Al Nusrah Front seizes control of Syrian city of Raqqah



Al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, the Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, teamed up with another Salafist jihadist group to take control of the city of Raqqah along the Euphrates River in eastern Syria. Meanwhile, the Al Nusrah Front executed two more suicide attacks yesterday near the city of Homs.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group that closely monitors Syria's civil war, reported yesterday that the Al Nusrah Front and the Ahrar al Sham Brigade took full control of Raqqah after the groups "overran the military security branch," which was "the last regime stronghold" in the city.

"The takeover of the city was symbolically celebrated by the Al Nusrah fighters through one of its fighters calling to prayer from inside the military security branch," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on its Facebook page. A video of the call to prayer was posted on YouTube [see video above].

Raqqah is the first provincial capital in Syria to fall completely under control of the myriad of forces opposed to President Bashir al Assad's regime. It is unsurprising that Raqqah fell to Al Nusrah and its jihadist allies, as Al Nusrah is considered to be the most organized and effective fighting force in Syria. The terror group has an estimated 10,000 fighters and is present on nearly all of the fronts in the country.

The Al Nusrah Front and the Ahrar al Sham Brigade, which is comprised primarily of Syrian fighters who want to establish an Islamic state, have conducted several joint operations in the past. In mid-February, the two jihadist groups seized control of the al-Jarrah military airport and the nearby town of Thawra and its dam.

Over the past several months, the Al Nusrah Front and its allies have effectively seized control of the Euphrates River Valley and have secured lines of communication with Al Nusrah's parent group, al Qaeda in Iraq [see LWJ report, Al Nusrah front spearheads capture of Syrian dam, claims suicide assault].

Al Nusrah executes two more suicide attacks

In addition to taking over Raqqah yesterday, the Al Nusrah Front executed two separate suicide attacks at military checkpoints outside the city of Homs in the province of the same name.

A pair of suicide bombers "detonated 2 suicide truck bombs yesterday by regime checkpoints in al-Dar al-Kabira near the entrance to Homs city," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported. The attacks were executed as part of an attempt "to try to break the hold on the city entrances so that rebel fighters can go in."

While the Al Nusrah Front has not yet claimed credit for the two suicide bombings, previous reports attributed to the terror group by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights have been accurate. The Al Nusrah Front often claims credit for such attacks days or even weeks after they are executed.

The Al Nusrah Front has now claimed credit for 55 of the 67 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). So far this year, 15 suicide attacks have been reported in Syria; Al Nusrah has claimed credit for 12 of them.



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READER COMMENTS: "Al Nusrah Front seizes control of Syrian city of Raqqah"

Posted by AcademicGuerrilla82 at March 8, 2013 1:07 PM ET:

"The takeover of the city was symbolically celebrated by the Al Nusrah fighters through one of its fighters calling to prayer from inside the military security branch"

Let the popular prostration begin when those cameras turn on. Can we even call the 'al-Nusrah Front for the Peoples of the Levant' a Salafi-Jihadist group? Propagandized popular prostration and a constituency whom are fighting under various black 'shahada' banners, I think, delivers us an illusion and steers us away from what's really going on on the ground when the cameras are off. This group and its constituency could be fighting on its own terms of nationalism while obviously centralizing violence as a core principle as a means to further its political objectives; its propaganda (popular Islamic prostration, social actors outwardly displaying conservative Islamic behavior) allows this group to globalize its message, while at the same time creating a PERCEPTION of a 'Salafi-Jihadi' movement in Syria whose end goal is an Islamic State. There's no doubt that this will motivate Saudi and UAE millionaires to take a stroll to their banks and write some blank checks. Sexy propaganda usually leads to more money and the funneling of regional fighters to aid a 'devoutly' Islamic group.

Posted by m3fd2002 at March 8, 2013 1:37 PM ET:

Your point is taken. However, the rebels don't need manpower at this point. It looks like there is conflict throughout the country, even in Shia/Christian dominated areas. It's hundreds of small unit actions daily. The Baathist intimidation has disappeared, and the Sunni's are taking up arms where ever they can find them. The Iranians, Hezbollah, and Russians want to maintain Assad. The Sunni Arab states want a Sunni dominated government, probably Institutionally Islamic. The Alawites just want to avoid a slaughter at this point. The Kurds are watching on the sidelines and have their interests clearly defined. The Turks are trying to manipulate the crisis for maximum leverage against the Kurds (internally and externally). I still would like to know what the true Israeli position on Syria is, by this I mean what would be the optimal outcome for the Israelis. They are the ones who have skin in the game that most likely reflects "Western" interests. Any insight would be appreciated.

Posted by mike merlo at March 8, 2013 3:30 PM ET:

@AcademicGuerrilla82
interesting post. Sounds almost as vague & illusory as what you're singling out(nationalism?)

Posted by SlayerMill at March 8, 2013 4:41 PM ET:

For anyone, especially those in the State Department, who are curious about where our $60 million in non-lethal aid in the form of money, supplies, and services are ultimately going, here’s your answer. I wonder how much money we’re actually throwing into this civil war/ hijacked movement by jihadists from the very beginning to mask their international ambitions? If the State Department is overtly throwing $60 million into this toilet, there’s no telling how much is truly being given away under the table. When will we learn that every time we fund a proxy to do our bidding, it comes back to haunt us? I suppose I’m underestimating the uncanny ability of nearly every politician ever at the highest level to treat history books like the plague. Here’s a simple formula State Department; this will spare you the stress from future PR disaster headaches, as well as, billions in tax-payer dollars. DON’T FUND PROXIES! To quote the main mob boss from the only Wesley Snipes movie I like, New Jack City “Lay down with Peruvian dogs, you get Spanish fleas.” No, that wasn’t a knock on Spanish speaking people for any race-baiting “progressives” out there chomping at the bit to label me a racist; it was directed at the fact that when business is done with the wrong people (i.e. jihadists) you get screwed. It’s a catch-22 with jihadists. It’s better to let these groups pummel each other into submission since “submission” is what all these jihadi groups are ultimately all about imposing on the world anyways right? Seriously, jihadists are about as original as motor cycle gangs. They basically have the exact same ideologies and have the same ultimate goals as one another, but fight each other over turf, drug trade territory, narcissistic personalities who want to call the shots, etc. Jihadists should start wearing leather vests with 1%er and other patches to list their accomplishments in order to feel special too. Jihadists can have 0.0000001% patches to demonstrate the fact their beliefs reflect that same percent of Muslims beliefs. They can also have their IED patch, participation in an ambush patch, successfully recruited a guy stupid enough to blow himself up for our takfiri cause patch, etc. The bottom rocker on the backs of their vests can have the country they come from and everything.

Posted by blert at March 8, 2013 6:38 PM ET:

We may be only weeks away from a rebel established alternate government.

It could be 'stood up' in either Aleppo or Raqqa.

Bill's reference to the Euphrates River being a Sunni logistical highway bears emphasis.

Henceforth, one should expect aid -- of every type -- to flow in from the north, east, and south.

Near as I can tell, all of the SAA troops in the east and north have been strategically abandoned.

Off the 'radar' I would expect all Alawites to be packing the wives and kids out of Damascus -- sending them to the coast.

Assad can't stitch Humpty-Dumpty back together again.

Everyone sees that.

Every old regime loses ground slowly, slowly,... and then all at once.

The fighting tempo is going to explode in two weeks. The weather will be perfect by that time.

Posted by sundoesntrise at March 8, 2013 9:29 PM ET:

"It’s better to let these groups pummel each other into submission since “submission” is what all these jihadi groups are ultimately all about imposing on the world anyways right?"

I appreciate your entire comment Mike but this was the climax of it. Unfortunately what seems to be the case though is there are a bunch of domestic groups here in the West that have a bleeding heart mindset and have fallen in love with the "Arab Spring" story. They absolutely refuse to accept that jihadists are in any way involved in these "democratic uprisings" and therefore will vouch to dispense money like candy without thinking twice where it went. Obama and his administration sent a total of billions (how many billions?) to various "Arab Spring" nations and not one of them have objectively progressed into the direction him and other "Arab Spring" advocates hoped it would.

Obama may have jumped the gun on Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia, and Libya (especially Libya), but I think he finally gets it that this time he can NOT jump the gun and hand out guns and cash to just anybody. That's why aid has been, although generous, slim in Syria compared to the other nations.

"Jihadists can have 0.0000001% patches to demonstrate the fact their beliefs reflect that same percent of Muslims beliefs."

Extremism is on the rise on a catastrophically high rate all across the Muslim world. The Internet does not help either. In fact, I'm just going to say it. The Internet is part of the problem, where disaffected Muslim youth can go and learn about "jihad" in order to rebel against "the man". Back in my day, we became hippies to rebel. These days, Muslim kids want to become "martyrs" by blowing themselves up. Yes it sounds awful but it's simply the cold darn truth and nobody can deny it. The Internet is a feeding ground for unchecked extremism and the Jihadists take advantage of it under the guise of "free speech" and "democracy" - the very values they CONSISTENTLY state that they oppose.

I would call them hypocrites but to be honest I'm not sure anybody cares enough to oppose them anymore.

Posted by sundoesntrise at March 8, 2013 9:34 PM ET:

Oh, man - this is embarrassing, but I thought Mike Merlo made the post I quoted when SlayerMill actually made it. Sorry Slayer, all credit goes to you. Although Mike makes good posts too. I need new glasses.

Posted by Will Fenwick at March 8, 2013 10:04 PM ET:

The one thing is clear is that this mess will only get worse if and when assad is gone. Instead of everyone fighting the Baathists, a multi-sided conflict between the current co-belligerents will erupt and could spill violently across the northern Arabian peninsula.
With Assad gone, expect to see the Salafists turn on the nationalists and attempt to wipe out the Shia minority areas. I would expect Hezbollah to push north and occupy areas around Latakia.
The real question and the biggest potential for internationalization of the conflict is the Kurdish situation. A Salafist dominated post assad syria could see the Kurds declare independence which would cause massive tensions and possible conflict with Turkey and Iraq. Iraqi Kurdistan is already in essence a defacto independent state with high tensions with the central government.
A salafi Syrian state would also likely be even more of a danger to Israel than Assadist Syria is today. While i personally don't favor Assad winning the conflict, i actually think that now the Salafis are hijacking the rebellion that the likely hood of international conflict is higher in a rebel win scenario than in a rebel defeat. Either way, its a no win scenario for the western world.

Posted by mike merlo at March 9, 2013 12:19 PM ET:

@sundoesntrise
nothing wrong with a little 'friendly fire' now & then. Heck just for kicks every time I drive around or through San Francisco I make a point of driving down One Way Streets just to check if I still have a pulse

Posted by AcademicGuerilla82 at March 9, 2013 12:35 PM ET:

@Mike Merlo

Thanks for the critique and engagement of my post. It had me thinking, and I re-read my post quite a few times. I just find it interesting that this group is called 'al-Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant', which to me has nationalist undertones, undertones that elude to the idea of Syrian nationalism, or rather the creation of a Syrian state that encompasses the entire Levant (the idea of Syrian nationalism, or this kind rather, was pushed forth ideologically by Antun Saadeh, 1904-1949). I just find it fascinating how easily ideas of Syrian nationalism can be assimilated, restructured, repackaged, and then re-sold ideologically as Salafi-jihadi ideals. If you choose to scan some of Saadeh and his beliefs, I hope you can maybe connect the dots like I did, i.e. take out the Syrian nationalist terminology and replace it with Salafi-jihadi terminology and they look very similar.

Thanks a lot Mike, have a good one.

Posted by mike merlo at March 9, 2013 4:17 PM ET:

@AcademicGuerilla82
I don't think anybody of consequence to date has satisfactorily explained, besides myself somewhat(Although not being a personage of consequence disqualifies me due to my exaggerated sense of self), this 'vague yet specific' element of the political part of this Global Jihad that's taking place.

The fact that you touched upon this Nationalistic 'possible' Salafi-Transnational connection is obviously 'something' that's 'alive & well' but for whatever continues to escape the capacity of Gov'ts world wide to articulate and single this threat out with the kind of meaningful definition that people from around the world can better 'grasp' & understand.

Its 'funny' we in the West or 'Free World' never seemed to have this 'problem' when it came to confronting, discussing, debating, etc., Communism. Having conversations of consequence on the GWOT that are consistent & not burden by "Political Correctness" are no longer possible.

Posted by kush dragon at March 9, 2013 8:23 PM ET:

@sundoesntrise & SlayerMill

Do you guys honestly think that it's only Obama or "bleeding hearts" as you call it who support proxies? It's not that I agree with Obama's foreign policy at all but you should remember that for many years many different administrations have haphazardly given our money to support so called "freedom fighters". You are under a dangerous illusion if you think only progressives, dems or whatever are responsible fort this.

Posted by sundoesntrise at March 10, 2013 6:20 AM ET:

On another note I must add that once again, after, for a long while, studying various armed groups I can still not really tell any difference between the Syrian rebels/Libyan rebels, vs. Al Qaeda, Taliban, or any other fundamentalist groups. Sure, they may live in different parts of the world but the constant extremist rhetoric is very similar and there for all to see. The militants in Libya and Syria, it seems, while less skilled than their fundamentalist brethren, try their best to emulate their tactics and are even inspired by AQ ideology.

Their demeanor is the same and I predict that just like Afghanistan came back to bite us - so will supporting the current generation of armed extremists.

A common misconception among bleeding hearts is that all Jihadists will return to their homelands once the fighting is done. That is patently false and as we have seen in the past, once one theater of war is 'liberated', they move onto the next one. So Bashar Al-Assad may not be the most saintly of human beings but his forces are keeping the Jihadists busy for now. With Afghanistan drawing down, and with Assad on the brink of falling, who do you think the Jihadists will turn their guns on next?

Posted by SlayerMill at March 10, 2013 3:42 PM ET:

@ kush dragon.
Read my post again and you'll see I was very clear I didn't confine a policy of supporting proxies to the Obama Administration. This is why I wrote:
"When will we learn that every time we fund a proxy to do our bidding, it comes back to haunt us? I suppose I’m underestimating the uncanny ability of nearly every politician ever at the highest level to treat history books like the plague."
Not once did I say funding proxies is strictly Obama's policy. I made sure to mention that ALL politicians are responsible for adopting irresponsible policies of giving money to people we end up fighting later, hence why I wrote "...every politician ever at the highest level..."
I didn't mention the Obama Admin now did I? I didn't call anyone a "bleeding heart" either as you accuse me of writing. You might want to read something a few times through before you decide to try and pick it apart or add your own creative editing to what was written.

Posted by Moose at March 12, 2013 6:28 AM ET:

@AcademicGuerilla82 and Mike Merlo,

Arab nationalism and Sunni extremism often go hand in hand. We've seen this social phenomena in other contexts (for instance, Zionism and Israeli nationalism go hand in hand for obvious reasons). Minority Arabs such as Shias and Christians have feared this development since forever. They consider themselves Arabs, and groups like the Baathists tried to implement an Arab, non-Islamic identity, but the extreme elements are now driving the discourse. Salafists have always seen Arab nationalism and establishing the caliphate as one and the same, and that message may be filtering to the masses.

Having said that, I'm completely unconcerned with a rising Islamic empire. Salafists have demonstrated time and again that they're bumbling morons when it comes to administration, especially in the modern age. Building a caliphate that threatens us on an existential level will never happen. Now if you combined their religious fervor with the social cohesion of say, the Chinese, then I might be concerned.


@SlayerMill and sundoesn'trise,

Divide and conquer - the oldest trick in the book. We should establish an independent Kurdistan where we can station our troops. I believe this will put the Arabs and Iranians in check. The only country we need on board is Turkey, but I think it can be done.

@Will Fenwick
I hadn't considered the possibility of Hezbollah occupying Latakia and the Syrian coast, but I think you're right. It's demographically friendly, Syria's only access to the Mediterranean, and the port at Tartous is way too important to lose. Reports indicate that the IRGC and Hezbollah-backed Jaysh militias are there in large numbers.

@blert
I understand your points, but I disagree. You're assuming Assad only has a modern force that's being worn down by asymmetrical tactics. You should also consider that as the Alawites lose ground, they will resort to such tactics themselves. I think the M5 Hwy that connects Damascus to Homs and Hamah and then Aleppo is going to be the new, bloody dividing line b/w the two sides. Cities such as Ar-Raqqa and Deir al-Zawr should have fallen a long time ago.

Posted by sundoesntrise at March 12, 2013 11:30 AM ET:

While I agree that the Salafists seem to busy choking on their own drool to get anything done, we should not underestimate them completely. They are still very determined and they are always waiting in the shadows to take advantage of ANY security holes they can find. With the downward spiral the Islamic world is taking recently, unfortunately, they will turn to religion to fill the void in their lives as humans tend to do quite a bit. There is a rising impression that a 'return' to the 'true Islam' will fix all their problems.

Also, when it comes to Turkey, the ONLY way that would happen is if a government comes to power that would be willing to cede territory to the Kurds - but then they would face huge domestic opposition from the non Kurdish masses. Not to mention as of now Erdogan will simply not let it happen. He is completely opposed to the idea, and he has threatened Assad not to let Kurdish groups use Syria as a sanctuary to launch and plot attacks.

Some observers have speculated that maybe Assad withdrew from the Kurdish areas purposely - to create a problem for Erdogan and to free up his own forces. But considering there is still fighting going on in those areas I really don't think that was the intention.

Posted by mike merlo at March 12, 2013 12:13 PM ET:

@Moose
"Arab nationalism and Sunni extremism often go hand in hand." zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...old news. The Cold War has afforded many views of ideology & Nationalism of either one or the other being co-opted by the other.

"Salafists have demonstrated time and again that they're bumbling morons when it comes to administration," what makes you think those that you've singled out are about Administration? Say what you will about 'these' people they have expanded their theater(s) of operations significantly & continue to do so.

Existentially speaking whoever said anything about building a Caliphate. That is nothing more than a propaganda extrusion. As far as those who bandy 'it' about their position on the matter is very fluid. If 'it' should come to pass fine, if not then they will continue to wield as a propaganda canard as they deem fit.

As long as Pakistan continues to 'waiver' & it continues to posses Nuclear Weapons it shall remain an Existential Threat.

Posted by UNF at March 12, 2013 5:46 PM ET:

"We should establish an independent Kurdistan where we can station our troops."


Back in your rubber room, Rumsfeld!

Posted by Moose at March 13, 2013 10:05 PM ET:

@sundoesntrise
I'm just of the opinion that man-made countries have caused way too many problems in places like the Middle East and Africa. I'm not Kurdish, but I believe the Kurds will eventually have their own country.

While we're on the subject, Afghanistan should also be divided so the Pasthuns can finally have their Pashtunistan and Tajiks, Hazaras, and Uzbeks can live in peace. In addition, let's divide North and South Mali since these regions consist of completely different ethnic groups. We should recognize and help the Tuaregs in the North combat the Salafists instead of propping up a weak, ineffective government based in Bamako.

@mike merlo,
You really don't think establishing the Caliphate is their ultimate goal? Really? Come on man I know you're smarter than that!

Btw, I do believe that Pakistan's nuclear weapons are a concern, but even that's tenuous. Have they even weaponized their arsenal so the warhead will go on a missile? I'm more concerned with them selling that technology to rogue states than I am with terrorists getting their hands on it. In any case, I HOPE they try using one so we can blow it out of the sky and level their entire country into a glass parking lot.

@UNF
LOL, thanks buddy.

Posted by mike merlo at March 14, 2013 6:39 PM ET:

@Moose
With all due respect to you & 99.9999999999% x Pi
,of all the world's other non Muslims, are border line clueless when it comes to ascertaining the import of the reestablishing the position of a Caliphate. The position was irresponsibly dissolved by the Turks. And while the proselytizing certainly serves the purposes of the Islamic Internationale's(II) propaganda machine one can rest assured that should the II ever attain their lofty sought after goals the position of the Caliphate will not be a priority.

Much in the same the way Communist Ideology foisted the idea of a "Workers Paradise" & a host of other 'visions' of paradise upon unwitting populations; a world of shared wealth, communal living, etc., was nothing more than a ruse to mobilize necessary amounts of a given 'targets' population to satisfy the 'Masters' objective which was Power & Control. " “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,” is nothing but some literati's poisoned pablum designed to fool the imbiber.

By the way I'd be curious to know that if a country is not "man-made" then to who or what is its 'genesis' to be ascribed to?

Posted by mike merlo at March 14, 2013 6:49 PM ET:

@Moose
Whether Pakistan has weaponized their Nuclear Technology capable of being mounted upon a missile is immaterial. A collection of kamikazee pilots carrying Nuclear Payloads from my vantage is a much more plausible scenario. Besides from an operational preparation stand point Nuclear Armed aircraft are much easier to arm & deploy.

Posted by blert at March 14, 2013 7:58 PM ET:

@moose...

It's been a week... and it now appears that both France and Britain want to openly provide aid to the rebels.

Further, one might intuit that these maneuvers are being sync'd with the formation of a rebel government -- which both powers will recognize as the legitimate Syrian authority, tout de suite.

As for the s l o w take down of Raqqa, and such -- such is the norm for modern siege tactics. In ancient times, it was as common as dust for sieges to go on for months and months.

The Trojans held out for ten months. This was poetically extended into a surreal ten years in the Iliad.

(It should be obvious to all that no ancient military force could maintain a siege of ten years. What of food storage? People didn't even live all that long back then. And, the Iliad never tells of fresh troops, endlessly sailing on over to reinforce kings who've left their thrones for years on end -- and their queens. Such is poetic license.)

Posted by sundoesntrise at March 15, 2013 11:56 AM ET:

"By the way I'd be curious to know that if a country is not "man-made" then to who or what is its 'genesis' to be ascribed to?"

You are asking a pointless question, to be honest. Simply put, all nations are man made. It's just like saying, "water is wet", or "fire is hot".

When it comes to the whole Caliphate thing, of course Mike has a point in his posts referring to power and control. Communist dictators have used the theme of a "workers paradise" and "resistance against Imperialism" to suppress their own populations ruthlessly. When you look at it Islamists do the same thing.

They point their finger in the air, grow a long beard, and wave an AK around in the air. They whip people for smoking and looting, meanwhile they do the same thing (think of Mali, or Iraq, for instance.) Then they claim that "Allah" has granted them the authority to do what they are doing because they are following the "true Islam". And in a society that is not so socially/technologically advanced, that is enough in itself to shut up any opposition to them. Anyone who crosses that line is simply killed.