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 in Iraq’s affiliate in Syria, launched a complex suicide assault on a Syrian military base near the border with Israel. The terror group sent five suicide bombers to attack the Syrian military in what it described as “a compound special operation.”
In a statement released on jihadist forums yesterday, the Al Nusrah Front said it attacked “one of the biggest fortresses” in Sa’sa’ in Quneitra province near the Golan Heights, according to the SITE Intelligence Group. While the Al Nusrah statement did not give a date that the attack took place, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights noted that several car bombs were detonated in the town on Jan. 25.
“Several explosions shook the Sa’sa’ town of Reef al-Quneitra, initial reports indicate that the explosions are of detonated cars leading to several casualties and injuries as well as material losses,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights stated on its Facebook page.
The Al Nusrah Front claimed the attack was carried out in “four stages,” and named the five suicide bombers who participated in the assault, according to SITE, which obtained and translated the statement:
The first stage: The heroic martyrdom seeker Abu Hamza al-Halabi entered with a booby-trapped vehicle laden with one ton, to open the way for the second vehicle.
The second stage: The heroic martyrdom seeker Abu Huzayfa al-Halabi entered with his booby- trapped vehicle laden with four tons, to detonate it inside the building
The third stage: The immersing storming [suicide bombers who detonate within crowds] Abu Omar al-Hamzi and Abu Bakr al-Shami enter.
The fourth stage: Blowing up Sa’sa’ barrier with a booby-trapped vehicle driven by the hero Abu Duha al-Janoobi.
The Syrian al Qaeda affiliate claimed that “at least 60 apostates” were killed and more than 500 were wounded in the complex attack. According to Bloomberg, eight Syrian intelligence officials were killed in the attack.
The Al Nusrah Front has launched two other complex suicide assaults on major military installations in the past several months. On Sept. 28, 2012, the group sortied suicide bombers in a sophisticated attack, which included an assault team, on the Syrian Army headquarters in Damascus. And on Oct. 9, 2012, Al Nusrah executed a complex suicide assault on an Air Force intelligence headquarters on the outskirts of Damascus.
The Al Nusrah Front has now claimed credit for 46 of the 55 suicide attacks that have taken place in Syria since December 2011, according to a tally of the operations by The Long War Journal (note that multiple suicide bombers deployed in a single operaton are counted as part of a single attack).
Al Nusrah spearheads military assaults
Al Nusrah has also served as the vanguard for jihadist forces in the major attacks on Syrian military bases. In concert with allied jihadist groups such as the Ahrar al Sham, the Islamic Vanguard, Mujahedeen Shura Council, the Muhajireen Group, and Chechen fighters, the terror group has overrun three large Syrian installations since last fall.
On Jan. 11, Al Nusrah, Ahrar al Sham, and the Islamic Vanguard overran the Taftanaz airbase in Aleppo. The airbase was used by government forces to launch airstrikes on anti-regime forces. More than 60 helicopters operated from Taftanaz, and were deployed to attack nearby towns and cities as well as rebel forces.
On Dec. 10, 2012, the Al Nusrah Front, the Mujahedeen Shura Council, and the Muhajireen Group took control of the Sheikh Suleiman base, or Base 111. Arab and Chechen fighters participated in the assault on Sheikh Suleiman, which is said to be a key research facility linked to the regime’s chemical weapons program [see LWJ report, Al Nusrah Front, foreign jihadists seize key Syrian base in Aleppo].
And on Oct. 11, 2012, Al Nusrah, the supposedly secular 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 led a siege against a strategic base in Wadi Deif in the province of Idlib, and is attempting to seize control of the main airport in Aleppo [see Threat Matrix report, Al Nusrah Front on the offensive in Aleppo].
The terror group has become one of the most powerful and effective units in the Syrian insurgency, and it has begun to absorb elements of the Free Syrian Army. The Al Nusrah Front also conducts joint operations with the Free Syrian Army and other supposedly secular groups, and has numerous foreign fighters in its ranks.
An al Qaeda affiliate
On Dec. 11, 2012, the US designated the Al Nusrah Front as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. The designation stated that the emir of al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Du’a (a.k.a. Abu Bakr al Baghdadi al Husseini al Qurshi), “is in control of both AQI and Al Nusrah.”
At the same time, the US added two senior Al Nusrah leaders, Maysar Ali Musa Abdallah al Juburi and Anas Hasan Khattab, both members of al Qaeda in Iraq, to the list of global terrorists; the US did not add the emir of Al Nusrah, Sheikh Abu Muhammad al Julani, to the list, however. [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.]
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. Immediately after the US designated Al Nusrah as a terrorist group, 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 (which is the flag of al Qaeda) [see LWJ report, Syrian National Coalition urges US to drop Al Nusrah terrorism designation].