Syrian rebel Omar al-Qahtani, the beleaguered spokesman for the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), pleaded for "understanding and forgiveness" Friday after confirming that insurgents belonging to the group had mistakenly killed and beheaded a member of an allied Islamist group Ahrar al-Sham. The al-Qaeda linked group, which already maintains strained relations with other anti-government rebels, is keen to try and smooth things over.
The beheaded man, who had been reported missing for days, was identified in an online video by bewildered fellow terrorists. During a recent public appearance in Aleppo, ISIS fighters proudly displayed the decapitated head of a victim they thought was a Shiite militia leader fighting for Syria's President Assad.
When the video was posted online, however, the severed head was recognized as that of Mohammed Fares, an Ahrar al-Sham member. The group maintains (or considering circumstances, maintained) close relations with ISIS..
According to ISIS, Fares had been injured in a battle against Shia militia groups loyal to the Syrian government and picked up by ISIS fighters who were taking the man to the hospital. Thinking that he had been captured by his Shiite foes, the man demanded to be killed, making remarks about the founding fathers of Shiism which were misinterpreted by his rescuers.
ISIS, which controls large swaths of northwestern Syria, has attracted the ire of domestic rebel groups who feel they care more about ideology and less about the cause at hand. As fighting in Syria drags on, opposition to the Assad regime has become fragmented. Extremist elements of the rebel movement such as ISIS are increasingly locked in a brutal civil war with more ideologically moderate home-grown rebels. With tensions high, the PR snafu could end up costing ISIS an arm ... and a head.