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Ayman al-Zawahri

Syrian militant group recasts itself as moderate option

The militants brought the two men into a square in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, then announced their punishment for failing to attend Friday prayers: 25 lashes delivered by a hose-wielding militant that left their backs covered in welts and dark bruises. The whipping, captured on video as dozens of men and boys watched, was carried out two years ago by the ultraconservative Ahrar al-Sham, or Free Men of Syria, an Islamic militant group with links to al-Qaida. But since then, the group has been shifting tactics, seeking to portray itself as a moderate force fighting both President Bashar Assad's troops and the extremists of the Islamic State group. Backed by U.S.-ally Turkey,...