The Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, claimed it launched two suicide assaults and other attacks with Syrian rebel groups, including an Islamist unit and two Free Syrian Army brigades.
The Al Nusrah Front made the claims in a series of statements released on June 27 by its official media outlet, the Al-Manara Al-Baydha’ Foundation. The statements were obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.
The attacks were carried out in conjunction with the Nasser Salahuddin Brigade, an Islamist group from the Syrian Islamic Liberation Front, and the Dera’ al Assima, Liwa al Habib al Mustafa, and Liwa’ al-Tawhid, three Free Syrian Army brigades that operate in Damascus.
The Al Nusrah Front said the two suicide assaults took place “in Eastern Ghouta in the countryside of Damascus” on April 22. Al Nusrah Front suicide bombers targeted two “barriers,” or outposts, with explosives-packed cars.
“That was in order to open the way for the storming lions of the Al Nusrah Front and the Nasser Salahuddin Brigade to raid the two barriers and comb them,” the statement said, according to SITE. The Al Nusrah Front claimed that “more than 150 soldiers” were killed and two tanks were destroyed in the operation.
In addition to the Ghouta suicide assaults, the Al Nusrah Front claimed to have launched multiple mortar and rocket attacks on April 22, with the help of the Dera’ al Assima and Liwa al Habib al Mustafa brigades, against Syrian forces in the Damascus area.
And on April 10, according to a recent statement, the Al Nusrah Front and the Liwa’ al-Tawhid Brigade executed a joint conventional military assault on a Syrian military unit.
“The raid started with two groups of immersers from the Al Nusra Front, with the support of a group from Liwa’ al-Tawhid with a 23mm cannon and DShK” anti-aircraft machine guns, the statement said. The Al Nusrah Front fighters stormed the Syrian military positions and destroyed several tanks, the terror group claimed.
Free Syrian Army works with the Al Nusrah Front
The Al Nusrah Front is willing to work with Syrian rebel groups such as the Free Syrian Army, and in its official statements has admitted to doing so.
In October 2012, the Al Nusrah Front claimed it commanded elements of the Al Fajr [Dawn] Islamic Brigade, a known Free Syrian Army unit, as well as “Chechens,” likely from the Muhajireen Brigade, during an assault on a Syrian air defense and Scud missile base in Aleppo.
And in August 2012, the Al Nusrah Front said it launched a joint operation with the Battalion of the Mujahideen of the Companions [Al Sahaba Battalion] against a police station in the countryside of Damascus.
The Al Nusrah Front has also cooperated with Free Syrian Army units to establish sharia, or Islamic law, in Aleppo and in eastern Syria.
One of the founders of the Free Syrian Army, Colonel Riyad al Assad, has welcomed the Al Nusrah Front on the battlefield and has described the group as “our brothers in Islam.” Riyad made the statements in an undated video that was uploaded on YouTube in March.
“We have offered martyrs and other things and, accordingly, nobody should blame us for this matter,” he said. “The Al Nusrah Front has proved that it is proficient in fighting and has treated the people very nicely.”
Riyad then said the Al Nusrah Front “thus far have not done anything wrong to anybody,” disregarding the facts that the group has executed suicide attacks that have killed civilians and enforces a harsh form of sharia, or Islamic law, in areas under its control.
The US government is backing the Free Syrian Army despite the group’s known ties to the Al Nusrah Front. The Obama administration announced on June 13 that it would arm Syrian rebels against President Bashir al Assad, who is backed by Iran and Hezbollah, after accusing the Syrian government of using chemical weapons.
The CIA has begun moving light weapons and possibly anti-tank missiles from Jordan to Syria, where they are to be given to ‘elaborately’ vetted opposition elements. The CIA is considering using special operations teams from the US, Jordan, and the UAE to train rebels. US officials say the effort will aim to produce trained moderate fighters faster than the growth of the Al Nusrah Front, which has added “thousands” of fighters this past year. Meanwhile, Saudi officials have offered to identify ‘trusted’ rebel fighters to be given shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles.
But large numbers of Free Syrian Army fighters and even entire units are said to be defecting to the Al Nusrah Front. From Jan. 1 until the beginning of May, more than 3,000 Free Syrian Army fighters are thought to have taken their weapons and joined al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria.