Al-Qaida divisions may aid Assad as he eyes Syria’s Idlib

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian President Bashar Assad is seeking to reassert his authority in the northern province of Idlib, the only remaining region where his forces currently have almost no presence, after losing it three years ago.

That quest may be aided by deep fractures within al-Qaida, the single most powerful extremist group that dominates Idlib.

A recent wave of arrests of some of its top members has also raised fears of an all-out war among insurgents in the heavily populated province near Turkey.

The power struggle playing out is between hard-line foreign fighters loyal to al-Qaida’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, and its more moderate Syrian members.

The recent, brief detentions of two top jihadis, founders of al-Qaida’s branch in Syria, prompted others within the group to threaten to abandon the fight against Assad.