The head of a major Syrian-American group said in a podcast earlier this month that American and other Western policymakers should not be concerned about the rise of the Islamic Front in Syria and should actively engage it.
The Islamic Front formed last month after seven Islamist rebel groups formed broke ranks with the Free Syrian Army (FSA), now the Syrian Rebel Front (SRB). The coalition's charter clearly states that it aims to replace the Assad regime with an Islamic state and that it rejects democracy and secularism.
"We have not seen serious engagement by the West with the biggest sort of united opposition armed element on the ground, and that's something I think they definitely should do. That's not to be written off," Syrian Emergency Taskforce Executive Director Mouaz Moustafa said in the podcast. "They should also be seen as the best hope against al-Qaida and the extremists in Syria and also against Hizballah and Assad."
His group has close ties with the U.S. State Department and holds regular meetings with it and with members of Congress.
Moustafa urged his listeners not to "pass judgment" on the Islamic Front based on its name alone.
"The focus now is to depose the regime and kick out people like Hizballah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and others that are killing us. And so that's the best way to describe their ideology," Moustafa said. "I think the international community and the West and in general must engage with the Islamic Front and need to be more pragmatic and realistic about what is going on ground in Syria in order to bring them on board with whatever political solution will happen in the future."
Many Islamic Front battalions have fought alongside Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), al-Qaida's two factions in Syria, or have endorsed them in interviews or on social media.
Hassan Aboud, the head of Ahrar Al-Sham, a faction of the Islamic Front, told Al-Jazeera in a June 8 interview that the main differences between his group and Jabhat al-Nusra came down to tactics. Abu Muhammed al-Husseini, the head of al-Sham's political office in Raqqa, agreed, telling Reuters in July that his group differed from al-Nusra only on "operational details."
Suquor al-Sham, Ahrar al-Sham Movement, Jaish al-Islam and Suqour al-Sham – all components of the Islamic Front – signed a declaration with Jabhat al-Nusra in September saying they aimed to establish "the rule of sharia and making it the sole source of legislation" and unite the anti-Assad forces in "an Islamic framework."