US adds Al Nusrah Front, 2 leaders to terrorism list
The US government added the Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant and two of its senior leaders to the list of global terrorists and entities today. In the designation of the Al Nusrah Front, the Department of State called the group "a new alias" for al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), and said Al Nusrah is under the direct control of the AQI emir.
"The Department of State has amended the Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) and Executive Order (E.O.) 13224 designations of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) to include the following new aliases: Al Nusrah Front, Jabhat al-Nusrah, Jabhet al-Nusra, The Victory Front, and Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant," today's press release stated.
State 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."
Al Nusrah has claimed hundreds of attacks, to include suicide bombings, military assaults, IED attacks, and assassinations. The terror group has now claimed credit for 42 of the 51 suicide attacks that have taken place in Syria in the past 12 months, according to a tally by The Long War Journal [see Threat Matrix report, Al Nusrah Front launches complex suicide attack in Syria, for a list of the attacks].
"Through these attacks, Al Nusrah has sought to portray itself as part of the legitimate Syrian opposition while it is, in fact, an attempt by AQI to hijack the struggles of the Syrian people for its own malign purposes," State continued.
Iraqi, Syrian Al Nusrah leaders added to list of global terrorists
In addition to State's designation of the Al Nusrah Front, the Department of Treasury added two senior Al Nusrah Front leaders, Maysar Ali Musa Abdallah al Juburi and Anas Hasan Khattab, to the list of global terrorists today.
Al Juburi is an Iraqi citizen who has been involved in attacking US forces in Iraq since 2004 as part of al Qaeda in Iraq. He "moved from Mosul, Iraq to Syria in late 2011 to exploit Syria's more permissive security environment with the objectives of transferring al Qaeda's ideology to Syria and forming likeminded terrorist groups," Treasury stated. He became Al Nusrah's "religious and military commander" in eastern Syria and ran a training camp.
Anas Hasan Khattab, another al Qaeda in Iraq operative, serves as a key facilitator between AQI and the Al Nusrah Front. In mid-2012, he was "involved with the formation of Al Nusrah Front for AQI," Treasury stated. Additionally, he "communicated periodically with AQI leadership to receive financial and material assistance and helped facilitate funding and weapons for Al Nusrah Front," and "works closely with al Qaeda-linked facilitators to provide logistical support to Al Nusrah Front."
The Treasury has not added Sheikh Abu Muhammad al Julani, the emir of the Al Nusrah Front, to the list of global terrorists. His nom de guerre, al Julani, indicates that he is a Syrian from the contested Golan area of southern Syria. The Al Nusrah Front has not disclosed al Julani's real name. The Al Nusrah Front appears to be mimicking al Qaeda in Iraq, which has obscured the real identity of the emirs of its political front, the Islamic State of Iraq, since its formation in late 2007.
Links between Al Nusrah and al Qaeda have been clear
The links between the Al Nusrah Front and al Qaeda in Iraq have been clear for some time. Al Nusrah's tactics, operations, and propaganda are nearly identical to those of al Qaeda in Iraq. The Syrian terror group conducts complex suicide assaults, ambushes, IED attacks, and assassinations. And just as al Qaeda in Iraq rails against the Shia, Al Nusrah says its attacks are directed against the Nusayri, or Alawite, enemy. Alawites are a sect of Shia Islam, and President Assad's regime is supported by Iran [see Threat Matrix report, Al Nusrah Front released photos of execution of Syrian soldiers, from October 2012].
The Al Nusrah Front announced it formation in a YouTube video statement that was released on Jan. 23. In the statement, the group claimed an attack on security headquarters in Idlib and vowed to attack President Bashir al Assad's regime.
In mid-November, the Al Nusrah Front and 13 other jihadist groups based in Aleppo rejected the Western-backed National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, and instead called for the establishment of an Islamic state, just as al Qaeda in Iraq did when it formed the Islamic State of Iraq in 2007.
"We declare our legitimate rejection of what came to be called the 'national alliance.' An agreement has been reached to establish a just Islamic State and to reject any foreign project, alliances or councils that are forced on us domestically from any entity, whatever it is," Al Nusrah announced in a statement that was translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.
Al Qaeda's network has strong roots in Syria, and was well poised to capitalize on the unrest in Syria. For years, the terror group has used Syria to support its operations inside Iraq. In late 2008, the US took the unusual step of launching a special operations raid against al Qaeda's facilitation network in the town of Sukkariya near Abu Kamal in eastern Syria, just five miles from the Iraqi border. US troops killed Abu Ghadiya, al Qaeda's senior facilitator, and his senior staff during the October 2008 raid. By 2009, eastern Syria was known to have evolved into a new terrorist haven for al Qaeda in Iraq [see LWJ report, Eastern Syria becoming a new al Qaeda haven].
Al Nusrah becomes a dominant force in the Syrian insurgency
The Al Nusrah Front has by far taken the lead among the jihadist groups in executing suicide and other complex attacks against the Syrian military. The terror group is known to conduct joint operations with other Syrian jihadist organizations.
Just yesterday, the Al Nusrah Front, in conjunction with the Mujahedeen Shura Council and the Muhajireen group, seized control of the Sheikh Suleiman base outside of Aleppo after a two-month-long siege. The base is suspected of playing a role in Syria's chemical weapons program. In mid-November, Al Nusrah reported that it attacked a base in Idlib along with the Ahrar al Sham Brigades, and even shot down a Syrian MiG fighter aircraft.
The Al Nusrah Front is also 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]. In August, Al Nusrah said it attacked a police station outside of Damascus along with the Al Sahaba Battalion, a unit of the Free Syrian Army that operates in the capital [see Threat Matrix report, Al Nusrah Front conducts joint operation with Free Syrian Army].
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.