The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, one of two al Qaeda affiliates operating in Syria, announced that it would coordinate with other Syrian rebel groups, including the Free Syrian Army, to take revenge for a chemical weapons attack last week in the capital that is said to have killed more than 300 people.
The ISIL released a statement yesterday that was signed by seven other “jihadi factions” operating in Eastern Ghouta, a district in the Syrian capital where the chemical attack is said to have taken place. The statement, which was released yesterday on an official Twitter account associated with the ISIL, was obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.
The decision to conduct joint operations against the Syrian government and military was made “after the meeting that was called for by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant for all the jihadi factions in Eastern Ghouta,” the ISIL said, according to SITE.
The operation is to be called the “Volcano of Revenge,” and the targets are “the main joints of the regime in imprisoned Damascus, including security branches, support and supply points, training centers, and infrastructure (electricity, internet).”
Seven other groups signed onto the ISIL statement, including at least two Free Syrian Army units. The groups that signed the statement are the Ahrar al Sham Islamic Movement, a large, independent jihadist group; the Ahrar Dimashq Battalion, which is described as “The Combat Engineering Brigade of the Muhajireen,” or Muhajireen Army, an al Qaeda-linked group; the Abu Dhar al Ghafari Brigade, an ISIL unit in Damascus; the Al Habib Al Mustafa Brigades, a Free Syrian Army unit and its ‘Issa bin Maryam Battalion; the Al Furqan Brigade, another Free Syrian Army unit; the Umm al Qura Battalion; and the Deraa al-‘Asima Brigade (Lebanon Capital Shield Brigade).
The ISIL’s announcement takes place as Obama administration officials have indicated that the US plans on launching airstrikes against the Syrian government to punish it for launching chemical attacks. The US is currently positioning naval assets off the Syrian coast which may be used to launch cruise missile and other strikes against the Assad regime. US officials have indicated that ground forces will not be deployed.
Direct US military involvement in Syria would ironically put it on the same side as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and the Al Nusrah Front, two of al Qaeda’s most powerful affiliates. The US fought al Qaeda in Iraq, the predecessor to the ISIL, from 2004 to the end of 2011 before withdrawing from Iraq.
Free Syrian Army routinely conducts joint operations with al Qaeda
Free Syrian Army units are known to conduct joint attacks and administer areas of Syria with al Qaeda’s affiliates in Syria, despite claims from senior Free Syrian Army leaders that they oppose the Al Nusrah Front and the ISIL.
Currently, in northern Syria, Free Syrian Army units are fighting alongside the Al Nusrah Front; the ISIL; Ahrar al Sham; the Ahfad al-Rasoul Brigade, which is backed by the government of Qatar; and the Islamic Kurdish Front; to battle Kurdish forces allied with the PKK.
Just weeks ago, the ISIL led an assault, which included a suicide bomber from Saudi Arabia, to take control of an airport in Aleppo. Eight other groups, including the Al Nusrah Front, the Muhajireen Army, and Free Syrian Army units, also took part in the joint operation.
A year ago, 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), a Free Syrian Army unit, against a police station in Jadida Artouz in the countryside of Damascus.
Also in August 2012, the Al Nusrah Front imposed sharia, or Islamic Law, in conjunction with the Tawhid Brigade, a Free Syrian Army unit, and the Ahrar al Sham Brigade in Aleppo.
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.
In June this year, the Al Nusrah Front said it conducted two suicide assaults in Eastern Ghouta on April 22 with the help of the Nasser Salahuddin Brigade, and that it launched several conventional attacks in April with the help of the Dera’ al Assima, Liwa al Habib al Mustafa, and Liwa’ al Tawhid brigades, three Free Syrian Army units in Damascus.