Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement

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Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement
حركة نور الدين الزنكي
Participant in the Syrian Civil War
Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zenki Logo.jpg
Logo of the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement
Active Late 2011[1] – present

Sunni Islamism

  • Liwa Ahrar Souriya (former)
  • Swords of Shahba Brigade (former)
  • Northern Army (former)[3][better source needed]
  • Liwa Suyuf al-Sham (Greater Idlib area)[4][better source needed]
  • Banners of Islam Movement[5]
  • Levant Revolutionaries Battalion[5]
    • al-Quds Brigades
    • Glory of Islam Brigade
    • al-Noor Islamic Movement
  • Abu Hassan Battalion
  • Sheikh Osman Battalion
  • Ansaruddin Battalion
  • Humat al-Islam[6]
Area of operations Aleppo Governorate and Idlib Governorate, Syria
Size 7,000 (2017)[11]
Part of
Originated as Nour al-Din al-Zenki Battalion
Became Syrian Liberation Front (since 2018)[18]
Battles and wars

Syrian Civil War

The Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement (Arabic: حركة نور الدين الزنكيḤaraka Nūr ad-Dīn az-Zankī) is a Sunni Islamist rebel group involved in the Syrian Civil War. Between 2014 and 2015, it was part of the Syrian Revolutionary Command Council and recipient of U.S.-made BGM-71 TOW anti-tank missiles.[21] In 2014, it was reportedly one of the most influential factions in Aleppo.[22] On 18 February 2018, the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement merged with Ahrar al-Sham to form the Syrian Liberation Front.[18]


The Nour al-Din al-Zenki Battalion was formed in late 2011 by Shaykh Tawfiq Shahabuddin in the Shaykh Salman area north-west of Aleppo. It is named after Nur ad-Din Zengi, atabeg of Aleppo, an emir of Damascus and Aleppo in the 12th century. The group's greatest concentration of fighters in the city of Aleppo are in its northwestern suburbs.[23] Nour al-Din al-Zenki took part in the initial battles that started the Battle of Aleppo in July 2012, capturing the Salaheddine neighborhood, although it soon withdrew to its heartland in the countryside.[24]

The group has gone through many affiliations since it was founded. It was initially a branch of the Dawn Movement, then went on to join the al-Tawhid Brigades during the attack on Aleppo, before withdrawing and allying with the Saudi-backed Authenticity and Development Front.[25]

In January 2014, Nour al-Din al-Zenki was one of the founding factions in the anti-ISIL umbrella group Army of Mujahideen.[1] In May 2014 it withdrew from the alliance and subsequently received increased financial support from Saudi Arabia, which had been reluctant to support the Army of Mujahideen due to its links with the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood.[22]

In December 2014, Nour al-Din al-Zenki joined the Levant Front, a broad coalition of Islamist rebel groups operating in Aleppo.[13] On 6 May 2015, it joined 13 other Aleppo-based groups in the Fatah Halab joint operations room.[26]

On 6 October 2015, positions of the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement in Aleppo city was attacked by al-Qaeda's al-Nusra Front.[2] 19 October 2015, the military commander of the group was reported as killed during fighting with government forces near the Aleppo area.[27]

Since November 2015, the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement absorbed several Syrian Turkmen groups supported by Turkey. On 11 November, 35 Turkmen fighters in the group defected to the al-Nusra Front, and on 15 November, one of its leaders was replaced by a Turkmen commander.[2]

During the November 2015 Vienna peace talks for Syria, Jordan was tasked with formulating a list of terrorist groups; the group was reported to have been placed on this list.[28]

On 28 January 2016, the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement withdrew from its positions in Aleppo, which were then taken over by the al-Nusra Front. In the same month, the group's headquarters included banners of quotes from prominent Salafist jihadist figures, including Abdullah Azzam.[2]

On 24 September 2016, al-Zenki joined the Army of Conquest.[17] On 15 October 2016, four 'battalions' left the Levant Front (they were also former members of Al-Tawhid Brigade) and joined the group.[29][30][better source needed]

In October 2016 a group of fighters from the Levant Front that were former al-Tawhid Brigade members left the Levant Front and joined the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement.[31][better source needed]

On 2 November 2016, during the Aleppo offensive, Fastaqim Union fighters captured a military commander of the Zenki Movement. In response, al-Zenki fighters attacked the Fastaqim Union's headquarters in the Salaheddine District and al-Ansari district of Aleppo. At least one rebel were killed and more than 25 wounded on both sides in the raid.[32] The next day, the Levant Front and the Abu Amara Brigades began to patrol the streets to arrest any rebels taking part in the clashes.[33] At least 18 rebels were killed in the infighting.[34] The Zenki Movement and the Abu Amara Brigades eventually captured all positions of the Fastaqim Union in eastern Aleppo. Dozens of rebels from the latter group surrendered and were either captured, joined Ahrar al-Sham, or deserted.[35]

On 15 November 2016, Liwa Ahrar Souriya and the Swords of Shahba Brigade announced that it has pledged allegiance and joined the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement.[36] Also during November, the Northern Army joined.[37][38][better source needed]

In December, Liwa Suyuf al-Sham's Aleppo branch joined the group, while its Azaz branch joined the Levant Front.[4][better source needed]

On 27 January, the Northern Army left Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement and joined the Levant Front.[3][better source needed]

The following day, the group's Idlib branch joined Tahrir al-Sham while its northern branch defected to Sham Legion.[39] The branch then formed the Revolutionary Knights Brigade at the end of February.[40][better source needed] It later became involved in fighting against other TFS factions in northern Aleppo.

On 20 July 2017, the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement led by Sheikh Tawfiq Shahabuddin announced its withdrawal from Tahrir al-Sham amid widespread conflict between HTS and Ahrar al-Sham, and became an independent group.[11]

In November 2017, violent clashes erupted between the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement and Tahrir al-Sham in northern Idlib and western Aleppo, mainly in the area between Atme and Khan al-Asal.[41]

Foreign support[edit]

In May 2014 al-Zenki received increased financial support from Saudi Arabia after it withdrew from the Army of Mujahideen.[22] The group also received financial aid from the United States, in a CIA run program to support US-approved rebel groups,[42] reportedly via the Turkey-based Military Operation Centre (MOC).[43] However, by October 2015, the group claimed that it was no longer supplied by the MOC[44] – "because of regular reports that it had committed abuses."[45]

On 9 May 2016, a plan was reportedly proposed by the US, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar to have the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement form a "Northern Army" to gather more than 3,000 fighters for the operation. The next phase will be to transfer the fighters from Idlib to northern Aleppo through the Bab al-Hawa Border Crossing and the Azaz border crossing. This reportedly began on 13 May.[46] However, the plan was delayed due to doubts from U.S. officials about the capabilities of the Syrian rebel forces that Turkey had recruited to fight with its military, the opposition from the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, and the rift between Turkey and Russia that had only been mended in early August 2016.[47]

War crimes[edit]

According to the Amnesty International, the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement, along with the 16th Division, the Levant Front, Ahrar al-Sham, and the al-Nusra Front, were involved in abduction and torture of journalists and humanitarian workers in rebel-held Aleppo during 2014 and 2015.[48]

Nour al-Din al-Zenki, along with the Abu Amara Brigades, has been accused of executing people by throwing them down buildings when they still controlled Aleppo.[49]

2016 beheading incident[edit]

On 19 July 2016, during the Aleppo offensive, a video emerged that appeared to show al-Zenki fighters recording themselves taunting and later beheading a Palestinian boy named Abdullah Tayseer Al Issa.[50] In the video, they claim he had been captured while fighting with the pro-government militia Liwa al-Quds.[51] Liwa al-Quds denied this, and claimed instead that Al Issa was a 12-year-old Palestinian refugee from a poor family[50] who had been kidnapped.[52]

The following day, a social media account purportedly owned by Al Issa's sister, Zoze Al Issa, claimed that Issa was a Syrian from the Wadi al-Dahab district of Homs, who had volunteered to fight with pro-government forces.[50] The New Arab published a photograph purporting to be the boy's identity card and putting his age at 19 years old. The report also quoted a cousin who claimed that Al Issa's had thalassemia, which causes stunted growth.[53]

In a statement, al-Zenki condemned the killing and claimed it was an "individual mistake that does not represent the general policy of the group", and that it had detained those involved.[54]

According to Thomas Joscelyn, writing in The Weekly Standard, U.S. President Donald Trump was shown the beheading video in 2017, and it influenced Trump's decision to end the CIA's support for anti-Assad Syrian rebels: "Trump wanted to know why the United States had backed Zenki if its members are extremists. The issue was discussed at length with senior intelligence officials, and no good answers were forthcoming."[55]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "The Mujahedeen Army of Aleppo". Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 8 April 2014. Retrieved 15 September 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c d Jennifer Cafarella and Genevieve Casagrande (13 February 2016). "Syrian Armed Opposition Forces in Aleppo" (PDF). Institute for the Study of War. 
  3. ^ a b "Hassan Ridha on Twitter". 
  4. ^ a b "Hassan Ridha on Twitter". Retrieved 24 January 2017. 
  5. ^ a b
  6. ^
  7. ^ Al-Mohammad, Alaa (28 July 2016). "Rebel military leader killed in Aleppo clashes". Al-Masdar News. Retrieved 28 July 2016. 
  8. ^ Fadel, Leith (29 July 2016). "Syrian Armed Forces carry out special operation to avenge the beheaded boy in northern Aleppo". Al-Masdar. Retrieved 29 July 2016. 
  9. ^ Fadel, Leith (19 January 2017). "Top Zinki commander killed in west Aleppo". Al-Masdar. Retrieved 19 January 2017. 
  10. ^ David Enders (25 March 2018). "Under Turkish tutelage FSA becomes better organised, but its mission shifts". The National World. 
  11. ^ a b c "Nour e-Din a-Zinki defects from HTS, citing unwillingness to end rebel infighting". Syria Direct. 20 July 2017. 
  12. ^ "Translation: the Formation of the Syrian Revolutionary Command Council". Goha's Nail. 3 August 2014. Retrieved 15 September 2014. 
  13. ^ a b "The Levant Front: Can Aleppo's Rebels Unite?". Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 26 December 2014. Retrieved 9 March 2015. 
  14. ^ "Guide to the Syrian rebels". BBC News. Retrieved 19 May 2015. 
  15. ^ "Jeish al-Mujahideen Charter – Comment and Translation". Goha's Nail. 4 May 2014. Retrieved 19 May 2015. 
  16. ^ "Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zenki". Civil War al-Sham. 17 October 2016. 
  17. ^ a b "Mark on Twitter". Retrieved 24 January 2017. 
  18. ^ a b "Hardline Syria rebels announce merger". Agence France-Presse. 19 February 2018. 
  19. ^ "Rebel Infighting Erupts in Besieged Eastern Aleppo". SouthFront. 3 November 2016. Retrieved 3 November 2016. 
  20. ^ Fehim Tastekin (26 January 2018). "Erdogan's plans for Afrin might not sit well with Syria". al-Monitor. Retrieved 29 January 2018. 
  21. ^ "EXCLUSIVE – 18 Syrian revolutionary factions advancing toward a One Army project". The Arab Chronicle. Archived from the original on 26 August 2014. Retrieved 15 September 2014. 
  22. ^ a b c "Rigged Cars and Barrel Bombs: Aleppo and the State of the Syrian War" (PDF). International Crisis Group. 9 September 2014. Retrieved 15 September 2014. 
  23. ^ "New Opposition Coalition Jaish Al-Mujahideen Announced in Aleppo". Jamestown Foundation. 30 January 2014. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 15 September 2014. 
  24. ^ "The Story of Al-Tawhid Brigade: Fighting for Sharia in Syria". Al-Monitor (As-Safir). 22 October 2013. Retrieved 15 September 2014. 
  25. ^ Pierret, Thomas (9 August 2013). "External support and the Syrian insurgency". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 5 August 2016. 
  26. ^ Jennifer Cafarella; Genevieve Casagrande (7 October 2015). Syrian Opposition Guide (PDF). Backgrounder. Institute for the Study of War.
  27. ^ "Syrian troops advance toward air base besieged by IS". Associated Press. 19 October 2015. Retrieved 19 October 2015. 
  28. ^ Albin Szakola and Ullin Hope CIA-vetted Aleppo rebels lash out at Jordan, NOW
  29. ^ "Hassan Ridha on Twitter". Twitter. Retrieved 24 January 2017. 
  30. ^ "Syrian Rebellion Obs on Twitter". Twitter. Retrieved 24 January 2017. 
  31. ^ SMART News Agency - وكالة سمارت للأنباء (15 October 2016). "لواء التوحيد يعلن اندماجه بحركة نور الدين الزنكي". Retrieved 24 January 2017 – via YouTube. 
  32. ^ "Fighting between 2 factions in the eastern section of Aleppo kills and injures about 25 fighters from both parties". Syria HR. 2 November 2016. 
  33. ^ "Factions of the opposition clashed in the city of Aleppo, the front maize are trying to resolve conflict". ARA News. 3 November 2016. 
  34. ^ @InsideSourceInt (2 November 2016). "Approximately 18 dead so far in rebel infighting across East Aleppo" (Tweet) – via Twitter. 
  35. ^ "Zenki and Abu Amarah control all headquarters of Fastaqim Kama Umirt, the leaders of which go to Ahrar al-Sham". Syria HR. 3 November 2016. 
  36. ^ "Brigade Syria are free to join Noureddine Zanki movement in Aleppo and its countryside". 15 November 2016. 
  37. ^ "Syrian Rebellion Obs on Twitter". Retrieved 24 January 2017. 
  38. ^ " on Twitter". Retrieved 24 January 2017. 
  39. ^ "Hassan Ridha on Twitter". 
  40. ^ "Zinki and Sham Legion merger in N Syria forms Liwa Fursan al-Thawra • r/syriancivilwar". 
  41. ^ "The victory attacks Zanki in the countryside of Aleppo and Idleb .. And news of a military alliance to confront them". Al Mayadeen. 10 November 2017. 
  42. ^ "Rebels in northern Syria say U.S. has stopped paying them". McClatchy Newspapers. 9 December 2014. Retrieved 9 February 2015. The aid cutoff will not affect fighters from two groups now fighting to hold onto areas of Aleppo, Syria's one-time commercial center. Those groups include some 600 fighters from Harakat Hazm, which had been the biggest recipient of U.S. aid, and as many as 1,000 fighters fielded by the Nuruddin az Zinki force 
  43. ^ Fidaa Itani, "Aleppo syndrome" NOW 25 July 2014
  44. ^ Jamie Dettmer "Rebel Defiance, Relief as Assad Forces Get Bogged Down" VOA 26 October 2015
  45. ^ Martin Chulov "Syrian opposition group that killed child 'was in US-vetted alliance'" Guardian 20 July 2016
  46. ^ "Proposed 'Northern Army' in Syria alienates Kurds". The Arab Weekly. 22 May 2016. 
  47. ^ "Putin mends broken relations with Turkey′s Erdoğan". BBC. 9 August 2016. Retrieved 4 September 2016. 
  48. ^ "Syria: Abductions, torture and summary killings at the hands of armed groups". Amnesty International. 5 July 2016. 
  49. ^ @Dalatrm (31 January 2017). "Several witnesses from Aleppo City accusing Zinki JFS aligned Abu Amara Brigade of summary executions, throwing gay men off rooftops" (Tweet) – via Twitter. 
  50. ^ a b c "Syria conflict: Boy beheaded by rebels 'was fighter'". BBC. 21 July 2016. Retrieved 22 July 2016. 
  51. ^ "Syria conflict: Rebels 'filmed beheading boy' in Aleppo". BBC. 19 July 2016. Retrieved 19 July 2016. 
  52. ^ "Rebels in Syria call boy's beheading a 'mistake'". CNN. 21 July 2016. Retrieved 24 August 2016. 
  53. ^ "Boy beheaded by Syrian rebels was '19-year-old regime fighter'". The New Arab. 21 July 2016. Retrieved 24 August 2016. 
  54. ^ "Syria rebel beheading of child sparks outrage". The Daily Star. 20 July 2016. Retrieved 21 July 2016. 
  55. ^ Joscelyn, Thomas (2017-08-07). "Trump Got This One Right". The Weekly Standard. Retrieved 2017-07-31. 

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