The Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, an al Qaeda-linked jihadist group that is fighting Bashir al Assad’s regime in Syria, commanded a Free Syrian Army unit and “Chechen emigrants” during last week’s assault on a Syrian air defense and Scud missile base in Aleppo. The base was overrun by Al Nusrah and its allies.
The Al Nusrah Front claimed credit for the Oct. 11 assault on the base, and said it commanded the Al Fajr Brigade and “a group Chechen emigrants,” in a statement published on jihadist websites today. The statement was obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group. Video of Al Nusrah and Free Syrian Army fighters roaming the military installation, with Scud ballistic missiles and anti-aircraft missiles in full view, was posted on the Internet last week [see LWJ report, Al Nusrah Front seizes Syrian base in joint operation with Free Syrian Army].
In the statement, the Al Nusrah Front detailed the raids, and said it “had the command and the planning and the participation of the Al Fajr [Dawn] Islamic Movement and the field command of a group of Chechen emigrants.”
The Al Nusrah Front is known to conduct joint operations with the Free Syrian Army, the main group in Syria that is held up as the secular opposition to the Assad regime. In August, Al Nusrah said it attacked a police station outside of Damascus along with the Al Sahaba Battalion, a unit of the Free Syrian Army that operates in the capital. According to The Guardian, jihadist groups such as Al Nusrah have become more appealing to Syrian rebels as they are better organized and have expertise from waging jihad in Iraq and elsewhere, and have integrated their operations with the Free Syrian Army.
The “group of Chechen emigrants” has not been linked to a specific group, but the fighters may be members of the Islamic Caucasus Emirates, the al Qaeda-linked group that is waging jihad against the Russians in the Caucasus and has conducted terror attacks in Moscow. Chechens are also occasionally spotted on the battlefields in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Foreign jihadists have begun to pour into Syria to wage jihad against Assad’s regime. Fighters from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and the Palestinian Territories are known to have been killed in Syria.
Jihadists from the UK may be flocking to the Syrian battlefields as well. Earlier this week, The Times reported that authorities had identified a Bangladeshi resident of London as the leader of a group of British jihadists seeking to fight in Syria. Scotland Yard has seized computers and mobile phones from members of the group, which consists mainly of Londoners and includes seasoned Chechen fighters.
Details of the raid
In the statement, Al Nusrah claimed that it conducted “monitoring and surveillance of the brigade [606 Rocket Brigade] for more than one month” before launching the attack. The group’s commanders decided to launch the attack “in light of intelligence information that came to us from inside the brigade that noted the presence of a small number of Nusayri [Alawhite] enemy soldiers, estimated to be 50.”
The Al Nusrah commanders planned and execute a three-pronged assault, which began “under the cover of darkness.” The assault started with a mortar bombardment, and was followed by the ground attack. Two of the assault teams penetrated the main gate, and proceeded to take control of the base even as they came under fire from Syrian Army attack helicopters and warplanes. Al Nusrah claimed that the Syrian soldiers abandoned the base.
The fighters proceeded to loot the base of weapons, ammunition, and supplies, and “vandalized everything the enemy could use to rehabilitate the brigade or use against Muslims.”
“All the tents, officers, rooms, dormitories and warehouses were burned after their contents were taken,” the statement said. “All the armored vehicles and secondary radars were burned, and the main radar and the rockets were booby-trapped.”
The Al Nusrah Front, the Al Fajr Brigade, and Chechen fighters left the base in the morning before the Syrian Air Force could mount a counterattack.
Background on Al Nusrah Front activity in Syria
The Al Nusrah Front has conducted numerous suicide attacks and complex military operations against the Syrian military over the past 10 months. Additionally, Al Nusrah has claimed credit for hundreds of conventional attacks.
The group has now claimed credit for 31 of the 38 suicide bombings in Syria that the The Long War Journal has tallied since December 2011. Since the end of August, Al Nusrah has claimed credit for launching 13 suicide attacks. For more information on the suicide attacks in Syria, see LWJ report, Suicide bombings become commonplace in Syria , and Threat Matrix report Al Nusrah Front claims 4 more suicide attacks in Syria.
The al Qaeda-linked group has conducted several sophisticated attacks in Syria since it announced its presence earlier this year. Al Nusrah has claimed it executed the June 1 suicide assault on the Syrian military at a camp in Idlib, as well as a complex attack at the airport at Albu Kamal on Sept. 4.
The last complex suicide attack occurred on Oct. 9, when Al Nusrah forces attacked the Air Force Intelligence branch in Harasta on the outskirts of Damascus. Two suicide bombers struck the base within 25 minutes of each other, then Al Nusrah fighters launched a mortar attack as recovery operations were underway. The previous complex attack took place on Sept. 26, when an assault team detonated a suicide car bomb outside the Army headquarters in central Damascus and a five-man team then entered the headquarters and battled with security guards. Also, on Oct. 3, Al Nusrah launched two suicide attacks and two car bomb attacks against different military targets in Aleppo.
Besides the Al Nusrah Front, other al Qaeda-affiliated groups, such as Al Qaeda in Iraq and the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, also operate in Syria. In addition, still other al Qaeda-style groups, such as the Al Baraa Ibn Malik Martyrdom Brigade, which has claimed that it will use suicide attacks, and the Omar al Farouq Brigade, have appeared in Syria as well.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.