Al Nusrah Front, Free Syrian Army seize border crossing to Jordan

The Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, one of two al Qaeda branches fighting in Syria, recently teamed up with the Yarmouk Brigade of the Free Syrian Army to take control of the Daraa border crossing to Jordan.

The Yarmouk Brigade, the Al Nusrah Front, and the Aknaf Bait al Maqdis, or Defenders of Jerusalem, another jihadist group allied with al Qaeda that operates in Daraa, began the final push to take control of the border crossing last week. By Sept. 25, Al Hayat reported that 70 percent of the border crossing was under the control of the joint FSA and jihadist alliance. The crossing came under full control of the al Qaeda and FSA units yesterday, Al Jazeera reported.

A rebel military commander told Al Hayat that the Al Nusrah Front and the Aknaf Bait al Maqdis “played an essential role in the storming of the crossing through coordinated efforts with the south Syria command center that is controlled by factions affiliated with the FSA.”

Twenty-six Syrian soldiers and seven Al Nusrah Front fighters are said to have been killed during the fighting. Videos of a tank flying Al Nusrah’s flag and firing on Syrian Army positions at the border crossing were published on YouTube.

The Al Nusrah Front in Daraa is commanded by Iyad al Tubasi and Mustafa Abd al Latif Salih. Al Tubasi, who is also known as Abu Julaybib, is the brother-in-law of Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the notorious former leader of al Qaeda in Iraq who was killed by US forces in 2006. Salih, who is also known as Abu Anas al Sahhaba, also accompanied Zarqawi in Iraq and served as a recruiter for the terror group. Al Tubasi was reported to have been killed in late 2012, but shortly thereafter the Al Nusrah Front released a statement denying the reports of his death.

In the past, the Al Nusrah Front has teamed up with the Yarmouk Brigade to conduct joint operations in and around the Daraa area in southern Syria. In March, the Al Nusrah Front fought alongside the Yarmouk Brigade and stormed an air defense base and military checkpoints, effectively putting them in control of a 25-kilometer stretch of the border from the Golan to Jordan.

The Al Nusrah Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, al Qaeda’s other official branch operating in Syria, routinely lead the fighting against Syrian military units. Free Syrian Army units often attach themselves to al Qaeda units as the latter are better organized and more skillful in battling Syrian forces.

Free Syrian Army units are increasingly allying themselves with al Qaeda’s units in Syria. Less than two weeks ago, two Syrian Army brigades in Raqqah estimated to have 1,500 fighters combined swore allegiance to the Al Nusrah Front. And last week, three large Free Syrian Army brigades joined with the Al Nusrah Front and other radical Islamist units to denounce the supposedly secular Syrian National Coalition and call for the establishment of sharia, or Islamic law, throughout Syria.

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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