Jordanian jihadists welcome proposed US intervention in Syria
Although a few jihadist groups have released statements expressing apprehension about the proposed US military strikes on Syria, others appear to be taking a more sanguine view.
Two days ago, the London-based Arab news outlet Al-Quds Al-Arabi published an article citing Musa al Abdalat, a leading spokesman for Jordanian jihadists, in which he said that Jordanian Salafists support the proposed strike as it would involve "oppressors strik[ing] oppressors." According to the SITE Intelligence Group, which obtained and translated the article, Abdalat said: "We do not ask for military strike but we do not mind because we do not mind alleviating harm done to Muslim men and women. If the strike occurs we do not object to it."
The news outlet also reported that Jordanian Salafists do not disapprove of strikes against members of the Syrian military, despite the jihadists' call that no Muslim blood be shed, because the Syrian soldiers are identified with an apostate regime so are not considered true Muslims, SITE said.
Jordanian Salafist support for jihad in Syria
Jordanian Salafists have been instrumental in the development of jihadist forces in Syria. In May, Jordanian Salafist leader Mohammad Shalabi, also known as Abu Sayyaf, told Agence France Presse that there were currently more than 500 Jordanian jihadists in Syria, and that 50 had already been killed there. Many of them are believed to be fighting with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the Al Nusrah Front, two al Qaeda affiliates in Syria.
A year earlier, in May 2012, Abu Muhammad al Tahawi, a Salafist Jordanian cleric who has encouraged jihadists to fight in Iraq and elsewhere and who is close to Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi, released a statement backing the Al Nusrah Front. [See LWJ report, 2 Zarqawi cousins detained in Jordan after fighting in Syria.] Al Maqdisi, a global jihadist ideologue, formerly mentored Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the slain leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, which is the precursor of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Al Tahawi's lengthy statement, which was titled "Supporting the Victory of the Al Nusrah Front," was posted on jihadist forums and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group. In the statement, al Tahawi said that it was an obligation for Muslims to fight in Syria, and accused NATO, the UN, Arab regimes, and the media of backing Assad. He also praised suicide attacks, and said jihadists will expel the West, Israel, and Arab regimes from "Muslim lands."
"The people who wrapped explosive belts around themselves, on their bellies, and
tore apart the idol of the era America and put its nose in the dirt of defeat in Iraq and Afghanistan, and very soon in the Levant, will put down the nose of the Nusayris [Alawhites], the daughter of Zionism, and extirpate them from the heart of Muslim land," al Tahawi said.
The increasing importance of Syria as a theater for global jihad is highlighted by the fact that the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq (now the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), Abu Bakr al Baghdadi (a.k.a. Abu Dua), is now based in Syria. [See LWJ report, State Department confirms al Qaeda in Iraq leader has relocated to Syria.] As that August 2013 LWJ report noted, al Baghdadi's relocation was first reported earlier this year, and underscores the degree to which al Qaeda has expanded its operations. Despite leadership disagreements, al Qaeda has redoubled its efforts in Iraq since American forces left in late 2011, while also extending its operations into neighboring Syria.
US intervention in Syria against Assad regime presents opportunity for al Qaeda
The recent statements of Jordanian Salafists associated with al Qaeda-linked forces in Syria expressing acquiescence to the proposed US military strikes against the Assad regime are consistent with the overall Islamist response to the proposed strikes, which appears to be opportunistic. Shortly after the Obama administration indicated it was considering action to punish the regime for the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack in Damascus, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant announced that it would coordinate with other Syrian rebel groups to take revenge against the regime for the chemical weapons attack. Seven other groups signed onto the ISIL statement, including at least two Free Syrian Army units. [See LWJ report, Al Qaeda, rebel groups vow to avenge chemical attack in Syria.]
The LWJ report points out that the Free Syrian Army now 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 Syrian affiliates, despite claims from senior Free Syrian Army leaders that they oppose the Al Nusrah Front and the ISIL.
As the recent response from the Jordanian Salafists suggests, jihadists in Syria have little to lose and much to gain from an American intervention against the Assad regime.