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, al Qaeda’s branch in Syria, has released a statement from its leader denouncing the US government’s recent designation of the terror group. Al Nusrah emir Abu Muhammad al Julani also commended foreign fighters in Syria and called for the terror group to work with other Syrian rebels.
Al Nusrah’s media arm, the al Manara al Baydha’ Foundation, released an audiotape attributed to al Julani on jihadist forums yesterday. The statement, titled “People of the Levant, We Sacrifice Our Lives for You,” was obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.
While al Julani’s statement is undated, it offers further proof that he was not killed, despite some media reports of his death [see LWJ report, Al Qaeda’s Al Nusrah Front denies reports of death of its emir]. The US added the Al Nusrah Front and two of its senior leaders to the US list of terrorist individuals and entities on Dec. 11, and said the terror group is an arm of al Qaeda in Iraq.
In his statement, al Julani claimed that the US added Al Nusrah to the list of foreign terrorist groups because “America is venting its anger and expressing its failed role in the region.” Al Jalani also accused the US of propping up President Bashir al Assad’s regime. and said the designation was issued “as a punishment for helping these wounded people [Syrians].”
Al Julani then praised Syrian political opposition groups for condemning the US terrorism designation.
“Statements of denouncement and condemnation poured on them from more than 100 organizations, foundations and groups, to give the name for Friday’s [protests], ‘There is No Terror but that of al-Assad,'” he said. “I express my gratitude and my special thanks to the commands of the factions, groups and fighting brigades that assumed an honorable stand, showing the unity of Islam and the brotherhood of faith against the attack of the Americans.”
Despite Al Nusrah’s known affiliation with al Qaeda and its radical ideology, Syrian opposition groups, including the supposedly secular Syrian National Coalition, have rallied to support Al Nusrah. Within a day of the US’s designation of Al Nusrah, 29 Syrian opposition groups signed a petition that not only condemned the US’s designation, but said “we are all Al Nusrah,” and urged their supporters to raise Al Nusrah’s flag (the same flag used by al Qaeda) [see LWJ report, Syrian National Coalition urges US to drop Al Nusrah terrorism designation].
Al Julani’s statement also called on Al Nusrah fighters to provide services for Syrians after the Assad regime collapses.
“Continue helping the people in what they need of basic services and needs, such as the running of bakeries, distributing the necessary fuel, providing the basic clinics and medical centers, and reconstructing, as much as you can,” he said. “You also should provide security for the people, centers of reconciliation and decisions in disputes, because the phase of the central authority collapse leaves a vacuum that you will be the best to fill.”
He finished by praising the “emigrant brothers,” or foreign al Qaeda fighters who are filling out the ranks of the Al Nusrah Front.
“Before the end, [I send] a greeting of love and loyalty to our pure and pious emigrant brothers. May Allah accept your jihad and bless your sacrifices, and may Allah reward you the best on behalf of the Islamic Ummah,” al Julani said. “I also advise my native brothers to take care of the emigrants.”
Non-Syrians play a key role in the Al Nusrah Front. According to the US designation of the terror group, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the emir of al Qaeda in Iraq, is al Julani’s boss. In addition, one of the two Al Nusrah leaders designated as terrorists by the US is an Iraqi. And foreigners are known to lead battalions and smaller fighting units in Syria.
Foreign jihadists are also pouring 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.
The Al Nusrah Front has been at the vanguard in conducting suicide attacks in Syria. Since the Al Nusrah Front announced its formation in late January 2012, it has claimed credit for 43 of the 52 suicide attacks that have taken place in Syria in the past 12 months.