A recently released jihadist video produced by the Saraqeb Media Office features a group that calls itself the “Soldiers of the Omar Farouq Brigade in Syria” and urges Muslims to join the jihad against the army of embattled President Bashir al Assad. The group is named after a senior al Qaeda operative who was killed in Iraq in 2006.
The video, which was obtained and translated by The Long War Journal, is titled “Turkish Mujahideen who are Conducting Jihad in Syria.”
A speaker in Turkish exclaims, “O Muslims, o believers, where are you? Let’s fight together to save Syria, Somalia and Afghanistan….” The video then shows images of jihadi training camps in Syria, which they say include Turkish fighters, while a Turkish song, “Headed to Damascus,” plays in the background.
The video closes with the declaration (spoken in Arabic with Turkish subtitles): “We are soldiers of the Omar Farouq Brigade in Syria… and we raise our voice against Assad’s barbaric army. We will live free on these lands! …. God help us!”
Omar Farouq was a top lieutenant to Osama bin Laden and senior operative in Southeast Asia, where he set up training camps for al Qaeda-affiliated terror groups and plotted to attack embassies after the Sept. 11, 2011 attacks. He was detained by Indonesian authorities in 2002, transferred to US custody, and held at Bagram prison in Afghanistan. He escaped from Bagram in 2005 along with al Qaeda leaders Abu Yahya al Libi, was considered to be al Qaeda’s second in command, and Abu Nasir al Qahtani and Abu Abdallah al Shami, two military commanders. Farouq was killed in September 2006 in Basrah, Iraq. He had been sent to Iraq by al Qaeda’s leadership cadre to direct al Qaeda in Iraq’s operations against US and Coalition forces. Abu Yahya was killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan earlier this year.
It is unclear whether the Omar Farouq Brigade mentioned in the video is the same as the Al Farouq Brigade, which is one of the most active battalion units of the Free Syria Army. The Al Farouq Brigade’s commander is Abdul-Razzaq Tlass, who is the nephew of the former Defense Minister Mustafa Tlass. The Tlass family was one of the first defectors from the Assad regime, according to Asharq Alaswat. Mustafa’s son, Manaf, “was a childhood friend of Bashir al Assad,” and his defection “served as a shock to the al Assad regime.”
Turkey has been sheltering members of the Free Syrian Army and hosting the Syrian National Council (an umbrella group of dissident factions). Turkey shares a 550-mile border with Syria. After initially trying to use diplomatic means to get Assad to pursue a peaceful transition to democracy, Turkey changed its course and has supported the Syrian opposition. Turkey also hosts around 40,000 Syrian refugees on its border with Syria.
Al Qaeda has been urging Muslims to wage jihad in Syria. Recently, Ayman al Zawahiri had called on jihadis to go to Syria and support the opposition as well. This is further indication that Syria is becoming a safe haven and training ground for al Qaeda, of whom Omar Farouq was a senior operative. Turks are a natural target for such groups due to their geographic proximity and the fact that the Free Syrian Army has found shelter in Turkey.
The Omar Farouq Brigade is the latest jihadist group to emerge in Syria. Others include:
Al Qaeda in Iraq, which has long had a strong presence in Syria, with the assistance of the Assad regime. The terror group has used Syria to recruit, train, and arm fighters to wage jihad. Syria also has served as a transit point for foreign jihadists to enter Iraq.
The Al Nusrah Front, which has claimed credit for numerous suicide attacks, roadside bombings, ambushes, and complex assaults against security forces and government installations. Al Nusrah has been very active in Syria and has been linked to al Qaeda.
The Abdullah Azzam Brigades, which has a presence throughout the Middle East, including Syria, was formed at the behest of al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi and al Qaeda emir Osama bin Laden. At the end of June, Majid bin Muhammad al Majid, the group’s emir, said that Syrians should support the uprising against the Assad regime, and that further rebellions against Muslim governments would follow.
The Al Baraa Ibn Malik Martyrdom Brigade, which is named after a suicide cell that joined al Qaeda in Iraq in 2005, said it had formed a martyrdom battalion and was prepared to carry out suicide attacks against Syrian forces.
The Liwa al Islam, or Brigade of Islam, which took credit for the attack that killed the top two Syrian defense officials and Assad’s national security advisor. The Free Syrian Army also claimed credit for the attack, and both groups said it was carried out by a remotely detonated bomb, but the Syrian government maintained it was a suicide attack.