Al Nusrah Front conducts joint operation with Free Syrian Army

The al Qaeda-linked Al Nusrah Front released a statement noting that it conducted a joint operation with the supposedly secular Free Syrian Army. From the Al Nusrah statement, which was translated by the SITE Intelligence Group:

In obedience to the command of Allah, and in support of His religion and to protect the oppressed in the Levant [Syria], the soldiers of the Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, in cooperation with the Battalion of the Mujahideen of the Companions [Al Sahaba Battalion], carried out an attack on the police station of Jadida Artouz in the countryside of Damascus, killing all the elements, taking their weapons, and completely destroying the building. That was on the morning of Thursday, 19-7-2012.

The Al Sahaba Battalion is a well-known Free Syrian Army formation which operates in the Syrian capital of Damascus.

The Al Nusrah Front clearly has been poaching from al Qaeda in Iraq, given the sophistication and intensity of its attacks [see Threat Matrix report, Al Qaeda fighters moving from Iraq to Syria]. Now, the lines between the Free Syrian Army and the plethora of jihadist groups have begun to fade, according to The Guardian, which reported at the end of July that al Qaeda has integrated its operations with the Free Syrian Army:

As they stood outside the commandeered government building in the town of Mohassen, it was hard to distinguish Abu Khuder’s men from any other brigade in the Syrian civil war, in their combat fatigues, T-shirts and beards.

But these were not average members of the Free Syrian Army. Abu Khuder and his men fight for al-Qaida. They call themselves the ghuraba’a, or “strangers”, after a famous jihadi poem celebrating Osama bin Laden’s time with his followers in the Afghan mountains, and they are one of a number of jihadi organisations establishing a foothold in the east of the country now that the conflict in Syria has stretched well into its second bloody year.

They try to hide their presence. “Some people are worried about carrying the [black] flags,” said Abu Khuder. “They fear America will come and fight us. So we fight in secret. Why give Bashar and the west a pretext?” But their existence is common knowledge in Mohassen. Even passers-by joke with the men about car bombs and IEDs.

According to Abu Khuder, his men are working closely with the military council that commands the Free Syrian Army brigades in the region. “We meet almost every day,” he said. “We have clear instructions from our [al-Qaida] leadership that if the FSA need our help we should give it. We help them with IEDs and car bombs. Our main talent is in the bombing operations.” Abu Khuder’s men had a lot of experience in bomb-making from Iraq and elsewhere, he added.

Abu Khuder then explains how al Qaeda is far better organized and disciplined, possesses the expertise to effectively strike at the Syrian military, and has an appealing ideology. Read the whole thing.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Tony Buzan says:

    I do think the recent experience in northern Mali is instructive, where less fanatic rebels fought alongside al Qaeda, only to be pushed aside by al Qaeda later.

  • sundoesntrise says:

    Oh my God.
    This is so surprising.

  • Fred says:

    The rebels don’t seem to be getting any more organized as time goes on, but Al Nusrah certainly has been. This is only going to be more of a problem as time goes on.
    Not to mention that they seem to be taking in the serious revolutionaries, leaving the FSA with even more of a discipline problem.

  • wallbangr says:

    I do think that Syrians and the FSA particularly need to be wary of their revolution being hijacked (a la Mali, as Tony Buzan points out) by AQ. Be careful what you wish for, and all that. Though if you read the entire Guardian article, you will note that there are dissenters among the ranks of the FSA who are not ready to embrace all of AQ’s ideologies. And yet, in some ways, I can’t blame them for wanting the assistance of AQ. God knows that the West can’t/won’t help them. And the movement tried the nonviolent protest tact for longer than I would have ever expected them to. If I wanted to overthrow my local strong man government and wasn’t fortunate enough as my Libyan counterparts to have NATO jumping into the fray, I would probably want AQ’s help, also. These guys are a fair target for their extremism and their tactics, but they’ve got the experience, financial backing and know-how. The guilt by association for any person belonging to the opposition is unfortunate. I am fully aware that not every member of the opposition is a champion for western-style democracy and an upstanding and saintly patriot. But at the same time, not every member of the opposition is a jihadi extremist. I’m sure there are many bad folks on both sides of the conflict. Unfortunately, though, this painting the entire opposition with the same broad brush is going to make it less and less likely that the West will intervene to assist them. As it stands, the US has stated that it is hesitant to provide arms for fear that they will end up in the hands of AQ and its ilk. This also makes it easier for Assad to make his claims that these are foreign terrorist gangs, and not legitimately jaded and ordinary Syrians who have grown tired of living under the yoke of the regime. I suspect that most Syrians would prefer a government other than what AQ would like to install, even if it is nothing like the democratic institutions we in the West like to promote. I’m sure that there are even those who think that AQ’s sectarian vision of 8th Century backwardness can’t be any worse than living under Assad. Hopefully AQ’s welcome wears thin right after Assad takes a powder. But it’s a huge question mark, especially if you have AQ looking to exploit the sectarian angle and exacerbate what is already, arguably, a civil/sectarian conflict. For the average Syrian opposition member getting shelled and shot at while the UN issues yet another impotent reprimand, I can see where welcoming AQ, while shortsighted, might have some appeal. The hard part is going to be taking the power away from the men with the guns and the explosives and the foreign money.

  • sundoesntrise says:

    We’ve been through this before. No, not every member of the opposition is a jihadist extremist, but they are not as peace and democracy loving as they would like to have you believe. Their actions are proof of that.

  • tunde says:

    the west is already assisting the rebels; President Obama has made a `presidential finding` authorising the NCS to assist FSA elements with funding, intel and weapons. the recent reports of bombings of syrian national news organs may be a sign of the effectiveness of this authorisation. military telecom nodes next i`d imagine.The FSA is also being funded by the Saudis, Qataris and the Turks.
    seen in sectarian terms, the west is wilfully inserting itself into a millenial clash betwixt sunni and shi`a with no conceivable strategic goal except to oust Al-Assad. and to what end ? to cotain Iran ?

  • James says:

    As far as Syria is concerned, the only end I see to the anguish and misery of the Syrian people is that if we can encourage the Syrian military to turn the tables on the thug Assad and his regime.
    I say if anything we ought to be supporting the FSA. There is a vacuum now and either we fill that vacuum or Al Queda will. Anything short of direct military involvement is A okay with me.
    Tunde, you say “to what end, to contain Iran?” I say to that darn right to contain Iran ! ! ! A nail in Assad’s coffin means at least one more nail in the coffin of the Iranian regime.


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