A leaked recording of Abu Muhammad al Julani, the emir of the Al Nusrah Front, giving an impassioned speech to his fighters surfaced online late yesterday.
While the audio appears to be a real recording of Julani, The Long War Journal has not independently confirmed its authenticity. The original leak was quickly taken down, but other versions, including shorter clips, remain online. One such clip is included at the beginning of this article.
The recording was not released through the Al Nusrah Front’s official propaganda channels.
Julani discusses the creation of an Islamic emirate (or state), in Syria, telling his fighters that their sacrifices on the battlefield will not be squandered.
“The time has come … for us to establish an Islamic emirate in the Levant, to implement the limits and punishments of God Almighty, and his laws in every sense of the word, without compromise, complacency, equivocation, or circumvention,” Julani says, according to Al-Akhbar.
The group will now fully implement sharia law in the areas under its control, Julani says, and both the group’s fighters and its leaders will be held accountable by the newly-established courts.
Julani tells his audience that the Al Nusrah Front will be restructured, with its forces being divided into new units and younger commanders assuming leadership positions. Julani cites recent problems the Al Nusrah Front has encountered, including members fleeing the fight without permission. Julani has also appointed a jihadist known as Abu Qatada al Albani as the new head of his organization’s military forces, and he tells his audience that they must obey him.
The Islamic State’s gains in Iraq since June, as well as the group’s announcement that it now rules as a caliphate, hangs over Julani throughout his talk.
Julani’s Al Nusrah Front, which is al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, has been at odds since last year with the Islamic State, an al Qaeda offshoot. Julani formerly served as a lieutenant to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the Islamic State’s emir, who is now called “Caliph Ibrahim.”
Julani says the Islamic State’s caliphate is invalid and arose out of the infighting between jihadist groups. “A caliphate based on destroying a jihadi project that the nation has been dreaming of since 1,400 years, and a caliphate built by those who helped the [Assad] regime fight against you, is an invalid caliphate even if they declare it a thousand times,” Julani says, according to Al-Akhbar.
Julani claims that the Al Nusrah Front has lost more than $1 billion to the Islamic State and others. And the Islamic State’s ability to gain the upper hand in other ways in recent months has caused Julani to alter his plans for the Syrian conflict.
Baghdadi’s group is known for its uncompromising approach to enforcing an incredibly harsh version of sharia law. The Al Nusrah Front, which ultimately wants to implement similar laws, has taken a more stepwise approach to governance. Local populations have repeatedly rejected the sharia laws enforced by al Qaeda’s branches throughout the Middle East and Africa. The Al Nusrah Front’s approach took into account this liability by attempting to ease Syrians into al Qaeda’s dark vision of society.
Therefore, Julani’s promise to mete out punishments in full accordance with sharia law may reflect a shift in the group’s thinking. New sharia courts will be set up within one week, Julani says, and he will also be subject to them. This is likely intended as a criticism of his rival Baghdadi, who has rejected any religious authority other than his group’s own top-down rulings.
Julani’s frank discussion of his group’s military problems reflects the fact that the Al Nusrah Front has lost ground to the Islamic State in eastern Syria. But the Islamic State is not Julani’s only enemy.
His envisioned emirate is opposed to not only the Islamic State, but also Bashar al Assad’s regime, Kurdish forces, and other rebel groups that refuse to accept al Qaeda-style rule.
Julani takes aim at the US as well, saying that it is weak and cannot afford to invade Syria with ground forces. And he seeks to capitalize on recent events in Israel and Gaza, saying that his army will eventually strike the Jews.
Another speaker featured in the recording is identified as Abu Firas al Shami, an al Qaeda veteran who appeared in an Al Nusrah Front video in March. Although Abu Firas was little known until his video debut, the Al Nusrah Front revealed that he has an extensive dossier stretching back decades. In addition to working directly for Osama bin Laden, the Al Nusrah Front claimed that Abu Firas helped found Lashkar-e-Taiba, the al Qaeda-linked Pakistan jihadist group.
According to some accounts, Sheikh Abdallah Muhammad al Muhaysini, a popular al Qaeda-linked cleric from Saudi Arabia, was in attendance for the speech. Muhaysini is reportedly helping Julani reorganize the Al Nusrah Front’s efforts. Muhaysini does not speak in the recording, however.
The audience’s loyalty to al Qaeda is obvious in the recording. Julani’s fighters can be heard chanting, “We are all al Qaeda! We are all Osama! We are all [Ayman al Zawahiri]! We are all Julani!”