The 45 Fijians taken hostage by the rebel Al-Nusra Front (ANF), an Islamist terrorist organization in Syria, have been released.
No harm or casualty have been reported on the captured and now released Fijians.
The move by the Al-Nusra Front, is to avoid being caught up in the scourge recently declared by the US on terror organizations operating in the wars in Syria and Iraq, especially the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a rival rebel group in the war in Syria.
ANF and ISIS are the most violent and leading militant faction in Syria in the fight against the Bashar Al Assad government. After briefly joining the war in Syria, the two factions started killing allies in the Free Syrian Army to gain control of the country in the hope of the eventual toppling of the current Baathist secular government.
Both factions, as extremist Sunni and Salafi militant sects, have also been implicated in the massacre of both Shiites and Christians in Syria, and especially the beheadings of foreigners and “non-believers”.
When the UN Peacekeepers were captured, ANF demanded it’s delisting as a terror organization, humanitarian aid, and compensation for three of its troops killed in a shootout. None of these were upheld.
The dropping of these demands, the release and lack of harm to the captured Fijians, is a strategic move by the organization to garner goodwill as retaliation from the West falls on ISIS.
With US President Obama declaring focus and military action against ISIS, it should come as an advantage for ANF and its struggle to control Syria and bring the country into its own extreme religious rule.
Al Jazeera reports that Qatar, a leading sponsor of the war in Syria alongside Saudi Arabia, was instrumental in negotiating the release of the Fijians. According to the report, the Qatar government said Fiji had formally requested its assistance in freeing the hostages.
Fijian Peacekeepers volunteered in 2012 to replace personnel from Austria, Japan, and Croatia after those countries pulled their forces from the area, largely disagreement about the foreign backed war against Bashar Al Assad.
Former Fijian Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka recently warned that any harm to the captured troops might trigger backlashes against the Muslim population in Fiji. However, such retaliations may only strengthen Al Qaeda’s own narrative as defender of the global ummah (Muslim community), wherever they are.
After the clash that resulted in the capture of the Fijians, a minor clash in the echelons of the UN Command briefly erupted. This was related to the escape of Filipino Peacekeepers who were captured along with the Fijians. The Filipinos broke free from captivity, but received criticism for jeopardizing the lives of the remaining hostages. The Fijians surrendered, and have risked being tried under Sharia Law, which could have seen them massacred.
When the UN Peacekeepers fought the encroaching attacks from the ANF, the Syrian government forces provided fire support to prevent ANF from taking over the UN Facilities.