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Syria’s bloody civil war has spawned a separate rift with ramifications well beyond the region known as the Levant — a battle for the very soul of the global jihad movement.

Islamic militants who poured into the embattled nation to help the Free Syrian Army in its bid to topple dictator Bashar Assad are now fighting Assad, the rebels and each other in a barbaric free-for-all. At the center is the split between Al Qaeda’s regional affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, and the newly emerged Islamic State, which are fighting each other on the battlefield and in the war for recruits to the cause of Islamic terrorism.

“The two groups are now in an open war for supremacy of the global jihadist movement,” according to Middle East scholar Aaron Zelin in a research paper published by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a U.S.-based think tank.

Throw in the jihadist-led insurgency in neighboring Iraq, which has become intertwined in the insurrection in Syria, and the shifting alliances are becoming for many even harder to understand.

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