Al Nusrah Front and Ansar al Khilafah seize town near Aleppo, execute Syrian soldiers

The Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, and an allied jihadist group known as the Ansar al Khilafah have both claimed credit for taking control of a town near the city of Aleppo and killing more than 100 soldiers. Both groups have conducted joint operations in the past.

The Ansar al Khilafah, or Supporters of the Caliphate, released a video showing the aftermath of the execution of more than 50 Syrian soldiers and officers following the takeover of the town. The video has since been removed by YouTube for violating its “policy on shocking and disgusting content.”

The mass execution took place after fighters from the Ansar al Khilafah seized the town of Khan al Asal, according to the the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which reports on Syria’s civil war.

“Activists from the town of Khan al Asal have confirmed to the Syrian Observatory that more than 150 regime forces were killed by the rebels who took over the town of Khan al Asal on the 22nd and 23rd of July,” the Syrian watchdog reported on its Facebook page. “About 51 of the casualties were summarily executed by the rebels, they include about 30 officers and line officers.”

Footage of the aftermath of the massacre was published on YouTube. The bodies of dozens of men in and out of uniform are seen in various locations in the town. Some appear to have been executed. Heavily armed men chant “Allahu Akbar” (“Allah is greatest”) at the end of the video.

Meanwhile, the Al Nusrah Front has also claimed to have “liberated” the town of Khan al Asal, in a detailed statement that was released on jihadist forums on July 23. The statement was obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group. Several images of the aftermath of the assault were released with the statement; one was nearly identical to a scene in the video published by Ansar al Khilafah.

The Al Nusrah Front said it launched a multi-pronged attack on the town, with mortars and rockets supporting an infantry assault. The town was taken after two days of heavy fighting.

The al Qaeda affiliate claimed that more than 100 Syrian soldiers and officers were killed, including two brigadier generals and a colonel, and that 21 more, including a colonel, were captured. The Al Nusrah Front said that “elements of the so-called Hezbollah” were fighting alongside the Syrian military.

Khan al Asal is a controversial town that has long been contested by the Syrian government and rebel forces. In March, both the Syrian government and rebels accused each other of using chemical weapons in the town.

Although neither jihadist group said that it fought alongside the other to seize the town, both have fought together against the Syrian military in the past. Additionally, elements of the Ansar al Khilafah may indeed be part of the Al Nusrah Front.

Background on Ansar al Khilafah

The Ansar al Khilafah in Aleppo was formed in December 2012 [see LWJ report, Syrian jihadists form ‘Supporters of the Khilafah’ Brigade]. A video on the formation of the group was released on YouTube, showing a commander surrounded by scores of heavily armed fighters, and children with several black banners of jihad flying among the crowd. The group’s commander pledged to impose sharia and establish a caliphate.

“We will work with the sincere people of our Ummah (Muslim community) to establish the Islamic Khilafah State,” the commander vowed. He said the group pledged to bring down the “wicked plan: the plan of a Democratic state.”

The Supporters of the Khilafah also indicated that they will seek to take the fight outside Syria.

“And that we will work with the sincere people of our Ummah [the worldwide Muslim community] to establish the Islamic Khilafah state, and to use it to end decades of colonization and enslavement,” the statement said. “And to return to the way we were — as the nobles of the East and the West.”

The Ansar al Khilafah also cautioned “our brothers” against taking Western aid and weapons.

The Aleppo group is made up of five brigades: Ansar al Shariah, Abdullah Ibn Al Zubeir, the Men of Allah, the Martyr Mustafa Abdul Razzaq, and the Swords of the Most Compassionate. A US intelligence official told The Long War Journal in December 2012 that the groups are local units that are part of the Al Nusrah Front.

One month later, in January 2013, a branch of Ansar al Khilafah was formed in Homs. In a video released on YouTube, a commander reads a short statement from a laptop that announces the formation of the group. Heavily armed fighters surround the commander as the black flag of jihad waves in the background.

“We have an absolute belief in the obligation of implementing the sharia [Islamic law] in all aspects of life, and the institutions of the State and resumption of the Islamic way of life,” the Homs commander states.

The Ansar al Khilafah has fought alongside the Al Nusrah Front for the People in the Levant, an al Qaeda affiliate in Syria. The Al Nusrah Front released a statement on July 12 that said it, along with the Ansar al Khilafah and another rebel faction known as the Amjad Al Islam Brigade (“Greater Glory of Islam Brigade”), killed 22 Syrian soldiers near Khan al Asal. The statement was obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.

In the statement, the Al Nusrah Front said that it served as “a planner and executor of the operation,” while the Ansar al Khilafah and Amjad al Islam “cut off the roads and supplies” so Syrian forces could not react to the attack.

Video announcing the formation of Ansar al Khilafah in Aleppo:
Video announcing the formation of Ansar al Khilafah in Homs:

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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12 Comments

  • mike merlo says:

    thanks for the video’s & the info. Interesting stuff

  • Scott J says:

    YouTube removed the video.

  • mike d. says:

    I’ve been following developments from Syria for over two-years. There were many sites that were informative, and had a variety of sites that posted current combat videos. However, most have been taken down, Why?. I’m not sure, but I don’t thing it’s the Iranians/Syrians trying to suppress the information. It might be a concerted effort by western agencies, in order to suppress what’s really going on in Syria, so that they aren’t pressured into action. This has been a slow motion train wreck, as is Egypt and Iraq. The current US administration is incapable of pro-active responses anywhere in foreign policy. The dumping of Morsi was a pro-active move by the Old guard in Egypt and Saudis to salvage what ever they can of their interests in the entire region. The Israeli’s know that they have to make their own decisions regardless of what the current US admin thinks. This is what happens with “inaction”. The players currently active in the middle-east sense and recognize the “weakness” of the current US admin, and are acting to fill the power vacuum. How it will play out, who knows. But it’s evident that the Saudi’s have figured out that they can’t rely on the US (at this time) for anything. P.S. The Turk’s look like total fools.

  • Birbal Dhar says:

    @mike d. Well these videos are removed because members of the public flag them and it get’s attention from someone at YouTube, who decides whether it should be removed or not. Ultimately it gets removed, because these videos encourage terrorism or they show gruesome pictures of dead people, which breaks YouTube’s terms of condition. Sorry, there’s no CIA / KGB / Mossad / MI5 plot in this !!

  • mike d. says:

    Mr. Dhar,
    I disagree with you.There has been a systematic deletion of syrian combat videos available to the general public not just with youtube, but other sites (syria observatory of human rights, syrian communication and research center, etc.). Let’s not get into semantics about “terrorism”. One man’s terrorist is another man’s revolutionary. It serves the general public to have unfettered access to what’s happening in the world without someone or some entity determining what’s deemed “viewable”. If you don’t like the content of the videos, don’t watch them. I’ve watched numerous unedited videos that I find “disturbing”, but they give one a view of the realities without any agendas. Having said this, I agree that individual websites have the right to maintain whatever level of ethics they deem appropriate. The longwarjournal has maintained a very high standard in this regard, and that fact allows myself to regard its content as “credible”. Other sources, not so much.

  • sundoesntrise says:

    mike d,
    Speaking as someone who has flagged the videos myself in the past, I can assure you there is no conspiracy here and the only reason you think there is one is because you are choosing to see one. That is how most conspiracies work after all, if the mind is convinced something is afloat it will reinforce the idea with whatever “evidence” suits it’s idea.

  • mike d. says:

    Sundoesntrise,
    You should read your own post and reflect. You openly support censorship by an arbitrary source, and feel justified. Wow.

  • sundoesntrise says:

    Mike,
    No, that’s only your interpretation of events. I oppose terrorism and violence, and when I see such content that violates certain guidelines of a website I flag it and it gets removed. Simple as that, no conspiracy and no emotion involved.
    Although I oppose broad, systematic censorship on a government scale, that’s a discussion for a political forum and this obviously isn’t one.

  • Mr. Rosewater says:

    Okay first off I agree with Mike D. Also…I am pretty sure Mike D never said “conspiracy”, those words were simply used by “Sundoesntrise” because he disagreed with his analysis, which I find to be spot on. I suppose in reading his words you can say a conspiracy was implied, but it wasn’t he who used those words it was “Sundoesntrise”.
    I too have been studying not just Syria but Islamic jihadist movements for over 15 years. What people need to first understand is that there are always two main entities in all conflicts. The state and the people. Both have a track record of terrorism. In fact, state terror has killed far more people than terror by “terrorists”. What people need to understand about Islamic terrorism is that corrupt dictators like Assad, Qaddafi, Saddam and others use(d) terrorism as a means of keeping their enemies in check, and as a means of diverting Islamist activity within their domestic arena. This last one, the diversion of terror through export is more valueable to the State terrorists because it preserves their power by deflecting chaos into the lands beyond their borders.
    I would be glad to cite some examples. Pakistan exports terror in India and Afghanistan. However, that is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Pakistani state sponsored terrorism. Another fine example is of course Syria which occupied Lebanon for 31 years, from 1975 to 2006. During that time from 1975-1990 Lebanon was in a state of civil war. Obviously in this case as with the case in Syria today this conflict was not black and white. There are many grey areas, many twists and turns, betrayals and blunders that made that war so devastating to the region even to this day.
    What really bothers me is that so many arm-chair amatuers who think they understand current affairs or the political environments they so passionately preach about are not very good at critical analysis, geopolitical insight or bipartisanship. There is too much extremism in politics and even the so-called anti-extremists become extremists of their own peculiar nature. This nausating mantra about CIA collaboration or masterminding of the events we might in the past called the “Arab Spring” are about as absurd and ignorant as the Islamists who constantly blame every problem with the world on the Jews. If you study the CIA and their history of “intervention” you will find that they are not very successful and if anything they only create about 100 problems after solving about 10. The United States has NO VOICE in the Middle East. Not with the people! Only with the other state terrorists do the US policy makers have a listening ear. So with that in mind, all these state terrorists who are trying to stop the Islamist terrorists are doing so because they are now completely losing control of their delicate terrorism exporting partnerships.
    Concerning censorship, this is of great concern to me and I do not understand how anyone can justify it, no matter how senseless, inhumane or destructive the content. I won’t speak of the double standards in this matter that could be addressed but I am sure you can use your imagination and guess which examples throughout history I might cite to support my claim of such a double standard. Of course they are censoring what is going on. I have noticed ever since that Syrian offensive in Al-Qusayr that there has been a severe decline in coverage coming out of Syria. If anyone hasn’t noticed this trend manifesting like an epidemic within the entire news media as a whole they must be living on another planet than I am.
    Mike D’s most valid points are the ones he made about the US losing control. This was evident right after Bush declared Mission Accomplished and the entire state of Iraq feel into chaos. They are resorting to drones to take out high value targets, a policy that has very gross abuse of power legal ramifications. A policy that is very unpopular with just about anyone who isn’t an elitist war mongerer, you know a State terrorist. They have also wasted billions, no wait…trillions of dollars on the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts which were victories to the Islamists, not the United States. So now they can’t do ANYTHING about the continuing downspiral into uncertainty and chaos plaguing the Middle East.
    It is pretty much open season for the Islamists right now stretching from Somalia all the way to Mali and any nation north of that. Egypt as you probably know is the most important nation not only in Africa and the Middle East, but possibly geopolitically tied to just about any export industry for the movement of goods. If it becomes no longer safe to travel through the Suez Canal the world we face some very serious problems. It should also be noted that in the past few years (as is historically the trend) Egypt recieved a lot of high grade military hardware. They have at least 1000 M1 Abrams tanks that were sent by the US in the past couple of years. The number could be over 2000 in fact, I can’t recall and don’t want to look up the data right now. I’ve said enough I think. Point is, the foreign policy blunders of the state terrorists are beginning to rip apart old boundries and alliances. Some of these alliances were fraudulant from their inception. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are supposed to be our allies? Anyone who has studied terrorism be it state terror or traditional terror by the non-state actors knows that Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are two of the greatest sponsors of the exporting of Islamic terrorism. Many people are being played for fools. This is a very old game they are playing. We can trace it back to the “Great Game”, we can trace it to the GLADIO networks, and of course the COLD WAR.

  • Arjuna says:

    I’m puzzled… mike d wouldn’t be our old friend and compulsive commenter mr merlo, would it? I surmise this because the comments are marred and muddied by the “gratuitous” use of “punctuation” such as “quotation marks” and ‘apostrophes’. This is a security forum, not a political one and simply trashing the president and his team gets old and tiresome. Please be specific whenever you use the term administration, sir. When you use the term “administration” are you referring always to just the POTUS, or the NSC, the communications director, chief of staff, or something else like SecState or SecDef?

  • mike d. says:

    Wasn’t it Von Cluasewitz who states the war is an extention of politics?

  • shabab says:

    what they want is khilafah, a global islamic state

Iraq

Islamic state

Syria

Aqap

Al shabaab

Boko Haram

Isis