Al-Qaida’s branch in Syria has recruited thousands of fighters, including teenagers, and taken territory from government forces in a successful offensive in the north, illustrating how the cease-fire put in place by Russia and the United States to weaken the militants has in many ways backfired.
The branch, known as the Nusra Front, has churned out a flood of videos – slickly produced in the style of its rival, the Islamic State group – that show off its recruitment drive. In one, young men line up for combat training. In another, a bearded al-Qaida fighter in a mosque urges a crowd of men to join jihad. A third shows an al-Qaida-linked cleric leading a graduation ceremony, handing out weapons to young men.
Since March, the group recruited 3,000 new fighters, including teenagers, in comparison to an average of 200 to 300 a month before, according to Rami Abdurrahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist group monitoring the conflict. He cited contacts within the Nusra Front. Other activists said hundreds living in camps for displaced people in the north have joined the al-Qaida branch.