Al Nusrah Front claims to have captured a small village near the Talat al-‘Iss hill in Syria’s Aleppo province.
Al Nusrah Front and allied rebel groups launched an offensive in the countryside south of the city of Aleppo on April 1. The battle began when three Al Nusrah suicide bombers struck positions occupied by Shiite militias and Syrian regime forces near the Talat al-‘Iss hill.
The bombings cleared the way for other fighters to stream in. On one of its official Twitter accounts, Al Nusrah has released a series of images documenting the explosions caused by its trio of suicide bombers. According to jihadists on social media, one of the “martyrs” was a native of Albania.
Al Nusrah, which is an official branch of al Qaeda, claims that the operation was a success and its fighters have captured Talat al-‘Iss, as well as a small village close by.
Using a small drone to record aerial footage, the group’s propagandists produced a short video showing the area after its “liberation.” The jihadists have also released a series of images documenting their preparations for the battle and the war booty captured, including arms and vehicles. Some of these photos are included at the end of this article.
A Syrian regime source explained to Reuters the strategic importance of the location, which is sparsely populated. “This is the dividing line, the front position of the Syrian army in the southern (Aleppo) countryside,” a Syrian military source said. “In south Aleppo, armed groups in coordination with [Nusrah] Front attacked some military positions … in the direction of Talat al-‘Iss and the surrounding areas. Of course this is a clear breach of the truce.”
Al Nusrah is not a party to the ceasefire that the Assad regime, Russia and a number of opposition groups agreed to earlier this year. It is not clear what other rebel organizations participated in the offensive, but Al Nusrah regularly relies on manpower from closely allied jihadists and Islamists. The al Qaeda arm also frequently cooperates with Western-backed rebels.
Sheikh Abdallah Muhammad al Muhaysini, an al Qaeda-affiliated cleric, celebrated the jihadists’ success at Talat al-‘Iss by delivering a talk at a local mosque that had been controlled by Shiite fighters.
Muhaysini posted the image on the right on his personal Twitter feed. The top photo shows him speaking from the pulpit. And the image on the bottom shows a Shiite commander delivering a talk from the same spot when Hezbollah and allied Shiite militias controlled the area.
The assault on Talat al-‘Iss is part of Al Nusrah’s attempt to regain the initiative in the Syrian war. With the help of Russia’s intervention last fall, Bashar al Assad’s regime stymied the advances of the Jaysh al Fath (“Army of Conquest”) coalition, which seized the northwestern province of Idlib earlier in the year. Jaysh al Fath, which included a number of rebel organizations, was co-founded by Al Nusrah and another al Qaeda-linked jihadist group, Ahrar al Sham.
In early February, Assad’s forces, backed by Russian airstrikes, Iranian-sponsored Shiite militias and Hezbollah, launched a major offensive in the province of Aleppo. Their aim was to recapture some of the towns and villages lost to various insurgents and to break the siege imposed on Shiite-majority towns in the northern part of the province. The Syrian government and its partners claimed some success in achieving these goals. Al Nusrah redeployed hundreds of jihadists to Aleppo in advance of the fight. [See LWJ report, Jihadists reinforce other rebels during key battle in Aleppo province.]
Propaganda photos of the three suicide bombings carried out near the Talat al-‘Iss hill:
Al Nusrah’s fighters prepare for the battle:
These two images appear to show an American Humvee being used in the battle. In the first image, the vehicle can be seen in the shadows on the left:
Al Nusrah manufactures some of its own rockets and arms in advance of the fight:
Images of the war booty captured: