Fatah al Islam, an al Qaeda-linked jihadist group that operates throughout the Middle East, announced the death of the leader of its Al Khilafah Brigades during an ambush in Syria.
Abu Hussam al Shami, who was also known as Abdul Aziz al Kourkli, was killed in an ambush near the Syrian capital of Damascus, according to a martyrdom statement that was released by Fatah al Islam. The statement was released on jihadist forums on Sept. 4 and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.
Fatah al Islam described al Shami as a “Sheikh Mujahid” who “would go from
battlefield to battlefield and from front to front in our beloved Syria,” according to the SITE translation.
“Ask the fields of the Golan Heights and the plateaus of Deraa, the neighborhoods of Damascus, and the countryside of its Ghota about him, for its pure sand bears witness that it was watered by his pure blood,” the statement continued. “Thus is the tree of the Caliphate, rising only with the blood of the heroes.”
Al Shami had been detained multiple times by the “Nusayri [Alawhite] tyrannical regime and its intelligence as well as the Air Force intelligence,” according to the statement.
Fatah al Islam is known to operate in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. In August 2010, Abdulrahman Awad, the leader of Fatah al Islam, was killed along with his deputy, Ghazi Faysal Abdullah, by Lebanese security forces during a clash in the Bekaa Valley. Awad and Abdullah were killed while traveling to Iraq to wage jihad, according to a statement released by Fatah al Islam.
Awad’s son, Hisham, and two other Lebanese members of Fatah al Islam, were killed while performing their “legitimate and jihadi” duty in Iraq. Hisham is rumored to have been a suicide bomber, but this was never confirmed.
In August 2007, the US State Department added Fatah al Islam to the list of terror groups under Executive Order 13224. Fatah al Islam is known to have plotted to establish an Islamic Emirate in the Tripoli region in Lebanon. Fatah al Islam has also been linked to several terror attacks and plots in the Middle East, including the September 2008 car bombing in Damascus, Syria, that killed 17 people, and plots to blow up trains in Germany and assassinate anti-Syrian politicians in Lebanon.
Fatah al Islam’s top leaders are known to have had close links to al Qaeda in Iraq. Shakir al Abssi, the leader of Fatah al Islam up until December 2008, had close ties to Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the deceased leader of al Qaeda in Iraq. Fatah al Islam claimed that Syrian forces killed Abssi in 2008. Before his death, Abssi was convicted, along with Zarqawi, by a Jordanian court for the murder of USAID representative Laurence Foley. Syria refused to extradite Abssi to Jordan.
Jihadist groups emerging in Syria
Al Qaeda-linked groups and local jihadist groups have emerged as major players in the fight against Bashar al Assad’s regime. These groups have imported al Qaeda’s signature tactic — the suicide attack — and deployed it against the regime. Relying on translations prepared by the SITE Intelligence Group and other publicly-available reports, The Long War Journal has found that approximately 25 suicide bombings have been executed in Syria since the end of 2011. [See LWJ report, Suicide bombings become commonplace in Syria.]
Among the groups that participate in the Syrian jihad are:
Al Qaeda in Iraq has long had a strong presence in Syria, with the assistance of the Assad regime. The terror group has used Syria to recruit, train, and arm fighters to wage jihad. Syria also has served as a transit point for foreign jihadists entering Iraq.
The Al Nusrah Front has claimed credit for numerous suicide attacks, roadside bombings, ambushes, and complex assaults against security forces and government installations. Al Nusrah has been very active in Syria and has been linked to al Qaeda.
The Abdullah Azzam Brigades has a presence throughout the Middle East, including Syria, and was formed at the behest of al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi and al Qaeda emir Osama bin Laden. At the end of June, Majid bin Muhammad al Majid, the group’s emir, said that Syrians should support the uprising against the Assad regime, and that further rebellions against Muslim governments would follow.
The Al Baraa Ibn Malik Martyrdom Brigade, which is named after a suicide cell that joined al Qaeda in Iraq in 2005, said it had formed a martyrdom battalion and was prepared to carry out suicide attacks against Syrian forces.
The Army of Islam, or Jaish al Islam, which is one of several al Qaeda-linked terror groups that operate in Gaza, announced that one of its fighters was killed while fighting in Syria.
The Liwa al Islam, or Brigade of Islam, took credit for the attack that killed the top two Syrian defense officials and Assad’s national security advisor. The Free Syrian Army also claimed credit for the attack, and both groups said it was carried out by a remotely detonated bomb, but the Syrian government maintained it was a suicide attack.
The Omar al Farouq Brigade includes Turkish “mujahideen” and is named after a prominent al Qaeda leader who was slain in Iraq in 2006. The group has implored Muslims to “fight together to save Syria, Somalia and Afghanistan.”
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.