A FORMER Sydney preacher has emerged as a powerful new leader in the Syrian conflict after appearing on TV on Friday to reveal rebel groups in the strife-torn region had united against the forces of the Assad regime.

Speaking with his un-mistakenly Australian accent, self-styled Sheik Mostafa Mahamed appeared on British television to show videos of formally fractured militant groups fighting together.

It was the split of the Jabhat al-Nusra Front (JN), a splinter of al-Qaeda, that give rise to the emergence of Islamic State but the group rebranded last month as the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (JFS) and on Friday declared it had severed all ties with al-Qaeda and formed alliances with all other rebel groups to create a super force.

It was this new force, he said, that saw the siege of Aleppo broken in recent weeks, although attracted heavy air strikes and shelling by Russian forces fighting alongside Syria’s Bashar al-Assad regime forces.

“We’re stronger together than we are apart and it’s as simple as that,” the Australian preacher told Sky News UK.

The sheik, who also goes by the name Aby Sulayman al-Muhajir, had travelled to Syria in 2013 and appeared in a video a year later in 2014 fighting for JN against the then fledgling militant group Islamic State (ISIS).

Authorities in the US and Australia have dismissed the new force as a simple rebranding and the engagement with Western media now seen as a change in tactics by the extremist group as it seeks legitimacy.

But Mahamed, who was elected to speak publicly now about the group and its intentions, said not so.
“It’s certainly not something temporary,” he said, speaking from the embattled Aleppo.

“It’s a necessary step forward in order to achieve the very much needed reunification of ranks in Syria and one of the core reasons of Jabhat al-Nusra initially was disbanded and we created then JFS, was to remove any potential obstacles that may impede the success of a merger — like unnecessary affiliations.”
He added: “This was the most high-level co-ordinated collaboration between all of the Syrian major players on the ground.

“Thousands of soldiers, the most experienced military commanders, all logistic efforts came together in order to foil the attempts of these four horsemen of the Syrian apocalypse — the Assad regime, Russia, Iran and the militia of Hezbollah.”

The Egyptian-born cleric, now aged in his early 30s, was raised in Sydney and came to prominence four years ago when he gave a lecture to extremists at the Al-Risalah centre in Bankstown in south west Sydney calling on young men to fight in Syria.