The Islamic Front, a newly formed jihadist group in Syria, recently launched a joint raid with one of al Qaeda’s branches to take control of a hospital in the contested city of Aleppo. The operation to take the hospital culminated in a suicide assault that was led by two Kurdish bombers.
The joint operation was announced today by the Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, one of two official al Qaeda branches that operate in Syria. The statement was published on jihadist forums and obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.
The Al Nusrah Front said that it commanded the Islamic Front and the Fajr al Sham Islamic Movement, an independent Salafist group, from what it described as a “joint tactical operations room.”
“The joint tactical operations room of ‘al-Qalb al-Wahid’ (One Heart) – which is militarily led by al-Nusra Front and includes the Islamic Front and the Fajr al-Sham Islamic Movement – launched a blessed operation to end the hopes of the Nusayri army from reaching the al-Kindi hospital and lifting the siege from its soldiers who are trapped in the gate of northern Aleppo, near Aleppo Central Prison …” according to the SITE translation.
The three groups tried to “storm the building” first on Dec. 4, by detonating a BMP armored personnel vehicle near the building and then sending a team to enter the breach.
“On that day the mujahideen entered the first, second, and third floors and used light, medium, and heavy machine guns, and RPGs,” the Al Nusrah Front said, while claiming nine Syrian soldiers were killed.
The al Qaeda-led groups then attacked the building again on Dec. 20. This time, two suicide bombers of Kurdish origins led the assault.
“The operation started with the two martyrdom-seeking heroes Abu al Wad’aa al Kurdistani and Abu Torab al Kurdistani – may Allah accept both of them – and they detonated their trucks at the old building of the hospital,” the statement said. “Afterwards, the stormers entered the building right away and cleared floor by floor.”
After taking control of the hospital complex, “the flag of Tawhid [oneness of God] was raised atop the building, and the mujahideen did Maghreb [evening] prayer from inside the building.”
The capture of the hospital complex in Aleppo is the second major operation that has been publicly promoted since the formation of the Islamic Front at the end of November.
On Dec. 7, the Ahrar al Sham Islamic Movement, one of the most powerful and influential brigades in the Islamic Front, announced that it, in conjunction with the Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, targeted a Hezbollah headquarters near Damascus.
Islamic Front welcomes al Qaeda in Syria
Ahrar al Sham, a force estimated at between 10,000 and 20,000 fighters, has conducted numerous joint operations with the Al Nusrah Front and the ISIS in the past. Some of the more notable joint operations include overrunning the Taftanaz airbase in Idlid in January; taking control of the city of Raqqah in March; massed assaults in Idlib in May; assaulting the Christian town of Malula in September; and attacks on the villages of Maksar al-Husan, Job al-Jarrah, and al-Massoudiyya, also in September.
Ahrar al Sham was one of 11 groups, including the Al Nusrah Front, that in September rejected the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition and called for the establishment of sharia, or Islamic law, throughout Syria.
In November, Ahrar al Sham formed the Islamic Front along with five other large Islamist brigades that have also cooperated with al Qaeda’s branches in the past. The Islamic Front is estimated to consist of about 45,000 fighters. [See LWJ report, Analysis: Formation of Islamic Front in Syria benefits jihadist groups.]
The Islamic Front’s charter, released on Nov. 26, calls for the establishment of an Islamic state and the imposition of Islamic law, both of which are goals shared by al Qaeda. The charter also hints that the Islamic Front will continue to work with al Qaeda’s branches in Syria. It welcomes the “Muhajireen” [emigrants or foreign fighters] as “our brothers who supported us in jihad.” [See LWJ report, Islamic Front endorses jihad, says ‘the Muhajireen are our brothers’.]
Al Qaeda leaders are known to serve in the upper echelons of the Islamic Front. Abu Khalid al Suri, whose real name is Mohamed Bahaiah, one of the top leaders of Ahrar al Sham, is a longtime al Qaeda operative who worked as a courier for Osama bin Laden and the terror network. He currently serves as Ayman al Zawahiri’s representative in the Levant [see LWJ report, Syrian rebel leader was bin Laden’s courier, now Zawahiri’s representative].
The Islamic Front has recently seized bases and warehouses in northern Syria near the border with Turkey that were used by the Free Syrian Army to store and distribute weapons, ammunition, supplies, and aid sent by the US and Western and Arab countries.
After it was rumored that senior US officials had met with members of the Islamic Front to get the supplies back, Secretary of State John Kerry said that the US government is willing to talk with the Islamic Front in order to “broaden the base of the moderate opposition and broaden the base of representation of the Syrian people.”
A spokesman for the Islamic Front denied rumors that it met with US officials, and said that the group “will not fight the al Qaeda organization because it [Islamic Front] was founded to form a link for jihadists.”