World Bulletin / News Desk
An al Qaeda affiliate has captured a northern Syrian town on the border with Turkey after ousting a rebel unit and detained its leader, activists said on Thursday.
The fall of the town of Atma, a crossing point for weapons and for Syrian rebels, signals disarray among some of the rebel groups.
Some of these groups are now playing a lesser role on the battlefield in the war against President Bashar al-Assad's forces, opposition sources said.
Activists said fighters of the al Qaeda affiliate - Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL - had stormed the headquarters of Suqur al-Islam, a moderate unit that controlled Atma, and set up roadblocks within the last 48 hours.
They detained Mustafa Waddah, the head of Suqur al-Islam, along with two dozen of his men.
A brief firefight took place at the headquarters and also near a Turkish security post in the town of Bukulmez, which overlooks Atma and its hilly terrain, the sources said.
With its proximity to Turkey, Atma has been largely spared shelling and air raids by Assad's forces. But thousands of people who fled bombings elsewhere in the country had taken refuge in the town and surrounding area.
"The ISIL deployed anti-aircraft guns at the main roundabout and took Atma quietly," said one of the activists, who did not want to be named.
He said Waddah's whereabouts were not known, but he may have been taken to the town of Dana, an ISIL stronghold where the group had set up a religious court.
Suqur al-Islam is a unit of the Free Syrian Army General Staff, headed by General Selim Idriss, the main opposition military figure, who is based in Turkey. But Suqur al-Islam and the General Staff have fallen out over sharing the weapons crossing through Atma, the activists said.
In the last few days, fighting erupted between Sukur al-Islam and other Free Syrian Army members after Sukur al-Islam seized seven trucks loaded with weapons sent by the General Staff that crossed through Atma.
"Suqur al-Islam were exhausted after the fighting with the General Command and the ISIL walked easily into their headquarters," said Abdallah al-Sheikh, an activist in Atma.
"Basically there was collusion between the General Staff and the ISIL."
Officials of the Free Syrian Army General Staff were not immediately available for comment.
Free Syrian Army units, including Sukur al-Islam and the ISIL had cooperated in the region before, mainly to fight Kurdish militia linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party who had encroached on Atma, the activists said.
However, the two sides have also fought against each other, underscoring the complex relationships among Assad's foes.
In August the ISIL took control of the northern border town of Azaz, expelling another Free Syrian Army unit and prompting Turkey to close a nearby border crossing.
Regime warplanes target opposition-held area east of capital Damascus, killing dozens, local sources assert
Activists say just how much time, effort goes in to organizing rally in Beirut’s flashpoint Martyrs’ Square
Religious High Court has sent a letter to Pope Francis demanding he rescind or face trial on 20 September
Armed group demolishes Roman-era Temple of Bel, a 2,000-year-old UNESCO world heritage site
Lavrov says Syria’s opposition forces on a constructive platform need to unite to step up the fight against terrorism and implement the Geneva communique
Egyptian Coordination of Rights and Freedoms says 124 people have been 'forcibly disappeared' this month
Group member decries ‘coup against legitimacy represented by Hamas, which holds most seats in Palestinian parliament
Human rights monitoring group says ISIL is the closest that it has ever been to the heart of Damascus
Egypt has been without a parliament since June 2012 when a court dissolved the democratically elected main chamber
Scores of residents reportedly held by armed group for organizing anti-ISIL demonstrations
Fuel shortages and lack of medical supplies are threatening to close the doors of a children's hospital in Yemen.
Discovery, confirmed by Egypt's oil ministry, could hold a potential 850 billion cubic metres of lean gas in an area of about 100 square kilometres
Main aim of Turkey's joint air operations in anti-ISIL coalition is creation of safety zone in northern Syria
Al Jazeera journalists case has stoked international outcry, raised questions over Egypt's stated commitment to democracy
Local authorities find bodies of at least 119 would-be migrants who appear to have drowned while trying to make it to Europe
Local residents say anti-Houthi forces kill dozens bottling plant workers