Ansar al-Islam raids Assad regime position in Latakia

Ansar al-Islam, a small Sunni jihadist group, has claimed responsibility for a raid against Bashar al-Assad’s forces in Latakia province. The group released a set of photos documenting the raid, which took place yesterday in the Jabal Turkman (Turkmen Mountain) region. Some of the photos, which were posted on al Qaeda-linked and other Telegram channels, can be seen below. (*Warning: The images may be considered graphic.*)

More than two dozen of Assad’s fighters were killed in the attack, according to multiple sources.

Al Masdar News, a pro-regime outlet, reported that more than “25 soldiers from the Syrian Army and National Defense Forces were killed” in the raid. Al Masdar also claimed that Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) was responsible for the attack, without mentioning Ansar al-Islam, and that Russian bombers retaliated by striking areas in Latakia and the neighboring Idlib province.

HTS, the jihadist group at the center of controversy in al Qaeda circles, praised the attack in its own statement. The message was posted on the website of HTS’s Ebaa News Agency. HTS credited Ansar al-Islam for launching the raid and also echoed reports about the high number of regime casualties.

Ansar al-Islam, a predominately Kurdish group that originated in Iraq, has fought in Syria throughout the war. Yet the group has claimed relatively few operations in recent months. In early June, jihadists circulated a video of an Ansar al-Islam sniper operation in Latakia.

In Feb. 2016, Ansar al-Islam claimed an attack in Aleppo that targeted the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which is affiliated with Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

Then, beginning in Aug. 2016, Ansar al-Islam’s men participated in the effort to break the Assad regime’s siege of Aleppo. The group fought alongside others in Aleppo in the months that followed. Although the jihadists, Islamists and other rebels initially had success, the endeavor ultimately failed.

It is not clear if there are any current links between Ansar al-Islam and al Qaeda’s clandestine apparatus. There has been a relationship between the two in the past, but these interactions have been ambiguous in more recent years.

In 2015, the Islamic State accused Ansar al-Islam of working with al Qaeda’s senior leadership in South Asia to undercut the so-called caliphate. The Islamic State also claimed, however, that this gambit failed after much of Ansar al-Islam’s Iraqi based operation joined Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s cause. Ansar al-Islam conducted its own independent operations in Iraq through at least the middle of 2014, before many of its fighters were swept up by the self-declared caliphate’s momentum.

Still, Ansar al-Islam retained a faction in Syria that is independent of the Islamic State and that group killed more than two dozen Assad loyalists yesterday in Latakia.

Pictures posted by Ansar al-Islam from its raid in Latakia (*Warning: The images may be considered graphic.*):

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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