Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, the Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, and allied jihadist and so-called secular rebels have taken control of yet another Syrian military base. The base is the second to fall to jihadists in the past two days.
Last night the Al Nusrah Front, together with the Tawhid Brigade and the Muhajireen Group, stormed the base of the Syrian military’s 80th Regiment (or Brigade), which is situated near the main airport in Aleppo in eastern Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The three jihadist groups and “others” had taken “over [the base of the 80th Regiment] fully last night,” the Observatory, which closely monitors the civil war, reported on its Facebook page. One “rebel” and three Syrian soldiers were killed in the fighting.
The Muhajireen Group is a jihadist outfit allied with the Al Nusrah Front. The term ‘muhajireen’ means ‘emigrants,’ a strong indication that many of its fighters are from outside of Syria.
The Tawhid Brigade is a unit in the Free Syrian Army, which is touted in the Western press as a secular fighting force. The Tawhid Brigade operates in Aleppo and is known to have ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist political party.
Video of “weapons seized by the rebels after taking the 80th regiment” was published on YouTube. A large supply of assault weapons is seen in the video.
The Al Nusrah Front has been leading the fight to take over the main airport in Aleppo since at least December 2012 [see Threat Matrix report, Al Nusrah Front on the offensive in Aleppo].
Second base to fall
The 80th Regiment’s headquarters in Aleppo is the second Syrian military installation to fall in the past two days. Yesterday, the Ahrar al Sham Brigades, another jihadist group, and the Al Nusrah Front took control of the al-Jarrah airbase in Thawra. Operational Syrian military aircraft were seized by the jihadists during the assault.
Two days ago, the Al Nusrah Front led other Islamist groups in taking over Syria’s largest dam, which is also located in Thawra.
The Al Nusrah Front has cooperated with the Free Syrian Army and the Muhajireen Group to take control of military bases over the past several months. The Muhajireen Group teamed up with Al Nusrah to overrun the Sheikh Suleiman base, or Base 111, in mid-December. Arab and Central Asian fighters are reported to have participated in the battle [see LWJ report, Al Nusrah Front, foreign jihadists seize key Syrian base in Aleppo].
And 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].
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].
The Al Nusrah Front has used al Qaeda’s signature tactic — the suicide bomber and suicide assault team — to target Syrian security forces. The Al Nusrah Front has now claimed credit for 49 of the 60 suicide attacks that have taken place in Syria since December 2011, according to a tally by The Long War Journal (note that multiple suicide bombers deployed in a single operation are counted as part of a single attack). Eight suicide attacks have now been reported in Syria so far this year; Al Nusrah has claimed credit for six of them.
The al Qaeda affiliate’s ranks have been growing, and it is now estimated to have upwards of 10,000 fighters in its ranks.
Due to its organization and prowess on the battlefield, the terror group has become popular and is recruiting from other rival groups. The Nusrah Front has overrun three major military bases and conducted multiple suicide assaults, or “storming operations” as Al Nusrah calls them, on security and intelligence bases and headquarters throughout the country.