|Arabic: جبهة النصرة لأهل الشام
Participant in the Syrian Civil War
Flag of Al-Nusra Front
|Active||23 January 2012 – present|
|Leaders||Abu Mohammad al-Jawlani
Abu Anas al-Sahaba
|Headquarters||Deir Ezzor, Syria|
|Allies|| Islamic Front
Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar
Free Syrian Army
Ghuraba al-Sham 
|Opponents|| Syrian Armed Forces
People's Protection Units (YPG)
Ghuraba al-Sham 
Al-Nusra Front or Jabhat al-Nusra (Arabic: جبهة النصرة لأهل الشام Jabhat an-Nuṣrah li-Ahl ash-Shām, "The Support Front for the People of Levant") is a branch of Al-Qaeda operating in Syria and Lebanon.
The group announced its creation on 23 January 2012 during the Syrian Civil War. Since then it has been described as "the most aggressive and successful" or "one of the most effective rebel forces" in Syria. The group has been designated as a terrorist organization by the United Nations, the United States, Australia  and the United Kingdom.
In April 2013, the leader of the ISIS released an audio statement announcing that Jabhat al-Nusra is its branch in Syria, The leader of Al Nusra, Abu Mohammad al-Jawlani, responded by denying any merger had taken place and affirmed the group's allegiance to Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. However, in May 2013, a faction of Nusra loyal to the Islamic State of Iraq leadership began acting under the name of the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant."  Starting around November 2013, members of the group in Syria, and supporters online, began circulating banners, flags, and flyers using the name Tanzim Qa'edat Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Sham or Al-Qaeda in Syria instead of, or in addition to, the name Jabhat al-Nusra.
This resistance group is generally described as being made up of Sunni Islamist mujahideen. Its goal is to overthrow the Assad government and to create an Pan-Islamic state under the Sharia (the moral code and religious law of Islam) and aims to reinstate the Caliphate. It encourages all Syrians to take part in the war against the Syrian government.
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.
In early 2014 a top Sharia official in the group, Dr Sami Al Oraidi, acknowledged that his group is influenced by the teachings of Abu Musab Al Suri. The strategies derived from Abu Musab’s guidelines to win hearts and minds amongst local Muslim communities include: providing services to people, avoid being seen as extremists, maintaining strong relationships with communities and other fighting groups, and putting the focus on fighting the regime.
- Attitudes towards non-Sunni Muslims
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 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."
- Attitudes towards the USA and Israel
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 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; in April 2013 the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq released an audio statement affirming this connection.
- 2012 [incomplete]
- January 23: foundation of the organisation.
- " 29: Damascus suicide-attacks, al-Midan district.
- May 29: Deir ez-Zor killings: 13 men found shot dead, from close range. AN claim of responsibility on 5 June.
- June 17: death of AN-man al-Ayesh.
- July: disappearance of the journalist al-Saeed.
- August 3: AN announcement of the death of the journalist al-Saeed.
- November: Damascus and Homs suicide-attacks.
- 2013 [incomplete]
- February: Safira: conventional battle.
- May: schisms within the Nusra factions.
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.
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, in order to join the al-Nusra Front. They are considered to be the best trained and most experienced fighters amongst the Syrian rebels. The group has refused calls for a ceasefire in Syria.
US intelligence agencies had originally suspected al-Qaeda in Iraq for the bombings in Aleppo and Damascus. Iraq's deputy interior minister said early February that weapons and Islamist militants were entering Syria from its country. 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.
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. A defecting 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.
In May 2013, al-Nusra members were arrested in Turkey and later charged with attempting to procure chemicals for producing sarin.
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 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."
- Al-Manarah al-Bayda
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. 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.
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.
- Damascus suicide-attacks of 2011
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.
- Damascus suicide-attacks of January 2012
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."
- Disclaimer of the Damascus suicide-attacks of May 2012
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 organization was responsible for the attack, saying that it would only release information through jihadist forums.
- Deir ez-Zor
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.
- Kidnapping of TV presenter Mohammed al-Saeed
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.
- Aleppo suicide-attacks
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.
- Aleppo & Raqqah military bases
The al-Nusra Front also claimed responsibility for attacking numerous Syrian military bases, including:
- Aleppo district: an air defense base, on: 12 October 2012
- Aleppo city: the Hanano barracks
- Raqqah: the Suluq barracks
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.
- Maraat al Numan military 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.
- Saraqeb check-points
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.
- Hama and Damascus suicide-attacks of November 2012
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.
- Air-defence capabilities
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 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.
- Gassanieh convent attack & murder
Though it was initially reported that Syrian Catholic priest François Murad was beheaded at a church in Gassanieh, he was actually shot dead.
- Joint operations with FSA
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."
- The fall of ash-Shaddadeh
Relationships with other Revolutionary Forces
- Rebel Groups in Syria
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". 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".
However, most rebels are worried by their extreme beliefs and tactics. The FSA has consistently condemned al-Nusra Front's use of suicide bombs. It accuses 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.
- National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces
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 organization; 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."
- Islamic State of Iraq (ISI)
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. Al-Baghdadi said that Abu Mohammed al-Joulani, 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. Al-Baghdadi declared that the two groups were officially merging under the name "Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham." (ISOIS)
The next day the leader of Al Nusra, Abu Mohammed al-Joulani, 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." Some units of the group have fought against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
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 (also translated as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant). 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 (ISIL), and many Syrian Nusra fighters leaving the group to join other Islamist brigades. 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. 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. On February 26 2014, al-Jawlani threatened war on ISIS over their presumed role in the killing of senior Ahrar ash-Sham commander Abu Khaled al-Souri. al-Jawlani gave ISIS five days to submit evidence that they were innocent in the attack to three imprisoned clerics, Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, Abu Qatada al-Falastini and Suleiman al-Alwan 
According to former Turkish deputy Prime Minister Abdüllatif Şener, Turkey has supported al-Nusra with "a large volume of heavy weapons." At least one Arab government has accused Qatar of helping al-Nusra.
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.
Weaponry and tactics
The organisation is believed to have used, at various times and in various places, the following tactics:
- targeting (destruction) 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 & personnel
By June 2013, there had apparently 70 suicide-attacks in Syria. The group denied responsibility for 13 but claimed the responsibility for the other 57.
- Media Targeting
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.
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".
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 al-Sham.
The leader of al-Nusra goes by the name of Abu Mohammad al-Jawlani (also transliterated as: Mohammed and al-Joulani, 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.
On 18 December 2013, he gave his first television interview, to Tayseer Allouni, a journalist originally from Syria, for Al Jazeera (i.e.: Al Jazeera 'Arabic' , or: al-Jazeera Satellite Channel [JSC]). His name was given as 'Al-Joulani', the more usual form in the francophone Levant, and although his voice was heard, the camera was on the journalist with only the back of the head—in keffiyeh—of Al-Joulani/Al-Jawlani visible. The interview was translated, by voice-over, for Al Jazeera English viewers; the interview can be accessed on the internet (link below).
Al-Joulani's motivation for the interview may have been partly to counter, either to a general external audience or to elements of the Islamist caucus, recent rumours of his demise, and partly as a means of asserting his own status, both to the world in general and to present and former Islamist colleagues in particular, in the wake of the well-recorded rifts and power-play. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has declared that the Syrian faction should unite with its colleagues in the Iraqi faction, coincidentally under the command of Baghdadi himself. Al-Joulani clearly wishes neither to be dominated by the largely-'secular' Free Syrian Army, nor by other Islamist groups, and feels he needs to be more pro-active with his publicity.
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. All potential recruits must undertake a 10-day religious-training course, followed by a 15-to-20-day military-training program.
- the Role of the Sheikh
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). It is unclear whether this role has a closer parallel with the religious chaplain present in many conventional military units of the Western armies, or a religious counterpart of the political commissar of the wartime Soviet armies.
- the 'Fifth Column'
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." 
- International Recruitment
An increasing number of Americans of South Asian descent have been attempting to join the fighting in Syria, specifically with al-Nusra. 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. 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-Nusrah.
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