• Ola Rifai - University of St Andrews

Zahran Alloush death; an assassination to the political solution in Syria

The breaking news of Zahran Alloush’s assassination has earth shattering implications on the Syrian crisis and in turn, on all actors engaged. He is said to have been killed by an airstrike that targeted a meeting of Liwa’ al-Islam leadership in eastern Ghouta, killing him alongside five other senior leaders. Alloush (44 years-old) is a former Islamist prisoner, whom the Syrian regime set free in June 2011 by a presidential pardon, hereafter, he established Liwa’ al-Islam (‘the Islam Brigade’), a Salafi movement with political and military wings based in his hometown of Duma, northern Damascus where he established a quasi-state. The influential power of Liwa al Islam increased rapidly and is now believed to comprise some 45,000 fighters.

The death of Alloush only one week after the UN passed a resolution to end the Syrian war seems to terminate any possible political solution and thwarts efforts by the international community to draw a road map for the crisis. After months of negotiations with international and regional actors, Alloush agreed to take part in the peace plan to end the war, and although he endorses a Salafi rhetoric, he was considered by Western powers as ‘moderate’ in comparison to al-Nusra Front and ISIS. Therefore, Liwa al Islam was excluded from the list of terrorist groups in Syria which was submitted to the UN last week and consists of some 167 groups. The truth of the matter is that his death will trigger a process of radicalisation for many moderate fighters on the ground, and will empower Jihadi groups, namely ISIS and al-Nusra front. Moreover, it will shrink the very little trust which some anti-Assad Syrians had with the political solution and provoke many pro-regime Syrians who lately leaned toward a political settlement to retract back to their hardline positions. Besides, his death would catalyse more fracture to the already fractured opposition as regards negotiations with the regime. Logically speaking, any road map for a political solution in Syria cannot be applicable without including military representatives from the opposition, yet now with Alloush dead the strongest representative is gone. What remains is the fragile Free Syrian Army (FSA) that does not enjoy any power on the ground, neither does it have an upper hand over the myriad militias in the suburbs of Damascus and other main cities.

Notably, with Alloush’s death, Putin’s endeavour in Syria enters a new stage, since it – regardless if it was carried by a regime jet or a Russian Sukhoi - signifies a strong message to the West that the rules of the game in Syria are in Russia’s hand, particularly because no red or purple line is there for deterrence; thanks to Obama’s faltering policy vis-à-vis the Syrian crisis.

In truth, yesterday’s raid in eastern Ghouta added more complications to the crisis and has driven it toward further deadlock. Zahran Alloush is by no means a democratic leader, rather he is one of the myriad lords of war in Syria who prompted sectarianism, eliminated civil activists and pursued empowerment via instrumentalising Salafism to mobilise followers in rural areas. Nevertheless, his death resembles an assassination of the peace process in Syria for the near future, and will, sadly, shed more Syrian blood. The West should have a scenario in hand to respond to this maneouvre. In the end, it is Syria and the Syrians who are paying the price, and of course, great powers are apathetic toward Syrian blood. However, they should bear in mind that the price will also go beyond borderers because, again, Syria’s bloody quagmire could flood the globe if it is not contained quickly; very quickly indeed.


© 2018 Centre for Syrian Studies