Battle-hardened Al Qaeda-linked fighters helping insurgents in Syria are winning over their fellow warriors with a newfound discipline that could make them even more formidable in the war for the hearts and minds of civilians caught in the crossfire of a bloody civil war.

Syrian fighters seeking to topple strongman Bashar Assad told the jihadists from the Al Qaeda-affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra are ferocious in battle, but then share their spoils with suffering villagers while other insurgents line their own pockets with loot. The new approach by the terror group, infamous for killing civilians with suicide bombings and videotaping grisly beheadings, threatens to broaden its appeal to beleaguered citizens of the war-torn nation.

“They don’t push their ideology at us,” Hassan, a driver and 37-year-old father of three, said as he ate mutton stew by candlelight with four other fighters and a reporter in the northern Syria village of Tel Rifat. “They aren’t corrupt like the others. What they capture from government bases they distribute. They are proper, very correct.”

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