Al Nusrah Front attempts to disavow massacre of Druze civilians

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The Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, has issued a statement disavowing the massacre of 20 Druze civilians in the province of Idlib last week. The murders have been denounced by other insurgents, thereby threatening to damage Al Nusrah’s well-cultivated image within the Syrian rebellion. The slaughter was also contrary to the specific instructions issued by Abu Muhammad al Julani, the head of the group.

In its statement, which was released on one of its Twitter accounts, Al Nusrah says that the incident was not specifically ordered by the organization’s leaders and violated their “clear directives.” The al Qaeda branch adds that it has sent a delegation to the Druze villages to assure residents that this episode was contrary to its rules of engagement.

Al Nusrah claims the Druze, a religious minority, are now under its protection. And the fighters who killed the civilians are supposedly going to be tried before a sharia court for their “errors.”

The killings highlight how al Qaeda often walks a fine line in waging jihad. While the Islamic State, al Qaeda’s rival, routinely celebrates its fighters’ brutality, al Qaeda has attempted to position itself as a more moderate alternative.

In December 2013, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) publicly apologized for an attack on a military hospital. AQAP claimed that the attack was carried out by a rogue fighter, and was contrary to the specific orders issued by the chain-of-command.

AQAP, Al Nusrah and other al Qaeda branches are operating under guidelines issued by Ayman al Zawahiri, who has ordered his men to avoid most civilian targets. For the most part, al Qaeda’s branches adhere to these guidelines. For example, AQAP quickly denounced an attack on Shiite mosques carried out by the Islamic State’s “province” in Yemen earlier this year. And the apologies issued by AQAP and Al Nusrah illustrate that when al Qaeda’s jihadists run afoul of the guidelines, their actions are disowned by senior leaders.

There are also practical reasons for Al Nusrah to distance itself from the massacre in Idlib. A significant part of the Druze minority reportedly remains neutral in the fight between Bashar al Assad’s regime and its opposition. The killings may help drive the Druze community into Assad’s arms.

Abu Muhammad al Julani, Al Nusrah’s emir, discussed the Druze during an interview that aired on Al Jazeera last month.

“At this time, we do not fight those who do not fight us,” Julani said. “There are Druze villages located in liberated areas that have neither supported Bashar [al Assad] nor fought him, and they have not been harmed.”

Instead of attacking the Druze villages, Julani claimed, Al Nusrah has been attempting to convert the inhabitants. “As for the Druze, they are part of our dawa [Islamic call]. There have been many preachers sent to them who informed them of their religious mistakes,” Julani said. “They demonstrated their retreat from these mistakes.”

The killings in Idlib certainly do not help with Al Nusrah’s dawa efforts, however. And it remains to be seen if Al Nusrah can quell the international outrage over its fighters’ actions. The victims reportedly included elderly citizens, and at least one child.

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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  • Oberron says:

    A fine mess over there. YPG is ethnically cleansing Arabs and Turkmen and imposing Stalinist Rule in the areas it is occupying with HRW, McClatchy, SOHR, US, and others taking increasingly alarmed notic at how brazen it is getting, but seriously any Syrian could have told them YPG is a front for the Terrorist PKK and worse than IS.

    Nusrah is openly AQ, IF is a thinly disguised front for AQ. FSA is a front for the two of them.

    Assad is a butcher who gasses children on live TV.

    ISF no longer exists except as fire support for Terrorists.

    KRG is two factions that fight each other as much as IS.


    Oh forget it, my brain hurts.

  • Birbal Dhar says:

    There has been no evidence of YPG ethnic cleansing Arabs and Turkmen, when both of these communites are in the YPG itself. The YPG are not only full of Kurds, they have ethnic Arabs, Assyrians, Turkmen and even foreigners from the west and even from China in that group.

  • m3fd2002 says:

    You’ve got that right! One might argue that this is the inevitable outcome of “multi-culturalism”.

  • G says:

    The most important question here….”is Helly Luv safe?”.

    Has anyone heard from her? We need to know she’s ok so she can make more videos!

  • Voice of Reason says:

    “YPG is ethnically cleansing Arabs and Turkmen”

    Contrary to a few poorly-sourced reports (many simply being baseless accusations from bitter Islamist groups), the evidence for this “ethnic cleansing” (btw, “ethnic displacement” is a better term to use; “cleansing” has positive connotations) accusation is pretty sparse. To begin with, the YPG/J is openly allied with Arab FSA groups (ie Liwa Thuwwar al-Raqqa) through its Euphrates Volcano coalition in Kobane. There are similar arrangements with Syriac militias in Cizire (ie MFS). Furthermore, in the case of Cizire canton, the population is probably just as much Arab as it is Kurd – and that includes a sizable number of Arab refugees from other parts of Syria – while Afrin has a significant Arab population as well. Furthermore, the constitution in Rojava recognizes Arabic as an official language, and overtly recognizes a multi-ethnic social tapestry (including Arabs, Turkmen, etc) as a primary goal. Lastly, there are numerous Arab tribes allying with the YPG/J, even in Raqqa as we have seen during the latest offensive.

    “YPG is a front for the Terrorist PKK and worse than IS”

    Hysterical. “Worse” by what metric, exactly? Its endorsement of religious plurality, democratic confederalism, and free speech? Morally-speaking, YPG/J is the most appealing militia in the SCW by a country mile.

  • Oberron says:

    That report was from last year and HRW has a lot more on YPG abuses and Turkey has video evidence of YPG war crimes and we have too many reports from Refugees implicating YPG.

    This is another site that maintains a watch on YPG and documents its crimes.

    YPG is a terrorist organization and front for PKK, a Marxist designated terrorist organization. This is indisputable.

    The main question is does Obama want to stain himself helping this group and setting up things for a worst outcome? He can’t sink any lower as it is.

  • Voice of Reason says:

    “That report was from last year and HRW has a lot more on YPG abuses and Turkey has video evidence of YPG war crimes and we have too many reports from Refugees implicating YPG … This is another site that maintains a watch on YPG and documents its crimes.”

    Did you even read the links you shared? None of them implicate the YPG/J in “ethnic cleansing,” which was the accusation you lobbed their way in your initial post. There was precisely 1 piece of unsubstantiated testimony that the Coalition provided an airstrike on an Arab village which may, or may not, have had civilians in it at the time, depending on which side one asks. Obviously civilian casualties are regrettable, as are any abuses in war, but the available evidence suggests that such things are most definitely not deliberate YPG/J policy, in the rare times they do occur.

    You then linked to an article about Christians resisting YPG/J recruiters with violence (note that the article mentions a YPG member being shot, not a Christian), and that Sutoro units loyal to the al-Assad regime then showed up. Not exactly a stinging critique of the YPG/J, and the insinuation that YPG/J is somehow anti-Christian (which I presume was your goal in sharing such an irrelevant article) is further refuted by the fact that the more significant Christian militia MFS merged into the YPG/J last year. There are also multiple foreign Christian fighters in the YPG/J, ie the US Army veteran Jordan Matson.

    Let’s reaffirm my point by looking at the structural angle , shall we? Cizire Canton (the largest in Rojava) has a population of similar numbers of Kurds and Arabs, both of whom participate in the political process which the PYD largely esatablished. One of the canton’s Vice-Presidents is Husen Ezem, an Arab. The Rojava Constitution openly recognizes the area’s multi-ethnic composition (specifically referring to both Arabs and Turkmen, among others). The YPG/J has also formed an umbrella command called “Euphrates Volcano” with over a half-dozen FSA (read: majority Arab) militias – see for the full list. Many of these Arab units were deeply involved in both defending Kobane during the recent siege, and in capturing Tal Abyed several days ago. Why these Arab units would be openly allied with a militia that you believe to be “ethnically cleansing” them would be quite a profound mystery, were there any truth to your accusations.

    “YPG is a terrorist organization and front for PKK, a Marxist designated terrorist organization. This is indisputable.”

    YPG/J was founded by the PYD, but is presently the militia for the entirety of the Rojava Cantons, governed by the Kurdish Supreme Committee, which has an equal number of PYD and KNC (read: pro-Barzani) members. The Cantons are further governed according to a rather unique system of municipal confederalism, which is still in its infancy but seems quite intriguing as far as more direct (or participatory) systems of democracy are concerned. Time will tell how it turns out, but needless to say, whatever ideological and organizational links the PKK and PYD may share (and there are some, though not quite to the extent you suggest), to say that PKK is one and the same with YPG/J is inaccurate.

    You also rather brusquely accuse the YPG of being a “terrorist organization”. What terrorist attacks, then, has it been responsible for? From what I can tell, it is undoubtedly the most morally appealing faction in the SCW (especially compared to the al-Assad regime, IS, JAN, IF, etc.), and strategically it has probably the most openly pro-Western orientation. I don’t see the problem here.

  • Voice of Reason says:

    BTW Oberron, still waiting on you to explain in detail your comment “YPG is a front for the Terrorist PKK and worse than IS”.

    “Worse than IS”? Eagerly awaiting your justification for this claim.

  • jay says:

    Where did you get that info?

  • john says:

    Why is Oberron always pointing out the trouble with everyone except the Da’esh and their supporters?

  • Oberron says:

    You obviously did not read the reports.

    PYD, YPG/Js political wing engages in arbitrary arrests, vote suppression, drafts child soldiers, has executed children, called in airstrikes on civilians for which we have video evidence from SOHR, seriously its on youtube, its leaders are also leaders in PKK a designated Global Terrorist Organization. YPG/J soldiers wave photos of Ocalan a Specially Designated Global Terrorist now rotting in a Turkish Cell and still threatening Turkey with violence despite Erdogan’s repeated attempts to get a peace deal. Said photos of Ocalan feature prominently in YPG/J propaganda videos and they speak lovingly of him and mention how his revolt started in Kobane.

    PKK for which it is part of and with which it shares the Qandil Mountains as a training ground, has killed 30,000+ Civilians.

    This is all beyond dispute and its intellectually dishonest to say they are heroes.

    But here is more

    “Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah, b. 2001 in al-Hasakah, was thirteen years old and a ninth-grader when she was kidnapped by the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and brought to a PKK military camp in Iraqi-Kurdistan, where she was to be trained as a guerilla fighter. After a month and a half, she was able to escape. Since the PYD has assumed power in Syrian-Kurdistan, minors have frequently been kidnapped or recruited against their parents’ will and deployed to the front lines. Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah is the first victim to speak about her experiences in an interview with KurdWatch. She is currently living in hiding in Europe. ”

    Yeah we should so totally consider PYD heroes for throwing children on the front lines. The article goes on to describe how the camps are run. They obviously don’t meet western standards.

    “At the beginning of the Syrian revolution, Ahmad Muhammad Mustafa, b. 1977 in Khaltan near ʿAfrin, became involved with the dissident Youth Movement of Aleppo. To punish him, the PKK had his wife murdered and kidnapped his son. To this day, Ahmad Mustafa is wanted by the PKK. He has been living abroad since 2013. ”

    Well that was not very nice. They killed his wife. The interview also showed the PKK and PYD were in bed with Assad.

    I go at length. But PYD/PKK are one and the same and intend to use the Syrian Revolt for their own purposes which are not conductive to peace but installing a Stalinist State that threatens to destabilize Turkey.

    Lastly FSA itself is calling for Investigations.

    Yet another article documenting the Ethnic Cleansing Campaign.

    Yet another article.

    I can go on. But the evidence is overwhelming and you are engaged in apologia for War Crimes by a terrorist organization while denying clear facts.

    IS for all its crimes did not force Kurds out of their homes when they ran the area and did not steal their property except as provided for under their interpretation of Sharia. The Area wasn’t even a hotbed of IS support and IS main concern was the road network.

  • Voice of Reason says:

    I already previously stated that the YPG/J and PKK have both organizational and ideological links – those facts are not news to anybody. However, to say that they’re one and the same, as you have, is patently misleading; even if the YPG/J originally constituted the armed wing of the PYD (read: not the PKK), the rival KSC now occupies half the seats on its commanding Kurdish Supreme Committee. Furthermore, the overall political structure in Rojava has evolved in response to the democratization campaign which the YPG/J has made possible; for example, municipal elections across Cizire were held in March, and included 565 candidates, of which 237 were women, 28 were Arab, 23 were Syriac, 8 were Qeldani, 8 were Asûrî, and 1 was Chechen. If the goal were “ethnic cleansing,” as you have accused, then why would all of these other ethnic groups be allowed not only to vote, but to stand for office as well? It’s a peculiar way to go about it… To say nothing of incorporating Syriac and Yezidi militias into the YPG/J, or openly allying with Arab FSA groups and Arab tribes during recent offensives.

    You posted a link insinuating the YPG/J wouldn’t let refugees return to Tal Abyad – and yet… On Wednesday, they did precisely that by the hundreds – see – while on Thurdsay, Turkey shut its side of the border and wouldn’t let refugees across – see Sounds like the YPG/J is doing a pretty good job of getting civilians back home in a town that, less than a week ago, was an active war zone. Not bad. Can’t say the same for Turkey, whose support for Islamists throughout this conflict has been a consistently destabilizing influence, and one that Washington is no doubt losing patience with. Little wonder they’ve recently gone all-in with air strikes (and, according to some reports, SF advisors on the ground) trying to detach IS from the Turkish border…

    “I can go on. But the evidence is overwhelming and you are engaged in apologia for War Crimes by a terrorist organization while denying clear facts.”

    Let’s be clear: war crimes are always regrettable and individuals who commit those crimes should be punished when they occur. With that said, to be brutally honest, every major player in Syria is guilty of war crimes on some level or another, but the YPG/J is far and away the least problematic group in this regard. They’ve built a sphere of influence across the cantons (and now Northern Raqqa as well) where ethnic diversity, religious freedom, and democracy are able to take root. We certainly can’t say that about the Islamic State, or the al-Assad regime, or al-Qaeda/JAN and its jihadi allies… And, as I said before, they’re also largely pro-Western in orientation, which offers strategic benefits unto itself, not just in terms of fighting IS right now, but potentially as a longer-term partner to work with.

    “IS for all its crimes did not force Kurds out of their homes when they ran the area and did not steal their property except as provided for under their interpretation of Sharia.”

    IS murdered 5000 Yezidi civilians and turned hundreds of thousands of others into refugees – a fact which a UN panel recently concluded might constitute “genocide,” and which the Arab league condemned as “crimes against humanity”. Who came to the Yezidis’ rescue in that desperate situation? Mostly the PKK, YPG/J, and KRG. Similar refugee waves have followed nearly every single major IS advance – displacement is a huge part of what they do. IS also executes its military prisoners en masse, executes civilian prisoners including throwing homosexuals off of rooftops and stoning women, and forces its kooky religious beliefs on everyone living under its rule. Despite all of that, you tell us with a straight face that YPG is “worse than IS”. Another user posed this question below: “Why is Oberron always pointing out the trouble with everyone except the Da’esh and their supporters?” which is a curious observation. Oberron, are you an IS supporter?

  • Dan says:

    “PKK worse than IS”?

    As for your other allegations, please quantify them with reliable data instead of opining a few outrageous statements mixed with very little possibilities.

  • Md Alam says:

    I am quite agree with john! Because Oberron is always trying to point out the trouble.


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