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Al-Nusra Front
Arabic language: جبهة النصرة لأهل الشام
Participant in the Syrian civil war
Flag of Jabhat al-Nusra.jpg
Flag of Al-Nusra Front
Active 23 Jan 2012 – present[1]
Ideology Sunni Islamism
Salafist jihadism
Islamic fundamentalism
Leaders Abu Mohammad al-Jawlani[2]
Area of
operations
Syria
Strength 7,000[3]-15,000[4]
Part of Islamic Coalition[5]
Allies

Syrian Islamic Front

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant

Al-Tawhid Brigade[7]
Ghuraba al-Sham [8]
Fatah al-Islam
Liwa al-Islam[9]
Suqour al-Sham Brigade[9]
Opponents Syria Syrian Armed Forces
Flag of Rojava.svg Democratic Union Party[10]
Ghuraba al-Sham [7]
Syria Al-Abbas brigade
23x15px Hezbollah

Al-Nusra Front or Jabhat al-Nusra (Arabic language: جبهة النصرة لأهل الشامJabhat an-Nuṣrah li-Ahl ash-Shām, "The Support Front for the People of Levant") is an Al Qaeda associate operating in Syria.[11] The group announced its creation on 23 January 2012 during the Syrian civil war.[12] It is described as "the most aggressive and successful arm of the rebel force."[13] The group was designated by the United Nations,[14] the United States in December 2012,[15] Australia in June 2013[16] and the United Kingdom in July 2013[17] as a terrorist organisation. In April 2013, the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant released an audio statement announcing that Jabhat al-Nusra is its branch in Syria.[6] The leader of Al Nusra, Abu Mohammad al-Jawlani, denied the merger but affirmed their allegiance to Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.[18] By May 2013, a faction of Jabhat loyal to the Islamic State of Iraq leadership began acting under the name of the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant." [19][20][21]

Ideology[edit | edit source]

The group is generally described as being made up of Sunni Islamist mujahideen. Its goal is to overthrow the Assad government and to create a Pan-Islamic state under the Sharia (the moral code and religious law of Islam) and aims to reinstate the Caliphate.[22] It encourages all Syrians to take part in the war against the Syrian government.[23] In an interview with a UAE newspaper, Abu Ahmed, a man identifying himself as the al-Nusra military commander for the Hasakah Governorate, described the organisation's goals as deposing Bashar al-Assad, and then establishing a state ruled by the Sharia.[24] Alcohol, tobacco and entertainment considered immoral would be banned, but the rules would be introduced gradually and after giving people advice first.

Members of the group are accused of attacking the religious beliefs of non-Sunnis in Syria, including the Alawis.[25] New York Times journalist C. J. Chivers cites "some analysts and diplomats" as noting that al-Nusra Front (and also the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) "can appear less focused on toppling" the al-Assad government than on "establishing a zone of influence spanning Iraq's Anbar Province and the desert eastern areas of Syria, and eventually establishing an Islamic territory under their administration."[26]

Members of the group have referred to the United States and Israel as enemies of Islam[25] and warned against Western intervention in Syria.[22] Syrian members of the group claim they are only fighting the Assad government and would not attack Western states.[22] The United States accused it of being affiliated with al-Qaeda in Iraq;[27] in April 2013 the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq released an audio statement affirming this connection.[6]

History[edit | edit source]

The Quilliam Foundation, in a briefing paper, reports that many of the groups members are Syrians who were part of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's Islamist network fighting the American forces in Iraq. Many of these Syrians remained in Iraq after the withdrawal of American forces, but upon the outbreak of Syrian civil war in 2011, the Islamic State of Iraq sent the Syrian mujahideen and individual Iraqi experts in guerrilla warfare into Syria. A number of meetings were held between October 2011 and January 2012 in Rif Dimashq and Homs where the objectives of the group were determined.[28]

The al-Nusra Front released its first public statement on 24 January 2012 in which they called for armed struggle against the Syrian government. The group claimed responsibility for the 2012 Aleppo bombings, the January 2012 al-Midan bombing, the March 2012 Damascus bombings[12] the murder of journalist Mohammed al-Saeed [29] and possibly the 10 May 2012 Damascus bombings.[citation needed]

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari has said that al-Qaeda in Iraq members have gone to Syria, where the militants previously received support and weapons, in order to join the al-Nusra Front.[30] They are considered to be the best trained and most experienced fighters amongst the Syrian rebels.[31] The group has refused calls for a ceasefire in Syria.[32]

US intelligence agencies had originally suspected al-Qaeda in Iraq for the bombings in Aleppo and Damascus.[23] Iraq's deputy interior minister said early February that weapons and Islamist militants were entering Syria from its country.[33] The Front claimed credit for suicide attacks in the Syrian capital of Damascus as well as in Aleppo. The Front is one of two Islamist militant groups based in Homs battling the Assad government.[citation needed]

The Institute for the Study of War, speculating on the origins of Al-Nusra Front, linked it with Syrian government sponsorship of Islamist militant groups fighting Coalition troops during the Iraq War. The group grew in late March and April 2012 after many leading militants from Lebanese Fatah al-Islam and Palestinian groups joined the leadership and were able to secure sponsorship of key jihadi ideologues including Sheikh Abu al-Mundhir al-Shinqiti, Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-Tahawi, and Sheikh Abu al-Zahra al-Zubaydi.[34]

In May 2013, al-Nusra members allegedly possessing 2 kilograms (4.4 lb) of sarin gas were arrested in Turkey.[35] However, this was later refuted by Turkish government officials, stating they "denied media reports that a small amount of the nerve agent sarin had been uncovered."[36]

Founding[edit | edit source]

The Al Nusrah Front announced the formation of the "Free Ones of the Levant Brigades" in a YouTube video statement that was released on January 23. In the statement, the group claimed that it attack the headquarters of security in Idlib province.[37]

"To all the free people of Syria, we announce the formation of the Free Ones of the Levant Brigades," the statement said, according to a translation obtained by The Long War Journal. "We promise Allah, and then we promise you, that we will be a firm shield and a striking hand to repel the attacks of this criminal Al Assad army with all the might we can muster. We promise to protect the lives of civilians and their possessions from security and the Shabiha [pro-government] militia. We are a people who will either gain victory or die." [37]

All statements and videos by the Nusra Front have been released by its media outlet, al-Manarah al-Bayda (The White Minaret), via the leading Jihadist webforum Shamoukh al-Islam.[1] The name, al-Manarah al-Bayda, is believed to allude to a hadith or Islamic tradition of the second coming of Jesus, who will descend to Earth east of Damascus and do battle with the Antichrist.[38]

Attacks[edit | edit source]

During the Syrian civil war, the group launched many attacks, mostly against targets affiliated with or supportive of the Syrian government. As of June 2013, al-Nusra Front had claimed responsibility for 57 of the 70 suicide attacks in Syria during the conflict.[39]

One of the first bombings for which al-Nusra was suspected of and the first suicide attack of the war came on 23 December 2011, when two seemingly coordinated bombings occurred in the Syrian capital of Damascus, killing 44 people and wounding 166.[40]

The al-Midan bombings of January 2012 were allegedly carried out by a fighter named Abu al-Baraa al-Shami. Footage of the destruction caused by the blast was released on a jihadist forum.[23] The video asserts that the "martyrdom-seeking operation" was executed "in revenge for our mother Umm Abdullah - from the city of Homs- against whom the criminals of the regime violated her dignity and threatened to slaughter her son," SITE reported. The video shows "an excerpt of allegiances, operations, and training of the al-Nusra Front" as well as a fighter "amongst the masses in a public demonstration, advising them to do their prayers and adhere to the rituals of Islam."[citation needed]

The 10 May 2012 Damascus bombings were allegedly claimed by Al-Nusra Front in an Internet video,[41] however, on 15 May 2012, someone claiming to be a spokesman for the group denied that the organization was responsible for the attack, saying that it would only release information through jihadist forums.[42]

On 29 May 2012, a mass execution was discovered near the eastern city of Deir ez-Zor. The unidentified corpses of 13 men had been discovered shot to death execution-style.[43]

On 5 June 2012, the Al-Nusra Front claimed responsibility for the killings, stating that they had captured and interrogated the soldiers in Deir ez-Zor and "justly" punished them with death, after they confessed to crimes.[44]

On 17 June 2012, Walid Ahmad al-Ayesh, described by Syrian authorities as the "right hand" of the Al-Nusra Front, was killed when Syrian authorities discovered his hiding place. He was reportedly responsible for the making of car bombs that were used to attack Damascus in the previous months.[45] The Syrian authorities reported the killing of another prominent member of the group, Wael Mohammad al-Majdalawi, killed on 12 August 2012 in an operation conducted in Damascus.[46]

On 27 June 2012, a group of Syrian rebels attacked a pro-government TV station in the town of Drousha, just south of the capital Damascus. The station's studios were destroyed with explosives. Seven people were killed in the attack on Al-Ikhbariya TV, including four guards and three journalists.[47] Al-Nusra claimed responsibility for the attack and published photos of 11 station employees they kidnapped following the raid.[48]

In mid-July 2012, Mohammed al-Saeed, a well-known government TV news presenter, was kidnapped by the group. On 3 August 2012, al-Nusra published a statement saying that al-Saeed had been executed.[29][49]

The scene at Saadallah Al-Jabiri Square after the attacks on 3 October 2012

On 3 October, three suicide car bombs exploded at the eastern corner of the central Saadallah Al-Jabiri Square killing 48 people,[50] as it was announced by the Ministry of interior. More than 122 people were reported to be heavily injured.[51] Al-Nusra claimed responsibility for the attack.[52] The bombs targeted the Officers' club and the nearby buildings of the Touristic Hotel and the historic "Jouha Café". The hotel received major damage while the café was entirely destroyed. A small building within the Officers' club was ruined as well.[53][54]

The al-Nusra Front also claimed responsibility for attacking numerous Syrian military bases: including a Syrian air defense base near Aleppo on 12 October 2012, the Hanano barracks in Aleppo city and the Suluq barracks in Raqqah. In the air defense base assault they reportedly destroyed buildings and sabotaged radar and rockets after overrunning the base in cooperation with the al-Fajr Islamic Movement and a group of Chechen fighters. During the storming of the Hanano barracks 11 soldiers were killed and they held the complex for six hours before retreating. They also claimed killing 32 soldiers during the raid on the Raqqah base.[55]

In October 2012, they joined other rebels in an attack on the Wadi Deif base around Maraat al Numan, in a prolonged fighting that turned into a siege of the base.[56] They also led an attack on the Taftanaz Air Base in November 2012, an important and strategic base for the Syrian army, containing up to 48 helicopters.[31]

The group seized three army checkpoints around Saraqeb at the end of October 2012, forcing the Syrian Army to withdraw from the area the next day. In the battle, 28 Syrian soldiers were killed as well as five Nusra fighters. Some of the captured soldiers were summarily executed after being called "Assad dogs". The video of these executions was widely condemned, with the United Nations referring to them as probable war crimes.[57][58]

Members of the al-Nusra Front carried out two suicide attacks in early November 2012. One occurred in a rural development center in Sahl al-Ghab in Hama province, where a car bomb killed two people; while the other occurred in the Mezzeh neighbourhood of Damascus, where a suicide bomber killed 11 people.[59] The SOHR claimed a total of 50 soldiers were killed in the Sahl al-Ghab attack.[60]

Al Jazeera reported on 23 December 2012 that the al-Nusra Front had declared a "no-fly-zone" over Aleppo, using 23 mm and 57 mm anti-aircraft guns to down planes. This would include commercial flights which al-Nusra believed transported military equipment and troops. In a video sent to Al Jazeera, they warned civilians against boarding commercial flights.[61]

In February 2013, Al Nusra fighters were involved in fighting in Safira with regime reinforcements, preventing these forces from reaching their destination of the city of Aleppo. A monitoring group claims this resulted in more than two hundred casualties over a period of two weeks.[62]

The Agenzia Fides, official news agency of the Vatican, reported that on Sunday, 23 June 2013, members of Jabhat al-Nusra attacked a Christian convent in Gassanieh, in northern Syria, and removed and brutally beheaded Syrian Catholic priest François Murad and two of his assistants who had sought sanctuary there after their monastery was destroyed.[63]

The group has taken part in military operations with the Free Syrian Army.[64] Abu Haidar, a Syrian FSA co-ordinator in Aleppo's Saif al-Dawla district said that Al-Nusra Front "have experienced fighters who are like the revolution's elite commando troops."[65]

Al-Nusra now controls Ash-Shaddadeh, a town of roughly 16,000.[66]

Relationship with other rebel groups[edit | edit source]

Al-Nusra Front has been a great help to Syrian rebels in the Battle of Aleppo. One rebel said that members of the group "rush to the rescue of rebel lines that come under pressure and hold them [...] They know what they are doing and are very disciplined. They are like the special forces of Aleppo". He added: "The only thing is that they are too radical".[32] After the US designated al-Nusra Front as a terror group, a Free Syrian Army (FSA) leader in Aleppo berated the move and a FSA spokesman in Aleppo said "We might not share the same beliefs as Jabhat al-Nusra, but we are fighting the same enemy".[67]

However, some rebels are worried by their extreme beliefs and tactics.[22][32] The FSA has consistently condemned al-Nusra Front's use of suicide bombs.[32] It accuses al-Nusra Front and others of "hijacking a revolution that began as an uprising to demand a democratic system".[22] The leader of a rebel group in Idlib Province said "We are not fighting Bashar al-Assad to go from living in an autocratic to a religious prison".[22] A "senior political official" of the FSA said "Their presence is reducing the popular support that we desperately need in areas where we operate [...] I appreciate their motives for coming to Syria. We cannot deny Muslims their right to jihad, but we want them to leave".[32] In some parts of Syria, "Jihadist and secular rebel groups watch each other's military bases warily, unclasping the safety catches on their guns as they pass".[22] Some members of the FSA believe that, after the Assad government has been overthrown, the next war will be between the FSA and the Islamists.[22]

Relationship with National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and opposition forces[edit | edit source]

The leader of the National Coalition for Opposition Forces and the Syrian Revolution, Moaz al-Khatib, called on the US to reconsider its decision to list the al-Nusra Front as a foreign terrorist organization; al-Khatib has stated that all rebel forces whose main goal is the “the fall of the regime” should be left alone.[68] After the listing of al-Nusra as a terrorist organisation by the US in December 2012, a group of 29 opposition groups, including both fighting units and civilian organisations signed an online petition calling for demonstrations in its support.[69] On 14 December 2012 thousands of Syrians protested against the US move, under the slogan of "There is no terrorism in Syria except that of Assad."[70]

Relationship with the Islamic State of Iraq[edit | edit source]

In April 2013, the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, released a recorded audio message on the Internet, in which he announced that Jabhat Al-Nusra was an extension of Al Qaeda in Iraq in Syria.[6] Al-Baghdadi said that Abu Mohammad al-Jawlani, the leader of Jabhat Al-Nusra, had been dispatched by the group along with a group of men to Syria to meet with pre-existing cells in the country. Al-Baghdadi also said that the Islamic State of Iraq had provided Jabhat Al-Nusra with the plans and strategy needed for the Syrian Civil War and had been providing them funding on a monthly basis.[71] Al-Baghdadi declared that the two groups were officially merging under the name "Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham."[71] The next day the leader of Al Nusra, Abu Muhammad al-Jawlani, denied that any such merger exists, while reiterating that Al Qaeda and Al Nusra Front are still allies. al-Jawlani is quoted as saying "We inform you that neither the al-Nusra command nor its consultative council, nor its general manager were aware of this announcement. It reached them via the media and if the speech is authentic, we were not consulted."[18]

In May 2013, a video was released on the Internet showing masked men publicly execute three captured Alawite officers in the eastern town of Raqqa, the men identified themselves as being members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham.[19] In the same month, Reuters reported that the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had traveled from Iraq to Syria's Aleppo Governorate province and began attempting to take over the leadership of al-Nusra. There were media reports that the group had suffered a split, with many of al-Nusra's foreign fighters operating under the banner of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and many Syrian Nusra fighters leaving the group to join other Islamist brigades.[19][20] In June 2013, Al Jazeera reported that it had obtained a letter written by Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri, addressed to both Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Abu Mohammad al-Jawlani, in which he ruled against the merger of the two organisations and appointed an emissary to oversee relations between them and put an end to tensions.[72] Later in the same month, an audio message from Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was released in which he rejects Zawahiri's ruling and declared that the merger of the two organisations into the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant was going ahead. This sequence of events is said to have caused much confusion and division amongst members of Al-Nusra.[21]

Support from outside Syria[edit | edit source]

According to former deputy Prime Minister Abdüllatif Şener, Turkey has supported al-Nusra with "a large volume of heavy weapons."[73][74][75][76][77]

Strategy and resources[edit | edit source]

  • car bombs;
  • suicide attacks;
  • destroying checkpoints;
  • execution of media professionals;
  • assassination of political and military figures and shabiha[28]

Chemical weapons[edit | edit source]

According to former defense correspondent Kenneth R. Timmerman writing in September 2013, sources with access to intelligence reports had told him that "intelligence reports from French and Jordanian military intelligence show that the jihadist al-Nusra front rebels acquired similar rockets and chemical agents earlier this year when they overran a chemical weapons depot in Aleppo on May 17 and captured a rocket unit in Daraa no[t] long afterward".[78] On 30 May, Turkish newspapers reported that Turkish security forces had arrested Al-Nusra fighters in the southern provinces of Mersin and Adana near the Syrian border and confiscated 2 kg of sarin gas.[79][80] The governor of Adana claimed that the security forces had not found sarin gas but unknown chemicals without further explanation.[81] The Turkish Ambassador to Moscow later said that tests showed the chemical seized was anti-freeze, not sarin.[82] In September six of those arrested in May were charged with attempting to acquire chemicals which could be used to produce sarin; the indictment said that it was "possible to produce sarin gas by combining the materials in proper conditions."[83] The indictment said that "The suspects have pleaded not guilty saying that they had not been aware the materials they had tried to obtain could have been used to make sarin gas. Suspects have been consistently providing conflicting and incoherent facts on this matter." The suspects were said to be linked to Al-Nusra and to Ahrar al-Sham.[84][85]

Organization and structure[edit | edit source]

The leader of al-Nusra is a man who goes by the name of Abu Mohammad al-Jawlani (or al-Golani), which implies that he is from the Golan Heights (al-Jawlan, in Arabic). Very little is known about him, with even his nationality unclear.[28] As of early 2013 al-Nusra is estimated to have around 6,000 members. The structure of the group varies across Syria, in Damascus the organisation operates in an underground clandestine cell system, while in Aleppo the group is organised along semi-conventional military lines, with units divided into brigades, regiments and platoons.[28] All potential recruits must undertake a 10-day religious-training course, followed by a 15-to-20-day military-training program.[1]

Al-Nusra contains a hierarchy of religious bodies, with a small Majlis-ash-Shura (Consultative Council) at the top, making national decisions on behalf of the group. Religious personnel also play an important role in the regional JN leadership, with each region having a commander and a sheikh. The sheikh supervises the commander from a religious perspective and is known as dabet al-shar'i (religious commissioner).[28]

Al-Nusra "appears to be the only rebel group in Syria which has members inside a number of government institutions, including the government security apparatus and military units. Particularly in Damascus, spying systems are sophisticated." [28]

An increasing number of Americans have been attempting to join the fighting in Syria, specifically with al-Nusra.[86] Most recently, Sinh Vinh Ngo Nguyen, also known as Hasan Abu Omar Ghan­noum, was arrested in California on October 11, 2013, on charges of attempting to travel to join Al Qaeda after reportedly having fought in Syria.[86] As of October 2013 there had also been four additional publicly disclosed cases of Americans fighting in Syria, three of which were linked to al-Nusrah.[87]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "Interview with a Newly Designated Terrorist: Syria’s Jabhat Al-Nusra". Time Magazine. 25 December 2012. http://world.time.com/2012/12/25/interview-with-a-newly-designated-terrorist-syrias-jabhat-al-nusra/. Retrieved 26 December 2012. 
  2. "TIME Exclusive: Meet the Islamist Militants Fighting Alongside Syria’s Rebels". Time Magazine. 26 July 2012. http://world.time.com/2012/07/26/time-exclusive-meet-the-islamist-militants-fighting-alongside-syrias-rebels//. Retrieved 29 November 2012. 
  3. "Syria’s Islamist fighters: Competition among Islamists". The Economist. 20 July 2013. http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21582037-one-islamist-rebel-group-seems-have-overtaken-all-others-competition-among. Retrieved 26 July 2013. 
  4. "Syria interactive: the rebels, their weapons and funds". Channel 4. 29 May 2013. http://www.channel4.com/news/syria-files-interactive-rebels-weapons-money-ideology-assad. Retrieved 25 September 2013. 
  5. "Factbox: Syrian rebels against opposition coalition". Reuters. 25 September 2013. http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/09/25/us-syria-crisis-opposition-factbox-idUSBRE98O0Q720130925. Retrieved 21 October 2013. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 "Qaeda in Iraq confirms Syria's Nusra is part of network". Agence France-Presse. 9 April 2013. http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130409/qaeda-iraq-confirms-syrias-nusra-part-network. Retrieved 9 April 2013. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 "Warring Syrian rebel groups abduct each other’s members". Times of Israel. 18 May 2013. http://www.timesofisrael.com/warring-rebel-groups-abduct-each-others-members-in-syria/. Retrieved 28 May 2013. 
  8. AFP (18 January 2013). "Raging clashes pit Syrian Kurds against jihadists". NOW. https://now.mmedia.me/lb/en/nowsyrialatestnews/raging_clashes_pit_syrian_kurds_against_jihadists. Retrieved 20 June 2013. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 Aron Lund (24 September 2013). "New Islamist Bloc Declares Opposition to National Coalition and US Strategy". Syria Comment. http://www.joshualandis.com/blog/major-rebel-factions-drop-exiles-go-full-islamist/. Retrieved 25 September 2013. 
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  17. http://www.foxnews.com/world/2013/07/19/britain-bans-syria-al-qaida-linked-nusra-front-on-terrorism-grounds/
  18. 18.0 18.1 "Al-Nusra Commits to al-Qaeda, Deny Iraq Branch 'Merger'". 10 April 2013. http://www.naharnet.com/stories/en/78961-al-nusra-commits-to-al-qaida-deny-iraq-branch-merger/. Retrieved 18 May 2013. 
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 "Insight: Syria's Nusra Front eclipsed by Iraq-based al Qaeda". Reuters. 2013-05-17. http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/05/17/us-syria-crisis-nusra-idUSBRE94G0FY20130517. Retrieved 2013-05-18. 
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