Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant leads charge to take Syrian airport

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, one of al Qaeda’s two official affiliates operating in Syria, led a recent decisive rebel assault on a Syrian military airbase in the north. The group used a suicide bomber from “the Arabian Peninsula” to detonate an armored personnel carrier on the base, which was under siege for eight months before falling two days ago. Eight other groups, including the Al Nusrah Front, the Muhajireen Army, and Free Syrian Army units also took part in the joint operation.

The joint jihadist and Free Syrian Army force took control of the Minnigh airbase in Aleppo province on Aug. 6 after the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) sent a BMP armored personnel carrier “that hardly moved due to its load of explosives” to strike the building where Syrian soldiers were holding out, according to an ISIL statement. The statement was released on Aug. 7 and was obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.

“The invasion began with preliminary bombing by the supporting men with artillery shells, mortars and heavy machineguns for three consecutive days,” the ISIL said, according to SITE.

The ISIL then sent the BMP suicide bomber, “an emigrant lion from the Peninsula of Muhammad,” to strike the Syrian troops. The massive blast was caught on video.

ISIL “storming groups,” or assault teams, “entered from three axes towards the center” and overran the base after a day of heavy fighting. Scores of Syrian soldiers and dozens of ISIL and allied fighters are reported to have been killed in the assault.

The ISIL reported that “some brigades that had been stationed at the siege on the airport in the past months,” were involved in the attack. The ISIL did not name the supporting units.

“Multiple units affiliated with the Syrian Military Council,” a supposedly secular military command backed by the US, were involved in the assault, McClatchy reported. Also involved in the fighting were the Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, another al Qaeda other affiliate in Syria, and the Muhajireen Army, an al Qaeda-allied unit made up of foreign fighters and Syrian Islamists.

The “nine brigades” that took part in the assault released a statement announcing the success of the operation, Reuters reported. “The airport has been fully liberated. The remnants of the Assad gangs are now being chased,” the statement said.

Free Syrian Army routinely conducts joint operations with al Qaeda

Free Syrian Army units are known to conduct joint attacks and administer areas of Syria with al Qaeda’s affiliates in Syria, despite claims from senior FSA leaders that they oppose the Al Nusrah Front and the ISIL.

Currently, in northern Syria, Free Syrian Army units are fighting alongside the the Al Nusrah Front; the ISIL; Ahrar al Sham; the Ahfad al-Rasoul Brigade, which is backed by the government of Qatar; and the Islamic Kurdish Front; to battle Kurdish forces allied with the PKK.

A year ago, in August 2012, the Al Nusrah Front said it launched a joint operation with the Battalion of the Mujahideen of the Companions (Al Sahaba Battalion), a Free Syrian Army unit, against a police station in Jadida Artouz in the countryside of Damascus.

Additionally, in August 2012, the Al Nusrah Front imposed sharia, or Islamic Law, in conjunction with the Tawhid Brigade, an FSA unit, and the Ahrar al Sham Brigade in Aleppo.

In October 2012, the Al Nusrah Front claimed it commanded elements of the Al Fajr (Dawn) Islamic Brigade, a known Free Syrian Army unit, as well as “Chechens,” likely from the Muhajireen Brigade, during an assault on a Syrian air defense and Scud missile base in Aleppo.

In April, the Al Nusrah Front said it conducted a suicide assault with the help of the Nasser Salahuddin Brigade, and conventional attacks with the help of Dera’ al Assima, Liwa al Habib al Mustafa, and Liwa’ al Tawhid brigades, three Free Syrian Army units in Damascus.

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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  • mike merlo says:

    for an insurgent rebellion these guys seemed to have done a fairly credible job & become adept of using Conventional Warfare tactics. I’m still waiting for that other boot to drop which is the employing of the airborne kamikaze. I’m also kind of surprised ‘we’ haven’t ‘seen’ any water borne suiciders’. The drug smugglers from Colombia have obviously become proficient in the construction & deploying of
    ‘semi-submersibles.’ I wonder how long, if ever, we begin to see Terrorist adapting Colombia’s ‘equipment’ to their own ‘needs.’

  • Matt says:

    Well Susan Rice was happy for al-Qaida to take over Mali, in fact the French were punished for intervening via logistics. So what is the difference if al-Qaida take over Syria . The WMD’s use thermobarics. They were told that a lack of supported for the FSA early on would bring al-Qaida in. The Russian and Syrian strategy was to allow this to scare off the west. So either way if Assad falls drone will not cut it an Obama will have to send sand on the boots to battle al-Qaida.

  • chances says:

    My 1st point is the article cited 3 cases of ongoing and major instances of cooperation between the FSA and Al Qaeda
    And Senator John McCain wants to support them?
    Conisder the following article:
    Fair Trade: Snowden for Wanted Chechen Terrorist
    ” Ilyas Akhmadov, a former deputy and associate of a vicious deceased Chechnyan terrorist”
    “Although Akhmadov’s initial bid for asylum in the United States in 2002 was turned down after opposition from the United States Department of Homeland Security, Akhmadov managed to cultivate friends with influence such as Senator John McCain”
    Why is John McCain not retired and forgotten?
    My 2nd point is that an armored fighting vehicle like a tank is a combination of firepower mobility and armor. I guess you do not need much mobility if you local opposition has nothing armor piercing. They are thinking somewhat outside the box. If they go the rest of the way like Mike Merlo suggests they could take out an LNG tanker. Think about that one …

  • Nic says:

    Everyone should oppose any form of U. S. aid being sent to the Syrian rebels. Any form of aid can be sold, rerouted or stolen. Send your comments to .

  • McCain never saw an intervention that he didn’t like. It doesn’t take a lot of insight to get the picture of the psychology at play.
    In a way, McCain is like the cocktail party radicals of the 60s and 70s cozying up to thugs (“radical chic”). FSA may have no choice but to ride the tiger of association with Islamist fighters — but we DO have a choice and if we climb on the back of this particular cat we have only ourselves to blame for the consequences, which would be Libya on steroids.

  • Stu Skinner says:

    For so many months now, Assad has been portrayed as a monster. He would be quoted from time to time when he described the Rebels were “terrorists” and was mocked by the liberal media. Now we see he was spot on.
    But if 6,000 of these animals are all in close proximity, I say, Assad aside, we should do the world a favor and kill them while we have a chance. I think this is final proof that McCain is an idiot and should be sidelined permanently. But watch us fondle our way into the arms of these killers. This thing is a nightmare.


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