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 denied media reports that its emir and two commanders have been killed.
The “Media Department” of the Al Nusrah Front said yesterday that reports of the death of “Sheikh al Fatih Abu Muhammad al Julani” are wrong, and that “he is fine and immersed in the countless bounties of Allah,” according to a statement obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.
Additionally, Al Nusrah said that “the mujahideen brothers,” Abu Anas al Sahhaba and Abu Julaybib, “are also doing well.” Al Nusrah said that al Sahhaba and Julaybib are “field commanders, but neither of them is the supervisor general of the Al Nusrah Front.”
Last week, Al Jazeera reported that al Sahhaba, whose real name is Mustafa Abd al Latif Salih, replaced Iyad al Tubasi, who is also known as Abu Julaybib, after the latter was killed during fighting in Dara’a. Some media reports also indicated that al Julani was killed.
The Al Nusrah Front’s statement confirmed a report by The Long War Journal that al Sahhaba and Julaybib were indeed senior military commanders in the terror group. Al Sahhaba has served as an operative in al Qaeda in Iraq for years, and worked with Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the former AQI emir who was killed in a US airstrike in 2006.
Julaybib, who is a brother-in-law of Zarqawi, is said to be the emir of the Al Nusrah Front in Dara’a, a city on the Jordanian border that serves as an Al Nusrah stronghold. [For more information on al Sahhaba and Julaybib, see LWJ report, Zarqawi’s brother-in-law reported killed while leading Al Nusrah Front unit.]
Background on the Al Nusrah Front
The Al Nusrah Front was designated by the US as a Foreign Terrorist Organization on Dec. 11. The US government said that al Qaeda in Iraq’s emir, Abu Du’a, or Abu Bakr al Baghdadi al Husseini al Qurshi, “is in control of both AQI and Al Nusrah.”
Additionally, two senior Al Nusrah leaders, Maysar Ali Musa Abdallah al Juburi and Anas Hasan Khattab, both members of al Qaeda in Iraq, were added to the US’s the list of global terrorists. Sheikh Abu Muhammad al Julani, Al Nusrah’s emir, was not added to the list of global terrorists. [See LWJ report, US adds Al Nusrah Front, 2 leaders to terrorism list, for information on the designation of the AL Nusrah Front and the two leaders.]
The group has become one of the most powerful and effective units in the Syrian insurgency, and it has begun to absorb elements of the supposedly secular Free Syrian Army. The Al Nusrah Front also conducts joint operations with the Free Syrian Army and other so-called secular groups, and has numerous foreign fighters in its ranks. Last week, Al Nusrah and two other jihadist groups seized a Syrian military base thought to be involved in the chemical weapons program [see LWJ report, Al Nusrah Front, foreign jihadists seize key Syrian base in Aleppo].
Since the Al Nusrah Front announced its formation in late January, 20012, it has claimed credit for 43 of the 52 suicide attacks that have taken place in Syria in the past 12 months
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. Twenty-nine Syrian opposition groups have signed a petition that not only condemns the US’s designation, but says “we are all Al Nusrah,” and urges their supporters to raise Al Nusrah’s flag (which of course is al Qaeda’s flag) [see LWJ report, Syrian National Coalition urges US to drop Al Nusrah terrorism designation].