Al Nusrah Front forces Western-backed rebel group to flee base in Idlib

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Jamaal Maarouf, the head of the Syrian Revolutionaries’ Front, blasted Al Nusrah Front emir Abu Muhammad al Julani in a video posted online. Al Nusrah has pushed the SRF out of its strongholds in Idlib.

The Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, has consolidated its control over several towns and villages in the northwestern province of Idlib. The Al Nusrah Front’s gains have come at the expense of the Syrian Revolutionaries’ Front (SRF), which had been closely allied with Al Nusrah despite receiving Western support.

In recent days, Al Nusrah expanded its campaign against the SRF. According to Reuters, the al Qaeda branch pushed into Deir Sonbol, a village that had served as a base of operations for the SRF and its leader, Jamal Maarouf.

The Al Nusrah Front forced Maarouf to flee his home base. In a video showing his retreat, Maarouf blasts Al Nusrah Front emir Abu Muhammad al Julani, comparing him to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi.

Both the SRF and Al Nusrah have been opposed to Baghdadi and the Islamic State in Syria.

The 2-minute, 40-second video was posted on YouTube and is titled, “Jamal Maarouf on the front lines during Al Nusrah Front’s aggression after their violation of the truce, directing a word to its emir [Abu Muhammad] Al Julani.”

“From here, the heart of Jabal al Zawiya [a region of Idlib], I say to Al Julani: O Julani, I am Jamal Maarouf, commander of the Syrian Revolutionaries’ Front,” Maarouf says. “I challenge you to show your true self. I challenge you, Oh Kharijite [an early group of Muslims that deemed other Muslims to be infidels]!”

While the SRF is defending the cause of Syrians, Maarouf says, al Julani has gone “forth for the sake of Iran.”

Maarouf continues, “You are the ones who have misrepresented Islam…why do you fight us?”

Maarouf again calls Al Julani a “Kharijite” and claims that the Jabal al Zawiya region was “liberated” before the Al Nusrah Front was even founded. “You are just like Al Baghdadi, [you member of] DAISH [a derogatory reference to the Islamic State], you scoundrel!” Maarouf says to al Julani.

The SRF leader even hurls personal insults at Al Julani, calling him a “turban-wearer.”

The video of Maarouf was first posted on Oct. 30 and the Al Nusrah Front responded in a series of posts on its so-called correspondent network’s Twitter feed on Oct. 31.

The Al Nusrah Front jihadists opposed to Maarouf are merely “residents” of Jabal al Zawiya, one tweet reads, and they are “fighting alongside the factions and the people” of the area. It is Maarouf who has turned against the people with “heavy equipment and tanks” after being “seduced” [presumably by the West] with “money and weaponry.”

“We [warn] all who are fighting in the ranks of Jamal Maarouf that they will be used as fuel for his personal benefit,” another Al Nusrah tweet reads. “They need to stay away from fighting the mujahideen.”

Al Nusrah has received support in its fight against the SRF from other jihadist groups, including Jund Al Aqsa.

Earlier today, Al Nusrah, Jund Al Aqsa and their allies agreed to a ceasefire with the SRF. They said the organizations would arbitrate their differences in a common sharia court established by Sheikh Abdallah Muhammad al Muhaysini, an al Qaeda-linked Saudi cleric who is closely allied with Al Nusrah.

SRF and Al Nusrah have been allies in the past

The Al Nusrah Front’s offensive against the SRF is an about-face in the relationship between the two groups. The SRF, which is part of the Free Syrian Army and has been portrayed as a “moderate” rebel force, has long fought alongside Al Nusrah in the Syrian battlefields.

In an interview published by The Independent in April, for instance, Maarouf explained that he was “not fighting against al Qaeda,” because “it’s not our problem.” Maarouf also admitted that the SRF had shared weapons with the Al Nusrah Front.

Throughout August and September, the SRF fought alongside Al Nusrah and its other allies as the jihadists took control of the Quneitra border crossing in southern Syria and engaged in other fierce combat.

Recent events in Idlib have, however, dramatically altered the relationship.

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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  • kush dragon says:

    I am interested what Assad thinks about all this infighting. Is he cheering it on and even fueling the flames as many in the West seem to believe or nervously awaiting the horror that will emerge when it’s finished? My other question is why is he not doing better? Wikipedias Syria map has remained relatively unchanged for months, although Assad has been slowly losing ground in some key theaters. I can understand why he wouldn’t have made gains against IS with all their advanced weaponry but it seems strange he is not doing better in Damascus, Aleppo the south etc, considering all of this disunity and chaos among his opponents. In my mind there’s two possibilities. Either the “moderate rebels” (lol) are receiving FAR more Western and Arab support than we realize, or the Assad ship is finally starting to sink. Either one I think is perfectly plausible, and it could even be a combination of both of them. But it is a startling reversal from the start of the year when Assad was routing rebel forces and proclaiming that most of the fighting would be finished by years end.

  • Fred says:

    When will people learn? If you team up with the jihadists, they WILL coopt your revolution. Every time. But people keep doing it, and it keeps happening.

  • J. U. says:

    Kush dragon, the Syrian Army made very important gains these last months, even if this is not that easy to see looking at a “whole-Syria” map. Maliha, Adra and soon Jobar around Damascus, Qalamoun mountains pockets along the Lebanon border, gains in north Hama, around Salma, north and south of Aleppo, even in Deir ez-zour city against ISIS.
    In fact there is only problems in the south, were the help by foreign countries is the most important, but alNusrah very present as well (not to say leading the offensives…). And unfortunatelly this is the most visible on the Syria map, because there is a lot of villages there so any gain means an important territory (by size), unlike the very dense quarters/cities took by the SAA, especially around Damascus or Aleppo, way more difficult to take as very “bunkerized”.

  • irebukeu says:

    I have to agree with you. After setbacks following the gains made by IS, the SAA has rebounded a bit. It is said they might soon trap a huge pocket in aleppo. if that is the case there will be Kurds in the pocket. It will be interesting to see what happens there.
    It also looks like they might pocket another group of IS in Deir ez-zour.
    I think assad suffers from a huge manpower crisis. Hezb and Iranians help fill the gaps. It could be that he runs out of manpower and collapses.
    What I wonder is why he doesn’t pull the rip cord with the west and endorse Israels existence.
    It could look like this…
    Fake press reporter- ‘Mr Assad, does Israel have a right to exist?’
    Assad– “No nation has the right to exist yet all nations have the right to defend themselves. Israel does this so it exists. It is not a question of rights. We too are trying to defend ourselves and our borders. ”
    fake press reporter– “Is Syria at war with Israel?”
    Assad– “Syrians are tired of war. We seek to live in peace with our neighbors and seek a treaty of peace with Israel.”
    Then declare autonomy to the Kurds just to stick it to Turkey,
    Promise to help in Iraq and invite anyone to help rebuild his beloved nation at the wars end.
    IMO, if he does that, the FSA roast on the spit, Nusra runs likes rats and the IS goes down swinging.
    Isn’t it time to sell F-14 parts to Iran?


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