Yasser Arafat was notorious for his double speech: Nice and peaceful in English, harsh and extremist in Arabic.
The tactic came to mind Friday, when the Washington Post published an opinion piece written by Labib Al Nahass, the head of the foreign bureau of Ahrar Al Sham, a group founded in Syria with the help of al-Qaida leader Ayman Al Zawahiri.
Al Nahass portrays Ahrar al Sham in a moderate light and fails to detail the group's nefarious agenda. He claims that his group was founded by Syrians and fights on their behalf. "We believe that Syria needs a national unifying project that cannot be controlled or delivered by a single party or group and should not be bound to a single ideology," he wrote. "We believe in striking a balance that respects the legitimate aspirations of the majority as well as protects minority communities and enables them to play a real and positive role in Syria's future. We believe in a moderate future for Syria that preserves the state and institutes reforms that benefit all Syrians."
The Post offers no independent verification or context, so readers would not know that Ahrar Al Sham was founded in 2011 by Abu Khaled Al Souri, who fled to Afghanistan during the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood uprising in the 1980s. According to a February 2014 report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Spanish court document that investigated the 2004 Madrid Train bombings identified Al Souri as an Osama bin Laden courier in Europe.
When the Al Nusra Front, or Jabhat al-Nusra (al-Qaida in Syria), and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) had a dispute over merging of the two groups, Al Zawahiri sent a letter naming Abu Khaled Al Souri as his delegate in Syria where he assigned him to "oversee the implementation" of agreements between ISIS and Al Nusra. The Long War Journal describes Al Souri as "an influential al Qaeda ideologue whose work is regularly cited in jihadist literature, including al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's Inspire magazine."
Domestically Ahrar al Sham is no different than al-Qaida. In the Syrian city of Idlib, it works with Al Nusra to govern the area under Sharia law, force Druze to convert to Islam, and ban Christians from displaying the crosses on their houses of worship. A video published on YouTube by Ahrar Al Sham shows a member of Ahrar Al Sham publicly flogging two Muslim men for not participating in Jumaa (Friday) prayers.