Banner for the Al Nusrah Front, a jihadist group in Syria. Image from the SITE Intelligence Group.
The Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, an al Qaeda-linked jihadist group that is fighting Bashir al Assad’s regime in Syria, has claimed credit for two more suicide attacks and said it conducted joint operations with two other jihadist groups. In one of the joint operations, Al Nusrah claimed it shot down a Syrian Air Force MiG. The al Qaeda-linked terror group has now claimed credit for 34 of the 42 suicide attacks that have been reported in Syria since December 2011.
The terror group claimed the attacks and operations in a series of statements that were released yesterday on jihadist internet forums. The statements have been translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.
The two suicide attacks claimed by Al Nusrah have not been previously reported. The first attack was part of a complex operation and took place on Oct. 9 at “the Aswaq al Kheir barrier [outpost] … monitored in the area of Ain Tarma in the countryside of Damascus,” according to the statement translated by SITE. A suicide bomber identified as Abu Muhammad al Furati detonated a car bomb at the checkpoint to the outpost, “destroying two tanks and burning the third.” The suicide attack allowed Al Nusrah fighters to enter the outpost. Al Nusrah claimed that 75 Syrian soldiers and one of its own fighters were killed during the attack.
The second suicide attack took place on Nov. 9 “in the countryside of Hama, east of the city of Soran and close to the Nusayri [Alawhite] villages.” A suicide bomber named Abu Humam al Shamali attacked “the Samrah checkpoint” and killed several military personnel, including “Abu Dinyal, a specialist in killing the Sunni people with a knife, and Captain Yunus, who committed the massacre of northern al-Fan in the countryside of Hama.”
Joint operations with other Syrian jihadist groups
In addition to the two suicide attacks, Al Nusrah also claimed credit in the Nov. 14 statements for numerous ambushes and IED attacks, as well as two joint operations with two other al Qaeda-linked jihadist groups in Syria. Both of the joint operations took place on Nov. 1.
In the first operation, Al Nusrah said it “participated with Sukur al Sham,” or the Hawks of Syria, to attack “the Hamisho barrier that is centered on the Saraqeb – al-Nayrab road.”
“The Front participated with a brigade composed of five elements, and the barrier was destroyed after completing the attack operation,” al Nusrah said.
In the second operation, Al Nusrah teamed up with the Ahrar al Sham Brigades, or Free Men of Syria, to attack “the ICARDA barrier, where a MiG plane was shot down.” Several Syrian soldiers were killed and the groups seized weapons, ammunition, night vision goggles, and vehicles.
The Ahrar al Sham Brigades is a Salafist-jihadist group that operates in Idlib and the surrounding areas, and has numerous foreign fighters in its ranks. Sheik Adnan al Arour, a prominent Syrian cleric who has often appeared in the media, backs the Ahrar al Sham Brigades. According to The New York Times, Arour said the group buys “weapons from the donations and savings of the Wahhabi children and not from the Americans like the Shiites of Iraq did.” Wahhabism is the radical branch of Islam promoted by the Saudi government.
Sukur al Sham is another radical jihadist group that operates in Idlib and elsewhere. Abu Zein, a spokesman for the group, told The New York Times that Arabs, Frenchmen, and Belgians are present in the ranks, and that the group espouses al Qaeda’s ideology.
“The Qaeda ideology existed previously, but it was suppressed by the regime,” Abu Zein told The New York Times in July. “But after the uprising they found very fertile ground, plus the funders to support their existence. The ideology was present, but the personnel were absent. Now we have both.”
Al Nusrah Front and suicide attacks
The al Qaeda-linked Al Nusrah Front has been the most active jihadist group in Syria. It has claimed credit for 34 of the 42 known suicide bombings in Syria that the The Long War Journal has tallied since December 2011. Since the end of August, Al Nusrah has claimed credit for launching 16 suicide attacks. For more information on the suicide attacks in Syria, see LWJ report, Suicide bombings become commonplace in Syria, and Threat Matrix report, Al Nusrah Front claims 4 more suicide attacks in Syria.
In addition to working with other jihadist groups, the Al Nusrah Front is known to conduct joint operations with the Free Syrian Army, which is often upheld as the secular resistance to Assad’s regime. On Oct. 11, Al Nusrah, the Free Syrian Army, and Chechen fighters overran a Syrian air defense and Scud missile base in Aleppo [see LWJ report, Al Nusrah Front commanded Free Syrian Army unit, ‘Chechen emigrants,’ in assault on Syrian air defense base].
Al Nusrah has become more appealing to Syrian rebels as the group’s fighters are better organized and have expertise from waging jihad in Iraq and elsewhere, and have integrated their operations with the Free Syrian Army.
Foreign jihadists have begun to pour into Syria to wage jihad against Assad’s regime. Fighters from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinian Territories are known to have been killed in Syria. Recently, two of Abu Musab al Zarqawi’s cousins were detained by Jordanian security forces after fighting in Syria.
Jihadists from the UK may be flocking to the Syrian battlefields as well. In mid-October, The Times reported that authorities had identified a Bangladeshi resident of London as the leader of a group of British jihadists seeking to fight in Syria. Scotland Yard seized computers and mobile phones from members of the group, which consists mainly of Londoners and includes seasoned Chechen fighters.
Several other Islamist groups also operate in Syria, including Al Qaeda in Iraq, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, the Al Baraa Ibn Malik Martyrdom Brigade, and the Omar al Farouq Brigade.
Reported or suspected suicide bombings in Syria:
The dates given below are, in most cases, the dates of the attacks. In a few cases, when the date of a claimed attack is unknown, the date of Al Nusrah’s claim of responsibility is used. So far, no other group has claimed responsibility for suicide attacks in Syria since December 2011.
Dec. 23, 2011 – Two car bombings in Damascus on this day are the first known suicide attacks in Syria since the rebellion began nine months earlier. The attacks targeted the regime’s intelligence offices, killing at least 44 people and wounding more than 160 others. According to the National Counterterrorism Center, it is likely that two female suicide bombers deployed by Al Qaeda in Iraq were responsible.
Jan. 6, 2012 – A suicide car bomb attack killed 26 people in Damascus. The Al Nusrah Front later claimed responsibility for the attack.
Feb. 10, 2012 – Twin suicide car bombings killed 28 people in Aleppo. The Al Nusrah Front later claimed responsibility for the attack.
Mar. 17, 2012 – Two suicide car bombings killed at least 27 people and wounded 100 or more in Damascus. The bombings targeted the Assad regime’s security forces. The Al Nusrah Front later claimed responsibility for the bombings and released a video, translated by SITE, showing the two bombers giving speeches before their attacks.
April 20, 2012 – A suicide bomber attacked Syrian military forces dining at a restaurant in Hama. The Al Nusrah Front later claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the Syrian forces targeted had massacred civilians in a nearby town.
April 24, 2012 – A suicide bomber attacked the Iranian Cultural Consulate in Damascus. The Al Nusrah Front later claimed responsibility for the attack.
April 27, 2012 – A suicide bomber attacked at a mosque in the Midan neighborhood of Damascus. The attack reportedly killed 11 people and wounded 28 more. The Al Nusrah Front later claimed responsibility, saying the attack targeted regime personnel who were attending prayers.
April 30, 2012 – In an apparent attack on Syrian military intelligence services, two bombs are detonated in the town of Idlib. According to Reuters, state-controlled media said that nine people were killed, with 100 more wounded, and two suicide bombers were responsible. An “activist” said that 20 people were killed. The Associated Press also attributed the attack to suicide bombers.
May 10, 2012 - Two suicide car bomb attacks killed at least 55 people and wounded more than 370 others in Damascus. According to the BBC, the “blasts happened near a military intelligence building during morning rush hour.” Days later, it appeared that Al Nusrah claimed credit for the attacks in a video online. Subsequently, however, Al Nusrah denied the validity of the video, saying it had not been published by the group’s official media arm.
May 19, 2012 – A suicide bomber attacked the Syrian intelligence services in Deir al-Zor. According to Reuters, the state news agency said that nine people were killed and approximately 100 others were wounded. The Al Nusrah Front later claimed responsibility for the bombing.
June 1, 2012 – A suicide bomber attacked a Syrian military camp in Idlib. The suicide bomber’s attack was just one component of the complex assault, which also involved an ambush and IED attacks. The Al Nusrah Front later claimed responsibility for the raid.
June 7, 2012 – A suicide bomber attacked a bus carrying state security personnel in Aleppo. The Al Nusrah Front claimed responsibility for the operation.
June 14, 2012 – A suicide bomber attacked state security services outside of Damascus. The Al Nusrah Front claimed responsibility for the attack and said that “many” security personnel were killed.
June 26, 2012 – The Al Nusrah Front claims that it conducted two suicide bombings against Syrian military forces on this day. The terrorist organization also claimed that 250 Syrian soldiers were killed in the attacks, according to translations prepared by SITE. The Long War Journal did not find independent verification for the high number of casualties claimed by the Al Nusrah Front.
June 30, 2012 – In a statement dated this day, the Al Nusrah Front claimed that a suicide bomber attacked a security barrier in Daraa, a town in southern Syria. The group did not say when the attack took place. On Mar. 3, a car bomb was detonated near a military checkpoint in Daraa. The Syrian government claimed it was a suicide attack that killed two people; opposition forces denied that it was a suicide attack. According to a local resident interviewed by Reuters, at least seven people were killed and eight more were wounded. It is unclear if the Mar. 3 attack is the same one claimed by Al Nusrah.
July 18, 2012 – A bomb killed senior Syrian military and intelligence officials. There are conflicting reports as to whether a suicide bombing or a remote-controlled explosive device was used in the attack. Among those killed was Assef Shawkat, the deputy defense minister and former head of Syrian military intelligence. Shawkat, who was the brother-in-law of Bashar al Assad, had supported AQI for years.
July 19, 2012 – In a statement released online days later, the Al Nusrah Front claimed it launched a suicide operation targeting a security barrier in Ma’arat al-Nu’man that killed 60 Syrian soldiers on this day.
Aug. 7, 2012 – In a statement released on this day, the Al Nusrah Front said that a suicide bomber targeted “a military security detachment … in the area of Mhardeh in the Hama countryside.” It is not clear what day the actual attack took place.
Aug. 17, 2012 – The Al Nusrah Front claims that a suicide bomber attacked a gathering of 600 regime “thugs” in Hama on this day. The total number of casualties was not reported.
Aug. 28, 2012 – Al Nusrah claimed it executed a suicide attack “against a large gathering inside the new Equestrian Club” in Hama. The total number of casualties was not reported.
Sept. 2, 2012 – In a statement released on this day, Al Nusrah claimed that a suicide bomber attacked the “Ibn Wardan barrier in Hama governorate.” The total number of casualties was not reported.
Sept. 4, 2012 – A suicide bomber known as Abu Khattab al Shami detonated his explosives-packed car at the airport at Albu Kamal. Fighters then launched a follow-on attack. The total number of casualties was not reported.
Sept. 8, 2012 – A suicide bomber identified as Abu Abdullah al Shami attacked a hospital in Aleppo, killing 27 soldiers and wounding 64 more.
Sept. 11, 2012 – Al Nusrah released a statement claiming that Abu al Farooq al Shamali bombed “the fortress of the enemies” in al Bareed al Thani in Deir al Zour. The number of those killed and wounded in the attack was not disclosed.
Sept. 11, 2012 – Al Nusrah claimed that a suicide bomber struck “a barracks of the enemy” in Idlib.
Sept. 26, 2012 – Al Nusrah claimed it launched a complex suicide assault on the Army Headquarters in Damascus. Four soldiers were killed, and 14 more were wounded.
Sept. 30, 2012 – Al Nusrah claimed credit for a suicide attack that targeted the headquarters of Political and Criminal Security in Qamishli in Hasaka province. The group claimed it killed 30 people and wounded 80 others.
Oct. 3, 2012 – An Al Nusrah suicide bomber detonated a car bomb outside the Officer’s club in Aleppo. Minutes later, a second suicide bomber detonated at the tourist hotel next to the Officer’s club, and then a suicide assault team stormed the hotel.
Oct. 3, 2012 – Al Nusrah launched a suicide attack on the Political Security headquarters in Deir al-Zour, and claimed 50 people were killed and 60 more were wounded.
Oct. 9, 2012 – Al Nusrah launched a complex suicide attack on the Air Force intelligence branch in Harasta outside of Damascus. More than 100 casualties were reported.
Oct. 9, 2012 – Al Nusrah claimed credit for a complex attack on an outpost in Ain Tarma near Damascus that killed 75 Syrian soldiers.
Oct. 12, 2012 – Al Nusrah launched a suicide attack on the Political Security headquarters in Deir al-Zour.
Nov. 5, 2012 – Al Nusrah claimed the suicide attack in Hama that killed more than 50 Syrian soldiers.
Nov. 9, 2012 – A suicide bomber killed several military personnel at a checkpoint near the city of Soran in Hama.
Nov. 10, 2012 – A pair of suicide bombers attacked a military camp in Daraa that is used by military and intelligence forces. The attack killed 20 soldiers.