battles and moves toward what President Donald Trump has said would be a quick exit from Syria…