Ansar al Islam, which goes by the moniker Jamaat Ansar al Islam in Syria, has been coordinating its efforts with the Al Nusrah Front and Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar in a major battle for two Shiite villages north of Aleppo.
The villages of Zahra and Nubl have been besieged by anti-regime elements since late November. Rebel forces have previously surrounded the villages and cut off electric and water services to the citizens. The two towns are located on a road to Turkey that is a key supply route into Aleppo.
Ansar al Islam is an al Qaeda-affiliated group that was created in September 2001 and funded by al Qaeda seed money. [For more information on Ansar al Islam, see LWJ report, Ansar al Islam claims attacks against Iraqi military, police.] A large portion of the group’s Iraqi-based wing has since pledged bayat (allegiance) to the Islamic State, while its Syrian contingent has not, according to Aymenn al Tamimi.
The Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, is believed to be leading the assault on Zahra and Nubl. On its official Twitter page for Aleppo operations, several photos showcase Al Nusrah’s role in the battle, including an image of a suicide bomber in the town of Zahra. In one picture released by Ansar al Islam, a T-72 tank is operated by Al Nusrah fighters in a joint operation between the two groups.
The Chechen-led jihadist group Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar has also promoted its role in the battle on Twitter. Several photos demonstrate the group’s involvement, as well as several text tweets. From Chechnya to Syria reported on the group’s involvement in the offensive by quoting a post on Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar’s official website.
Photos showing Ansar al Islam’s involvement in Zahra can be seen below: