The Jihadist Campaign for Hearts and Minds

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A man raises his hand as he stands on the spot where the fallen statue of President Bashar al-Assad's father Hafez al-Assad used to be in Raqqa province, eastern Syria, on March 13.

RAQQA, Syria — The dusty, battered navy blue Subaru sedan with a blown-out rear window rolled up to the street corner in Raqqa City.

The bespectacled Jabhat al-Nusra fighter behind the wheel was five minutes early for our 9 a.m. appointment. Kalashnikov rifle slung across his shoulder, he stepped out of the car to open the front passenger door for me.

“Good morning,” the young Syrian said after we were both seated. He placed the Kalashnikov near the gear stick. “Are you scared of me?”

I smiled at his choice of greeting, told him I was not. “Good,” he said, as he unfastened the black headscarf he kept wrapped around his face to conceal his identity. The piece of fabric fell away, revealing a bushy black Salafi-style beard (no mustache) and a broad smile with a gap between his two front teeth. “See, I’m not scary,” he said smiling before securing the scarf back across his face, covering everything but his brown eyes.

Full dispatch, here.