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.
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