Al Nusrah Front announces detention of 45 UN peacekeepers

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The Al Nusrah Front published the two pictures above along with a statement claiming responsibility for the capture of 45 UN peacekeepers. The photo on the left shows the hostages. The photo on the right shows their identification cards. Photos courtesy of the SITE Intelligence Group.

In a statement released on its official Twitter feed on Aug. 30, the Al Nusrah Front announced its responsibility for the detention of 45 members of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF).

The peacekeepers were captured during recent fighting at the Quneitra border crossing, which connects Syria to the Israeli-controlled portion of the Golan Heights. The key crossing was captured by a coalition of rebel forces, including the Al Nusrah Front, earlier this week.

The announcement by Al Nusrah, which is al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, was first obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.

Al Nusrah attempts to justify the capture of the men by arguing that the UN has failed to support the Syrian people during the rebellion against Bashar al Assad’s regime. The al Qaeda branch also accuses the UN of looking the other way when it comes to Assad’s crimes.

During the course of the Syrian war, Al Nusrah’s statement alleges, the UN “has pretended to stand alongside the people of Sham in their revolution and their fight against the Nusayri [a derogatory term for Alawites] criminal regime.” According to SITE’s translation, Al Nusrah argues that the UN “has not given to the people of Sham but bare statements and hollow words, completely ignoring all that the Nusayri enemy committed of brutal crimes and massacres against the vulnerable Muslims from among elderly, women, and children.”

Al Nusrah goes on to list crimes by the Syrian regime that the UN has supposedly failed to adequately address, including the use of chemical weapons and torture.

Imagined conspiracy “against Muslims”

Al Nusrah portrays itself as standing up for Muslims in Syria and elsewhere against the UN. The group claims that the UNDOF was established “to ensure the safety and protection of the borders of the Zionist entity,” or Israel. In reality, the UNDOF has helped maintain a ceasefire agreement between Israel and the Syrian regime since 1974.

Al Qaeda’s Syrian arm attempts to further justify the peacekeepers’ detention by claiming that the UN only uses its power under Chapter VII of its charter “against Muslims.” Chapter VII outlines the UN’s responsibilities with respect to determining “the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression.” The chapter also states that the UN will “decide what measures shall be taken … to maintain or restore international peace and security.”

The “crimes of Muslim extermination in Central Africa and Burma are happening before the eyes and ears of the world, and the United Nations did not move a muscle,” Al Nusrah claims, adding that the UN has not condemned the “Zionist Jews” for their “bombing of Gaza and the massacring of the people there.”

“The crimes of the unjust Nusayri regime and its allies from Hezbollah of Iran and others are happening every day with the acknowledgment of the international organizations and others, and we did not hear of Chapter VII,” Al Nusrah’s statement continues.

Al Nusrah argues that the UN acts in this manner as part of a grand conspiracy against Muslims. The statement reads: “This is so the Muslims know that such international resolutions are only used against them and against their jihad so that they remain submissive to the powers of global infidelity to pillage their resources and the fortunes of their land, and to control their necks and lives as they wish.”

The announcement echoes the words of Abu Firas al Suri, Al Nusrah’s spokesman, who released a speech on Aug. 27. Al Suri, a longtime al Qaeda veteran, accused the UN of serving a “Zio-Protestant alliance” that seeks to thwart the development of an al Qaeda-style Islamic state in Syria and elsewhere.

The group’s arguments are, of course, based on a highly selective and biased version of history. While attempting to build moral legitimacy for its actions, Al Nusrah ignores the role that al Qaeda and its branches have played in spilling Muslim blood. Most of al Qaeda’s victims since the group’s founding in 1988 have been Muslims.

Al Nusrah’s argument that the UN is not acting against Iran and Hezbollah despite acknowledging their crimes is also rich given that top Nusrah leaders have themselves worked with the Iranian regime. [See, for example, LWJ reports: Treasury designates 2 ‘key’ al Qaeda leaders and Senior al Qaeda facilitator ‘back on the street’ in Iran.]

Hostages seized during raid by Al Nusrah and allies

The UN was initially reticent to identify the group responsible for the detention of its peacekeepers.

“We are dealing with nonstate armed actors,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. “The command and control of these groups is unclear. We’re not in a position to confirm who is holding whom,” Dujarric added. “Some groups self-identified as being affiliated with Nusrah, however, we are unable to confirm it.”

However, Al Nusrah’s announcement of responsibility makes it clear that the hostage-taking was sanctioned by the top leadership of the group. The statement was released via Al Nusrah’s official channels, including on its Twitter feed.

The al Qaeda branch cooperated with other Islamist and jihadist groups in seizing the Quneitra border crossing. The Islamic Front, a coalition of several groups, also participated in the raid. One of the most powerful factions within the Islamic Front is Ahrar al Sham, which is linked to al Qaeda.

In a video celebrating the raid on Quneitra, the Islamic Front included footage of the UN’s outpost.

Despite claiming that it has the right to hold the UN’s men as hostages, Al Nusrah says they are being treated well.

“We assure that the detainees are in a safe place, and they are in good health, and that we have given them what they need of food and treatment, for our good Islamic religion urges use to be charitable with the prisoners,” Al Nusrah claims, according to SITE’s translation.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • J Flood says:

    Rather than wastefully execute them all how about charging the UN a “processing fee” for their safe return.

  • Birbal Dhar says:

    It’s amusing that some of the UN soldiers fled to Israel to escape Al Qaeda terrorists kidnapping them, when the UN always criticises Israel.

  • Alex says:

    At the risk of sounding like an internet tough guy, why didn’t the Fijan troops fight back? Wasn’t the whole point of the UN force to have an armed deterrent?
    We can criticize the UN all day but you have to note the successes when there have been some. The disengagement force in south Lebanon for example has kept Hezbollah rocket launchers out of the area. Simply saying “the UN screwed up” I don’t think answers the question properly of what happened in this case.

  • Sam Hall says:

    You missed the biggest part of this story, the escape of the Filipinos.
    See “The Battle of the “Gulang” Heights”

  • blert says:

    If you believed anything of the sort…
    Then you bought into the UN as a solution meme.
    The various UN peacekeeping forces have one overriding function: they shift incomes over to Third World military budgets.
    At the absolute top of the list: Bangladesh.
    Fiji and the Philippines are also chronically over represented.
    The way it works is that the UN pays a FLAT RATE per diem, per capita for any military member so employed. This money comes out of a special budget for peace keeping — but ultimately comes out of the general fund of the UN. (When the account runs low, the UN goes hat in hand to the Big 5 and tops it up.)
    The particular rate paid is wildly below that paid to First World soldiers — across the board. When such nations contribute soldiers they also contribute the difference, too.
    (Austria stands out in the case at
    hand. It’s interesting that the Irish constituted the quick reaction force. Both First World nations are famed for having complete neutrality since at least WWII.)
    But, back to Fiji: this nation uses UN deployments, year in and year out, as a cash generator. In effect, Fiji has a (national) mercenary army that never fights! That’s a pretty strange beast, but this is the UN we’re talking about.
    In a similar vein, Bangladesh and the Philippines ALWAYS seem to have contingents flying the blue UN flag.
    Forgotten by the larger world, there is a UN contingent at the southern tip of the Sinai. It’s a part of the peace deal between Israel and Egypt. It’s of battalion strength at all times. By the terms of the treaty at least one of its companies has to be American, another has to come from NATO (Denmark and Belgium, typically) and the rest from anywhere. That ‘anywhere’ ALWAYS seems to include Bangladesh.
    Likewise, there is a UN contingent in southern Lebanon. It’s a farce there, too. If you recall, the Hez placed its own command bunkers underneath the UN outposts. That’s right, they simply dug them right underneath. (Sounds like Hogan’s Heroes, no?)
    Similarly, UN troops watched the Somalis go at it, hammer and tong…
    UN troops watched the Hutsis and Tutsis have at it…
    UN troops watched the Congo war go on — forever…
    And so forth.
    They were such a joke that they were walked over in the former Yugoslavia, America, Britain, France and Russia had to come in.
    In all of these situations, the UN never fired a shot.
    So, you’re looking at a paycheck situation, not a military force, not even a police force.

  • Jim says:

    I always thought that peacekeepers acted as placeholders and bargaining chips. I was shocked to learn that peacekeepers are receiving realistic combat training in Ireland

  • blert says:

    UNDOF is passing into history.
    Austria, Croatia, Ireland, and the Philippines have all notified the UN that they’re withdrawing ASAP.
    There is no longer any meaningful Syrian army presence on the Golan. Assad is being compelled to shift all of his Golan assets into the fight for Damascus.
    As I’ve posted elsewhere, Assad is in no position to long hold onto Damascus. It’s not even the (proper) campaign season, and the city is erupting in flames.
    Assad has absolutely no answer for the M198 howitzers that ISIS has re-purposed from Mosul. His air force lacks the ground attack capacity to target them. They out range all of his artillery.
    Turkey fields M198 howitzers. Erdogan and ISIS are buddies. So the way is clear for Erdogan to (deniably, clandestinely) resupply any 155mm ammo expended by ISIS. And Turkey can certainly cross-train ISIS troops. (BTW, Saddam’s army also had 155mm howitzers.) So, to a large degree, ISIS is already up to speed on M198 procedures.
    Erdogan hates Assad with a passion. Putin’s boy (Assad) is largely seen by Moscow as an anti-Turkish asset.
    For the younger set: Russians have been in a blood feud with Turks since the Tenth Century. Most Turks still live east of Moscow — on what amounts to a massive ‘Turkish reservation’ with a legal status very much in the mold of American plains Indians.
    The Turks of Anatolia got there in the Eleventh Century by defeating the Eastern Roman Empire. Prior to that time, Anatolia was Lilly white — and spoke Latin. (+ a little Greek)
    (The now re-famous) new Russia constitute TURKISH holdings that were lost to the Tsars. These lie in a southern belt from the river Don east to Romania. The last Turkish holding in modern Russia was the Crimea. It’s of no small significance that Putin is going hammer and tong re-invading these lands.
    That he is doing so at exactly the same time that Erdogan is snuffing the life out of Assad’s regime… co-incidence… or something more?
    Further, in both zones, there are plans afoot to build out massive new trans-continental natural gas pipelines that would swing the economic equation all over the map. Co-incidence… or something more?
    Qatar to Syria to Turkey to Europe — all without crossing Shi’ite lands — is this the connection?
    Is this why Putin is going ‘all in’ on Ukraine/ new Russia?
    Any opinions?

  • blert says:

    Amend and correct:
    Turkey has ‘American’ 155mm howitzer ammo — not the M198, itself.

  • Alex says:

    I never said that I “bought into the UN as a solution meme.” What I said specifically is that there have been successes such as the disengagement force in South Lebanon or the peacekeeping force in Cyprus. The question that I was asking had to do with this specific incident.


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