|(Arabic: جبهة النصرة لأهل الشام)
Participant in the Syrian Civil War,
the Syrian Civil War spillover in Lebanon,
and the Global War on Terrorism
Flag of the al-Nusra Front
|Active||23 January 2012 – present|
|Leaders||Abu Mohammad al-Julani|
|Area of operations|
Mujahideen Shura Council
Army of Conquest
Battle of Victory
|Battles and wars||
The al-Nusra Front, or Jabhat al-Nusra (JN, Arabic: جبهة النصرة لأهل الشام Jabhat an-Nuṣrah li-Ahli ash-Shām, "The Support Front for the People of Al-Sham"), sometimes called Tanzim Qa'edat Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Sham or al-Qaeda in Syria or al-Qaeda in the Levant, is a branch of al-Qaeda operating in Syria and Lebanon.
The group announced its formation on 23 January 2012, during the Syrian Civil War. Since then, it has been described as both "the most aggressive and successful" and "one of the most effective rebel forces" in Syria, and has been designated as a terrorist organisation by the United Nations, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Turkey.
Since early 2015, there have been persistent reports of the al-Nusra Front considering leaving al-Qaeda and planning to abandon its current name and merge with smaller Islamist groups, such as Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar, in order to form a new entity that will receive funding from the Gulf States. However, in a statement issued on 9 March 2015, the group reaffirmed its allegiance to al-Qaeda and denied plans to break away from it.
- 1 Ideology
- 2 Analysis
- 3 History
- 4 Attacks
- 5 External support
- 6 Weaponry and tactics
- 7 Designation as a terrorist organisation
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 External links
The al-Nusra Front aims to overthrow the Assad government and replace it with a Sunni Islamic state. Although the group is affiliated with al-Qaeda, it does not emphasise Western targets or global jihad, focusing instead on the "near enemy" of the Syrian state.
This group is generally made up of native Syrian mujahideen who adhere to Sunni Islam. Its goal is to overthrow Bashar al-Assad's government in Syria and create an Islamic Emirate under Sharia law.
In early 2014, Dr. Sami Al Oraidi, a top Sharia official in the group, acknowledged that his group is influenced by the teachings of Abu Musab al-Suri. The strategies derived from Abu Musab's guidelines include: providing services to people, avoiding being seen as extremists, maintaining strong relationships with communities and other fighting groups, and putting the focus on fighting the government.
Members of the group are accused of attacking the religious beliefs of non-Sunnis in Syria, including the Alawis. New York Times journalist C. J. Chivers cites "some analysts and diplomats" as noting that al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant "can appear less focused on toppling" the 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".
Members of the group have referred to the United States and Israel as enemies of Islam, and warned against Western intervention in Syria. Syrian members of the group claim that they are only fighting the Assad government and would not attack Western states. The United States accused it of being affiliated with al-Qaeda in Iraq, and in April 2013, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, released an audio statement affirming this connection.
The leader of al-Nusra, a self-proclaimed emir, goes by the name of Abu Mohammad al-Julani (also transliterated as: Mohammed and 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. However, in an interview with Al Jazeera, he spoke classical Arabic with a Syrian accent.
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. All potential recruits must undertake a ten-day religious training course, followed by a 15–20-day military training program.
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).
An increasing number of Americans have been attempting to join the fighting in Syria, As MD Ahmad Zarkali and Thayer al-atheim and fifty of friends specifically with al-Nusra. Most recently, Sinh Vinh Ngo Nguyen, also known as Hasan Abu Omar Ghannoum, was arrested in California on 11 October 2013, on charges of attempting to travel to join al-Qaeda, after reportedly having fought in Syria. As of November 2013, there had also been five additional publicly disclosed cases of Americans fighting in Syria, three of which were linked to al-Nusra.
All statements and videos by the al-Nusra Front have been released by its media outlet, al-Manarah al-Bayda (The White Minaret), via the leading jihadist webforum Shamoukh al-Islam.
The Quilliam Foundation, in a briefing paper, reports that many of the group's 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.
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, the murder of journalist Mohammed al-Saeed, and possibly the 10 May 2012 Damascus bombings.
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, to join the al-Nusra Front. They are considered to be the best trained and most experienced fighters among the Syrian rebels. The group has refused calls for a ceasefire in Syria.
US intelligence agencies had originally suspected al-Qaeda in Iraq of the bombings in Aleppo and Damascus. Iraq's deputy interior minister said in early February 2012 that weapons and Islamist militants were entering Syria from Iraq. The Front claimed credit for suicide attacks in the Syrian capital of Damascus al-Zahra al-Zubaydi. A defected diplomat named Nawaf al-Fares stated in an interview with the The Daily Telegraph that jihadis were used by the Syrian government in attacks against civilians so that the government could blame the deaths on Syrian rebels.
Role in the Syrian Civil War
The al-Nusra Front has provided a boost to Syrian rebels fighting 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." After the US designated the al-Nusra Front as an al-Qaeda linked terrorist group, several rebel groups defied the US classification and rallied behind the al-Nusra Front, declaring, "We are all Jabhat Al Nusra." 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." Some FSA fighters defected to the al-Nusra Front.
While some FSA leaders are worried by the al-Nusra Front's theocratic ideology and plans for Syria's future, they see foreign extremists as a welcomed boost to the fight against the Assad government, bringing experience from Iraq and Afghanistan. While FSA has consistently stated their disapproval of al-Nusra Front's use of suicide bombs, they have also thanked them for some suicide operations with strategic benefit, such as the attack on the Menagh Airbase. Some disgruntled voices within the FSA accused the al-Nusra Front and others of "hijacking a revolution that began as an uprising to demand a democratic system." 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". 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." 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." 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.
The leader of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, Moaz al-Khatib, called on the US to reconsider its decision to list the al-Nusra Front as a foreign terrorist organisation; al-Khatib has stated that all rebel forces whose main goal is "the fall of the regime" should be left alone. 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. 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."
Split with Islamic State of Iraq
In April 2013, the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), 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. Al-Baghdadi said that Abu Mohammad al-Julani, 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 said that the ISI 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. Al-Baghdadi then declared that the two groups were officially merging under the name Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham/the Levant (ISIS/ISIL). The next day al-Julani rejected the merger and affirmed the group's allegiance to al-Qaeda and its leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Al-Julani was 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."
In May 2013, Reuters reported that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the ISI, had travelled from Iraq to Syria's Aleppo Governorate province and begun recruiting members of al-Nusra. There were media reports that many of al-Nusra's foreign fighters had left to join al-Baghdadi's Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), while many Syrian fighters left the group to join other Islamist brigades. Sometime in May 2013, Abu Mohammad al-Julani, the leader of al-Nusra, was injured by an airstrike conducted by the Syrian government. 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-Julani, 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. Later in the same month, an audio message from Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was released in which he rejected al-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.
Some units of al-Nusra began taking part in clashes against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and in February 2014, after continued tensions, al-Qaeda publicly disavowed any relations with ISIS. In the same month, al-Julani threatened to go to war with ISIS over their suspected role in the killing of senior Ahrar ash-Sham commander Abu Khaled al-Souri. Al-Julani gave ISIS five days to submit evidence that they were innocent of the attack to three imprisoned Jihadist clerics, Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, Abu Qatada al-Falastini, and Suleiman al-Alwan. On 16 April 2014, ISIS killed al-Nusra's Idlib chief Abu Mohammad al-Ansari together with his family, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported. In May 2014, open fighting soon broke out between ISIS and al-Nusra in Deir ez-Zor Governorate, leaving hundreds dead on both sides. By July 2014, al-Nusra had largely been expelled from the province.
In July 2014, an audio recording attributed to al-Julani appeared online, in which he said that al-Nusra planned to establish an Islamic emirate in the areas of Syria where they had a presence. A statement issued on 12 July 2014 by al-Nusra's media channel affirmed the authenticity of the recording, but stated that they had not yet declared the establishment of an emirate.
Rumors of potential split with al-Qaeda
On 12 February 2015, there were reports that al-Nusra was leaving al-Qaeda. The reports were confirmed by Muzamjer al-Sham, and sources associated with the government of Qatar stated that funding incentives had been offered to encourage the al-Nusra Front to split with al-Qaeda. In March 2015, prominent al-Nusra Front leader Abu Hammam al-Shami was reported killed; al-Shami was said to be opposed to al-Nusra cutting ties with al-Qaeda, while the organization's overall leader, Abu Mohammad al-Julani, was said to favor the move. However, in a statement issued on 9 March 2015, the group reaffirmed its allegiance to al-Qaeda and denied plans to break away from it. Still reports continued in May 2015 of a groundswell of support for a split, with Abu Maria al-Qahtani, the commander of the al-Nusra Front in Deir ez Zour, supporting the move. According to an individual with links to al-Nusra Front's leadership who considered a split imminent, “You have to understand that al Nusra consists of two very different parts and that one part, mostly local fighters, are not interested in global jihad”, with journalists noting that the local faction makes up 80 percent of the organization. Turkey sought to leverage the rise of Ahrar ash-Sham as the senior partner in the Army of Conquest operations room as an incentive for al-Nusra to break its ties with al-Qaida.
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.
One of the first bombings 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.
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. 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."
The al-Nusra Front announced the formation of the "Free Ones of the Levant Brigades", in a YouTube video statement that was released on 23 January. In the statement, the group claimed that it attacked the headquarters of security in Idlib province. "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."
The 10 May 2012 Damascus bombings were allegedly claimed by al-Nusra Front in an Internet video; however, on 15 May 2012, someone claiming to be a spokesman for the group denied that the organisation was responsible for the attack, saying that it would only release information through jihadist forums.
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. 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.
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. 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.
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. Al-Nusra claimed responsibility for the attack and published photos of 11 station employees they kidnapped following the raid.
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.
On 3 October, three suicide car bombs exploded at the eastern corner of the central Saadallah Al-Jabiri Square killing 48 people, as it was announced by the Ministry of interior. More than 122 people were reported to be heavily injured. Al-Nusra claimed responsibility for the attack. 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.
The al-Nusra Front also claimed responsibility for attacking numerous Syrian military bases, including:
- Aleppo district: an air defence base, on: 12 October 2012
- Aleppo city: the Hanano barracks
- Raqqah: the Suluq barracks
In the air defence base assault they reportedly destroyed buildings and sabotaged radar and rockets after over-running the base in co-operation 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.
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. 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.
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.
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. The SOHR claimed a total of 50 soldiers were killed in the Sahl al-Ghab attack.
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.
In February 2013, Al Nusra fighters were involved in fighting in Safira with government 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.
The group has taken part in military operations with the Free Syrian Army. 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."
In December 2013, al-Nusra abducted 13 nuns from a Christian monastery in Maaloula. They were held in the town of Yabroud until 9 March 2014, The nuns reported they had not been harassed and could keep religious symbols.
On 28 August 2014, militants from the group kidnapped 45 UN peacekeepers from Fiji from Golan Heights in the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force Zone. The group demanded that it be removed from the UN's list of terrorist organisations in exchange for the lives of the peacekeepers. In addition to UN personnel, the group routinely captures UN vehicles to use as car bombs. At the same time, two groups of UN peacekeepers from Philippines were trapped under fire in nearby Rwihinah. On 31 August, one group of 32 Filipinos soldiers was rescued and the other group of 40 soldiers escaped. The rescue operation was carried out by Irish peacekeepers. Colonel Ezra Enriquez of the Philippines, who oversaw the operations, resigned over disagreements with Indian Lieutenant General Iqbal Singh Singha. Singha had allegedly ordered the Filipinos peacekeepers to surrender arms to ensure the safe release of the Fijian soldiers. On 8 September, Rodrigo Duterte, the mayor of Davao City, called for Singha's death after he allegedly called the Filipinos soldiers cowards. On 11 September, the kidnapped Fijian soldiers were released.
In late October 2014, al-Nusra began attacking the Free Syrian Army and other moderate Islamist groups that it was formerly allied with, in a bid to establish its own Islamic state in the cities it controlled in the Idlib Governorate and other neighbouring Governorates.
At least one Arab government[which?] has accused Qatar of helping al-Nusra. The US Government has been sending weapons to rebels in Syria since at least late 2013, and perhaps as early as 2011, during the begininning phases of the conflict. These weapons have been reportedly falling into hands of extremists, such as al-Nusra and ISIL. It has also been argued that the Iranian government has supported the group.
al-Nusra has also been materially supported by multiple foreign fighters. Most of these fighters are from Europe and the Middle East, as pipelines to Syria from those locations are better established and navigable. However, as of November 2013, there were also 6 publicly disclosed cases of American citizens and permanent residents who joined or attempted to join al-Nusrah in 2013 alone.
Khorasan, also known as the Khorasan Group, refers to a group of senior al-Qaeda members who operate in Syria. The group is reported to consist of a small number of fighters who are all on terrorist watchlists, and co-ordinate with the al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda's affiliate in Syria. At an intelligence gathering in Washington, D.C. on 18 September 2014, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper stated that "in terms of threat to the homeland, Khorasan may pose as much of a danger as ISIS." The term first appeared in news media in September 2014, although the United States had reportedly been keeping track of the group for two years previously.
Weaponry and tactics
The organisation is believed to have used, at various times and in various places, the following tactics: car-bombs, suicide-attacks, targeting of checkpoints, conventional assault of military bases, assassination of political and military figures and members of the shabiha, targeting (destruction/killing) of pro-government media stations and personnel.
By June 2013, there had been apparently 70 suicide-attacks in Syria. Of these, the group denied responsibility for 13 but claimed responsibility for the other 57. In June 2012, the group attacked the pro-government TV station at Drousha, near Damascus. The following month the government-TV presenter Mohammed al-Saeed disappeared; the group later declared him dead.
The al-Nusra Front allegedly have an elite sniper unit known as the "Wolf Group". Training is conducted in Aleppo by veteran jihadists who belong to the Khorasan Group, a collection of veteran al-Qaeda operatives sent from al-Qaeda strongholds along the Afghan-Pakistan border.
A report surfaced in June 2013 of former Iraqi Ba'ath officials supplying the chemical weapon Sarin to the al-Nusra Front through former Iraqi Brig. Gen. Adnan al-Dulaimi. The report detailed how "several former Iraqi military engineers trained the al-Nusra Front on how to use these chemical weapons" adding that all plans in this connection were prepared by al-Dulaimi and staged after Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri's approval. The sourcing of this report is said to be an aide to al-Douri.
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. The governor of Adana claimed that the security forces had not found sarin gas but unknown chemicals, without offering further elaboration. The Turkish Ambassador to Moscow later said that tests showed the chemical seized was anti-freeze, not sarin. 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." 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 ash-Sham.
Designation as a terrorist organisation
Countries and organisations below have officially listed the al-Nusra Front as a terrorist organisation.
|Iran||3 January 2012|||
|Australia||28 June 2013|||
|Canada||7 November 2013|||
|France||23 September 2013|||
|Russia||29 December 2014|||
|Saudi Arabia||7 March 2014|||
|Turkey||4 June 2014|||
|United Arab Emirates||19 May 2014|||
|United Kingdom||19 July 2013|||
|United States||10 December 2012|||
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