Jund al-Aqsa fighers join IS in Raqqa

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An estimated 50 former members of the rebel faction Jund al-Aqsa arrived in A-Raqqa city on Tuesday to join the Islamic State and pledge allegiance to its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the director of the Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently campaign told Syria Direct on Wednesday. “This is the first time fighters from Jund al-Aqsa have arrived to pledge allegiance to IS,” said Abu Ibrahim a-Raqqawi. The move highlights the group’s uneasy relationship with other rebel factions in northern Syria, says one Idlib-based journalist. “The pledge of allegiance (bay’ah) by the Jund al-Aqsa fighters to IS and their leaving to areas under IS control is better for the rebels, so that they aren’t planted amongst our rebels and our areas,” said Wasim Shamdin, who reports on areas of Idlib province with a Jund al-Aqsa presence for the opposition news website Umayya. The Jund al-Aqsa brigade, which mainly operates in Idlib and Aleppo, is considered by other regional rebel groups to have an extremist Islamist ideology, similar to that of IS, and has cooperated closely in several battles with al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat a-Nusra. The group is a participating faction in the Victory Army rebel coalition, but is suspected by rebels of assassinating the leader of another rebel group, Feilaq a-Sham, last month, drawingsharp criticism from other rebel leaders.