Activists: Kurds to free al-Qaida-linked commander

Associated Press

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — Kurdish rebels are about to free the local commander of an al-Qaida-linked group in a town near Syria's northern border with Turkey after capturing him in intense fighting, activists said Sunday.

The commander in the town Tal Abyad, who is known as Abu Musaab, will be handed over to his group, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, alongside the release hundreds of Kurdish civilians detained in the past two days, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

In recent weeks, Assad's troops have seized the momentum in the civil war, now in its third year. His forces have been on offensive against rebels on several fronts, including the north.

Tal Abyad is near the Turkish border, part of Syria's Raqqa province. The area and others in Syria's northern region have seen intense fighting for several months between Kurdish forces, some of which back President Bashar Assad, and rebels from radical Islamic groups.

Abu Musaab was seized by Kurdish fighters late Saturday during clashes between the two sides, Rami Abdul-Rahman, director of the Observatory said. That prompted the al-Qaida militants to arrest hundreds of Kurdish residents in retaliation. He said Kurdish rebels agreed to free Abu Musaab Sunday following mediation but did not hand him over, waiting for the release of the Kurds.

Kurds, the largest ethnic minority in Syria, make up more than 10 percent of the country's 23 million people. Their loyalties in the conflict are split between the two sides. Most Kurds live in the poor northeastern regions of Hassakeh and Qamishli, wedged in between the borders of Turkey and Iraq. Damascus and Aleppo also have several predominantly Kurdish neighborhoods.

 More than 93,000 people have been killed since the Syria crisis started in March 2011, according to the United Nations, as largely peaceful protests against Assad's rule. It escalated into a civil war after opposition supporters took up arms to fight a brutal government crackdown.

Also Sunday, Syrian state television claimed that a pro-government group hacked into two social messaging networks and seized records of local users.

That could expose Syrian rebels and other activists who depend on the networks to publicize army crackdowns on their hometowns and communicate with each other. Many telephone landlines and cellphones in Syria are assumed to be tapped.

The TV said the social networking site Tango was hacked on Sunday by the Syrian Electronic Army.

The Syrian Electronic Army is a shadowy group that supports Assad's regime.

There was no immediate comment from Tango.

Syrian media said another network — Truecaller — also was hacked last week. Truecaller confirmed in a statement posted on its website that it had been the target of a cyberattack.

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Karam reported from Beirut.

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