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, has seized control of an airbase near Aleppo in a joint operation with the supposedly secular Free Syrian Army. Video of the fighters at the airbase has appeared on the Internet.
The Al Nusrah Front and Free Syrian Army captured the airbase in al Ta’aneh near Aleppo yesterday after heavy fighting with the Syrian military. Scud tactical ballistic missiles as well as anti-aircraft missiles were housed at the airbase.
“A few hundred fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra, Fajr al-Islam and a few members of the FSA [Free Syrian Army] took part in the operation which lasted for more than five hours,” according to a statement attributed to “Abu Firas of the Revolutionary Council in Aleppo” that accompanied the video posted on a YouTube site.
“The airbase was completely destroyed. The fighters were able to control the whole base after a long fight in which many Syrian soldiers killed, some fled, and others were captured,” the statement continued. “The fighters have set up many checkpoints around the base and were able to confiscate 20 different rockets.”
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.
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 27 of the 34 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 nine suicide attacks. For more information on the suicide attacks in Syria, see LWJ reports, Suicide bombings become commonplace in Syria , and Al Nusrah Front claims 5 suicide attacks in Syria in past month.
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.
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.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.