4 battalions from Qatar-backed Islamist brigade defect to wage ‘armed jihadist struggle’


Saddam al Jamal, a senior leader of the Ahfad al Rasoul Brigade who has defected to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham. Image from the SITE Intelligence group.

Four battalions from the Ahfad al Rasoul Brigade, a large rebel group in Syria that is funded by the Qatari government, defected and vowed to continue to fight the “armed jihadist struggle.” Meanwhile a senior leader of the Ahfad al Rasoul Brigade recently defected and joined the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham, one of two official al Qaeda branches operating in Syria.

The four rebel battalions “issued a statement declaring their dissent from the Ahfad al Rasoul brigade in northern Syria and their complete political and military independence,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Dec. 3. The battalions were identified as the “al-Ansar, al-Naser al-Qadem, al-Naser ,and al-Muntaser Billah.”

The battalions cited “the unfamiliarity of the brigade’s leaders” as the reason for breaking ranks with the Ahfad al Rasoul Brigade. They also “assured that they will proceed with their ‘armed Jihadist struggle’ and cooperate with all forces on the ground to uphold god’s oneness and fight the criminal regime.”

The defections of the four battalions took place after Saddam al Jamal, a senior leader, left the Ahfad al Rasoul Brigade and joined the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham. Jamal formerly led Ahfad al Rasoul’s Allah Akbar Battalion, and served as the Free Syrian Army’s Eastern Front representative to the Supreme Military Council. The SMC is led by Salim Idriss and is backed by the United States.

Al Jamal recently released a videotape that “speaks about the relationship between his brigade and Western and Arab intelligence services,” according to the SITE Intelligence Group. “In the video, al Jamal ‘confesses’ that Arab and Western intelligence were heavily involved in funding and directing brigades affiliated with the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian Military Council.” Al Jamal claimed that Saudi Arabia, and not Qatar, is now the primary backer of the Ahfad al Rasoul Brigade.

Despite the Ahfad al Rasoul Brigade’s cooperation with the SMC and the FSA, the group has fought alongside al Qaeda against its enemies in the past. In July, the Ahfad al Rasoul Brigade banded together with al Qaeda’s other branch in Syria, the Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, as well as the Islamic Kurdish Front and the Ahrar al Sham, a known Syrian Islamist group that is sympathetic to al Qaeda and has fought alongside them in the past, to fight Kurdish rebels in northern Syria.

The Free Syrian Army and the Syrian Military Council have become significantly weaker, as units are breaking away and joining Islamist coalitions that share the same goals with and fight alongside al Qaeda. In mid-November, seven large Islamist brigades (Ahrar al-Sham, Jaysh al-Islam, Suqour al-Sham, Liwa al-Tawhid, Liwa al-Haqq, Ansar al-Sham, and the Kurdish Islamic Front) with an estimated 45,000 fighters broke from the Free Syrian Army and formed the Islamic Front. The group declared that its primary aim is to “topple the Assad regime … and build an Islamic state,” with sharia, or Islamic law, as the basis of governance.

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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  • blert says:

    Bill, thanks for your tireless efforts to keep the ‘playbill’ up to date.
    I must confess the shifting alignments leave me in the sand.
    It’s like following a professional sport that swaps personnel every five days.
    Beyond that, all of these fellows have a pronounced tendency to promote themselves as being of brigade rank — even if their band of brothers is but a gaggle of thirty souls.
    Have they really advanced beyond the ethos of the film “Lawrence of Arabia”?

  • irebuku says:

    @ Blert I always enjoy your comments.
    In Syria I think from 1- 3 guys form a battalion and anything over 10 is a brigade. If you have a large extended family, connections and a few bucks, you might truly have an army at your disposal. That would make you a general.
    This situation in Syria reminds me of the parties in Afghanistan from the late 70’s straight through to the Taliban period that formed in response to the socialist/communist takeover and subsequent breakdown of Afghanistan. Party after party and re party with membership to multiple parties.
    Reading about Afghanistan leads to more questions then it answers which leads to more reading. I’m Hizb’ed out.
    IMO We need a flow chart or “tree” of jihadist groups in Syria. Who they are, stated goals, areas of operation, leaders, what their origin is, who their funding is from and who it used to be from prior if so and why so, who they hang with and who they claim to hang with, ethnic composition, and claims to fame (on the battlefield), membership to larger groups or coalitions, would all be helpful to sorting through
    the situation as well as maps, updated to show the current battlefield situation .

  • Stavy says:

    I’m sure they left behind the aid given to them by the US via the FSA and SMC when they defected. So glad we are helping these guys setup Sharia Law in Syria.
    When are we ever going to learn and stop with the “Enemy of my Enemy” suicidal policies?
    I agree with your opinion/desire to have a data tree showing these connections. You would think/hope John McCain and Lindsey Graham would have asked for such a data tree before they ever proposed any aid not to mention arms (which I feel Obama already gave them before Benghazi hit the fan.) I think Bill should provide this as he seems to have a better understanding of it than anyone in Government.

  • kimball says:

    This is for Blert to keep him busy!
    The day muslims give up there secterian mass suicide and unite will be the day to sit straight up and pay attention.
    Since not cynic enough my wealth is in survival mode, but otherwise, fantastic economic killings going on in the muslim mess.


Islamic state



Al shabaab

Boko Haram