Abdullah Azzam Brigades dissolves itself in Syria

Abdullah Azzam Brigades’ Marwan Hadid Battalions at its training camp in the Syrian-Lebanese border region in early 2015.

The al Qaeda-linked Abdullah Azzam Brigades (AAB), which has historically operated throughout the Middle East, announced recently that it has dissolved itself inside Syria.

“We in the Abdullah Azzam Brigades in the Land of Al Sham [Syria], after studying and consultation, and in the interest of the Muslim public, think it is right to announce the full dissolution of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades in the Land of Al Sham,” the group’s statement reads.

It continues by telling its members and supporters to “continue the path of jihad and be persistent.”

The recent announcement follows several years of dormancy for the jihadist group. However, during the early years of the Syrian Civil War, AAB played an important role in targeting Iran and Hezbollah.

For instance, the group claimed several suicide bombings in Beirut, Lebanon, targeting Iranian and Hezbollah personnel. In a suicide bombing on the Iranian embassy, AAB stated that it will continue these assaults unless the two withdraw from Syria.

In a later dual suicide bombing on an Iranian culture center in Beirut, AAB repeated its demand that Iran and Hezbollah cease supporting the Assad regime.

In the Lebanon-Syria border areas, it also conducted sporadic assaults on Hezbollah positions. Many of these operations were in conjunction with the Al Nusrah Front, the then-official al Qaeda branch inside Syria.

And prior to the Hezbollah offensive in 2013, AAB was known to operate a training camp in the Qusayr region of western Syria. Another training camp, likely still in the Syria-Lebanese border region, was shown in early 2015.

In recent years, AAB has been relatively dormant on both the ground and online. Only sporadic statements have been made, while its military operations largely ceased beginning in 2014.

Interestingly, AAB was heavily tied to a short-lived Palestinian group in 2018. Saraya Ghuraba Filistin, a sub-unit of Katibat al Ghuraba al Turkistan, a largely Uighur jihadist group, was formed and led by Palestinian AAB members from Lebanon’s Ain el Helwe refugee camp.

Following the death of its leader, the dual-hatted AAB commander Ibrahim al Khaza’il, Saraya Ghuraba Filistin was dissolved and its leaders went back to Lebanon.

Background on Abdullah Azzam Brigades

The Abdullah Azzam Brigades was formed by Saudi-national Saleh al Qarawi at the orders of Abu Musab al Zarqawi sometime after 2004 as an offshoot of al Qaeda in Iraq, and was tasked with hitting targets in the Levant and throughout the Middle East.

In fact, a video purporting to be the formation of AAB inside Iraq around 2004 can be found in the Bin Laden files.

Though it was never recognized as a formal al Qaeda organization, the group made it clear it was openly loyal to al Qaeda’s leaders and part of its vast international network.

Qarawi, who was a U.S.-designated terrorist, was arrested in Saudi Arabia in 2013. His successor, Majid al Majid, was arrested in Beirut in 2014 and died in custody only a few days later.

AAB has since been led by Sirajaddin Zurayqat, a Lebanese national, who has been based in Syria since 2012. Zurayqat maintains active Twitter and Telegram accounts. Zurayqat posted the dissolution statement on both platforms, confirming its authenticity.

Following its formation, AAB was organized in several distinct brigades. This includes the Yusuf al Ayeri Brigades in the Arabian Peninsula, named after the co-founder of al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. This branch was responsible for an attack on a Japanese tanker in the Persian Gulf in 2010.

In the Gaza Strip, the AAB organized the Yahya Ayyash Brigades, named after the killed Hamas bomb maker. This group was responsible for several rocket attacks against Israel in 2014.

In Lebanon, it formed its Ziad Jarrah Battalions, named after one of the 9/11 hijackers. The battalion was responsible for several rocket attacks into northern Israel in 2013.

While in Syria, the group operated under the name of the Marwan Hadid Battalions, after the infamous militant who led many uprisings against the Syrian state in the 1960s and 1970s.

That said, most of these groups have been dormant for several years and it is unclear if they are still active organizations. If these groups are indeed still operational, it is unclear if AAB’s dissolution extends to these units or is relegated to Syria only.

Though given that the group was only active in Lebanon and Syria for the last few years, it is likely that these other groups are no longer active.

Caleb Weiss is an editor of FDD's Long War Journal and a senior analyst at the Bridgeway Foundation, where he focuses on the spread of the Islamic State in Central Africa.

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