Established By: Saleh al-Hamawi, Abu Maria Al-Qahtani, Mustafa Abd al-Latif al-Saleh (Abu Anas al-Sahaba), Iyad Tubasi (Abu Julaybib), Abu Omar al-Filistini, Anas Hassan Khattab
Also Known As: Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, al-Qaeda in Syria, al-Qaeda in the Levant
Country Of Origin: Syria
Leaders: Abu Mohammad al-Julani
Key Members: Abu Mohammad al-Julani, Abu Abdullah al-Shami, Sami al-Oraydi
Operational Area: Syria, Lebanon
Number Of Members: 10,000 – 20,000
Involved In: Mass execution, Terrorist Attacks, Suicide bomb attacks, Bomb attacks, Kidnapping
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Al-Nusra Front is a branch of al-Qaeda operating in Syria and Lebanon. The group announced its formation on 23 January 2012, during the Syrian Civil War. Since then, it has been described as both “the most aggressive and successful” and “one of the most effective rebel forces” in Syria, and has been designated as a terrorist organisation by the United Nations, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States,and Turkey. Since early 2015, there have been persistent reports of the al-Nusra Front considering leaving al-Qaeda and planning to abandon its current name and merge with smaller Islamist groups, such as Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar, in order to form a new entity that will receive funding from the Gulf States.
The al-Nusra Front aims to overthrow the Assad government and replace it with a Sunni Islamic state. Although the group is affiliated with al-Qaeda, it does not emphasise Western targets or global jihad, focusing instead on the “near enemy” of the Syrian state. This group is generally made up of native Syrian mujahideen who adhere to Sunni Islam. Its goal is to overthrow Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria and create an Islamic Emirate under Sharia law. In early 2014, Dr. Sami Al Oraidi, a top Sharia official in the group, acknowledged that his group is influenced by the teachings of Abu Musab al-Suri. The strategies derived from Abu Musab’s guidelines include: providing services to people, avoiding being seen as extremists, maintaining strong relationships with communities and other fighting groups, and putting the focus on fighting the government.
Members of the group are accused of attacking the religious beliefs of non-Sunnis in Syria, including the Alawis. Members of the group have referred to the United States and Israel as enemies of Islam, and warned against Western intervention in Syria. Syrian members of the group claim that they are only fighting the Assad government and would not attack Western states. The United States accused it of being affiliated with al-Qaeda in Iraq, and in April 2013, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, released an audio statement affirming this connection.
The leader of al-Nusra, a self-proclaimed emir, goes by the name of Abu Mohammad al-Julani (also transliterated as: Mohammed and al-Jawlani, or: al-Golani), which implies that he is from the Golan Heights (al-Jawlan, in Arabic). Very little is known about him, with even his nationality unclear. However, in an interview with Al Jazeera, he spoke classical Arabic with a Syrian accent. On 18 December 2013, he gave his first television interview, to Tayseer Allouni, a journalist originally from Syria, for Al Jazeera. The structure of the group varies across Syria. In Damascus the organisation operates in an underground clandestine cell system, while in Aleppo, the group is organised along semi-conventional military lines, with units divided into brigades, regiments, and platoons. All potential recruits must undertake a ten-day religious training course, followed by a 15–20-day military training program.
Al-Nusra contains a hierarchy of religious bodies, with a small Majlis-ash-Shura (Consultative Council) at the top, making national decisions on behalf of the group. Religious personnel also play an important role in the regional JN leadership, with each region having a commander and a sheikh. The sheikh supervises the commander from a religious perspective and is known as dabet al-shar’i (religious commissioner). An increasing number of Americans have been attempting to join the fighting in Syria, As MD Ahmad Zarkali and Thayer al-atheim and fifty of friends specifically with al-Nusra. Most recently, Sinh Vinh Ngo Nguyen, also known as Hasan Abu Omar Ghannoum, was arrested in California on 11 October 2013, on charges of attempting to travel to join al-Qaeda, after reportedly having fought in Syria. As of November 2013, there had also been five additional publicly disclosed cases of Americans fighting in Syria, three of which were linked to al-Nusra. All statements and videos by the al-Nusra Front have been released by its media outlet, al-Manarah al-Bayda (The White Minaret), via the leading jihadist webforum Shamoukh al-Islam.
The organisation is believed to have used, at various times and in various places, the following tactics: car-bombs, suicide-attacks, targeting of checkpoints, conventional assault of military bases, assassination of political and military figures and members of the shabiha, targeting (destruction/killing) of pro-government media stations and personnel. In June 2014 Human Rights Watch reported that several rebel groups including al-Nusra have enlisted child soldiers into their ranks. The al-Nusra Front allegedly have an elite sniper unit known as the “Wolf Group”. Training is conducted in Aleppo by veteran jihadists who belong to the Khorasan Group, a collection of veteran al-Qaeda operatives sent from al-Qaeda strongholds along the Afghan–Pakistan border.
Khorasan – also known as the Khorasan Group, refers to a group of senior al-Qaeda members who operate in Syria. The group is reported to consist of a small number of fighters who are all on terrorist watchlists, and co-ordinate with the al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria.
At least one Arab government has accused Qatar of helping al-Nusra. Also lot of weapons were falling in the hands of extremists, such as al-Nusra and ISIL. The al-Nusra has also been materially supported by multiple foreign fighters. Most of these fighters are from Europe and the Middle East, as pipelines to Syria from those locations are better established and navigable.However, as of November 2013, there were also 6 publicly disclosed cases of American citizens and permanent residents who joined or attempted to join al-Nusrah in 2013 alone.
Campaign of violence:
-During the Syrian Civil War, the group launched many attacks, mostly against targets affiliated with or supportive of the Syrian government. As of June 2013, al-Nusra Front had claimed responsibility for 57 of the 70 suicide attacks in Syria during the conflict.
-One of the first bombings which al-Nusra was suspected of and the first suicide attack of the war came on 23 December 2011, when two seemingly coordinated bombings occurred in the Syrian capital of Damascus, killing 44 people and wounding 166.
-The al-Midan bombings of January 2012 were allegedly carried out by a fighter named Abu al-Baraa al-Shami. Footage of the destruction caused by the blast was released on a jihadist forum. The video asserts that the “martyrdom-seeking operation” was executed “in revenge for our mother Umm Abdullah—from the city of Homs—against whom the criminals of the regime violated her dignity and threatened to slaughter her son,” SITE reported. The video shows “an excerpt of allegiances, operations, and training of the al-Nusra Front” as well as a fighter “amongst the masses in a public demonstration, advising them to do their prayers and adhere to the rituals of Islam.”
-The al-Nusra Front announced the formation of the “Free Ones of the Levant Brigades”, in a YouTube video statement that was released on 23 January. In the statement, the group claimed that it attacked the headquarters of security in Idlib province. “To all the free people of Syria, we announce the formation of the Free Ones of the Levant Brigades,” the statement said, according to a translation obtained by The Long War Journal. “We promise Allah, and then we promise you, that we will be a firm shield and a striking hand to repel the attacks of this criminal Al Assad army with all the might we can muster. We promise to protect the lives of civilians and their possessions from security and the Shabiha [pro-government] militia. We are a people who will either gain victory or die.”
-The 10 May 2012 Damascus bombings were allegedly claimed by al-Nusra Front in an Internet video.However, on 15 May 2012, someone claiming to be a spokesman for the group denied that the organisation was responsible for the attack, saying that it would only release information through jihadist forums. On 29 May 2012, a mass execution was discovered near the eastern city of Deir ez-Zor. The unidentified corpses of 13 men had been discovered shot to death execution-style. On 5 June 2012, the al-Nusra Front claimed responsibility for the killings, stating that they had captured and interrogated the soldiers in Deir ez-Zor and “justly” punished them with death, after they confessed to crimes.
-On 17 June 2012, Walid Ahmad al-Ayesh, described by Syrian authorities as the “right hand” of the al-Nusra Front, was killed when Syrian authorities discovered his hiding place. He was reportedly responsible for the making of car bombs that were used to attack Damascus in the previous months. The Syrian authorities reported the killing of another prominent member of the group, Wael Mohammad al-Majdalawi, killed on 12 August 2012 in an operation conducted in Damascus.
-On 27 June 2012, a group of Syrian rebels attacked a pro-government TV station in the town of Drousha, just south of the capital Damascus. The station’s studios were destroyed with explosives. Seven people were killed in the attack on Al-Ikhbariya TV, including four guards and three journalists. Al-Nusra claimed responsibility for the attack and published photos of 11 station employees they kidnapped following the raid.
-In mid-July 2012, Mohammed al-Saeed, a well-known government TV news presenter, was kidnapped by the group. On 3 August 2012, al-Nusra published a statement saying that al-Saeed had been executed.
-On 3 October 2012, three suicide car bombs exploded at the eastern corner of the central Saadallah Al-Jabiri Square killing 48 people, as it was announced by the Ministry of interior. More than 122 people were reported to be heavily injured. Al-Nusra claimed responsibility for the attack. The bombs targeted the Officers’ club and the nearby buildings of the Touristic Hotel and the historic “Jouha Café”. The hotel received major damage while the café was entirely destroyed. A small building within the Officers’ club was ruined as well.
The al-Nusra Front also claimed responsibility for attacking numerous Syrian military bases, including:
– Aleppo district: an air defence base, on: 12 October 2012;
– Aleppo city: the Hanano barracks;
– Raqqah: the Suluq barracks;
In the air defence base assault they reportedly destroyed buildings and sabotaged radar and rockets after over-running the base in co-operation with the al-Fajr Islamic Movement and a group of Chechen fighters. During the storming of the Hanano barracks 11 soldiers were killed and they held the complex for six hours before retreating. They also claimed killing 32 soldiers during the raid on the Raqqah base. In October 2012, they joined other rebels in an attack on the Wadi Deif base around Maraat al Numan, in a prolonged fighting that turned into a siege of the base. They also led an attack on the Taftanaz Air Base in November 2012, an important and strategic base for the Syrian army, containing up to 48 helicopters.
The group seized three army checkpoints around Saraqeb at the end of October 2012, forcing the Syrian Army to withdraw from the area the next day. In the battle, 28 Syrian soldiers were killed as well as five Nusra fighters. Some of the captured soldiers were summarily executed after being called “Assad dogs”. The video of these executions was widely condemned, with the United Nations referring to them as probable war crimes.
Members of the al-Nusra Front carried out two suicide attacks in early November 2012. One occurred in a rural development center in Sahl al-Ghab in Hama province, where a car bomb killed two people; while the other occurred in the Mezzeh neighbourhood of Damascus, where a suicide bomber killed 11 people. The SOHR claimed a total of 50 soldiers were killed in the Sahl al-Ghab attack. Al Jazeera reported on 23 December 2012 that the al-Nusra Front had declared a “no-fly-zone” over Aleppo, using 23 mm and 57 mm anti-aircraft guns to down planes. This would include commercial flights which al-Nusra believed transported military equipment and troops.
In a video sent to Al Jazeera, they warned civilians against boarding commercial flights. In February 2013, Al Nusra fighters were involved in fighting in Safira with government reinforcements, preventing these forces from reaching their destination of the city of Aleppo. A monitoring group claims this resulted in more than two hundred casualties over a period of two weeks. Though it was initially reported that Syrian Catholic priest François Murad was beheaded at a church in Gassanieh, he was actually shot dead.
The group has taken part in military operations with the Free Syrian Army. Abu Haidar, a Syrian FSA co-ordinator in Aleppo’s Saif al-Dawla district said that al-Nusra Front “have experienced fighters who are like the revolution’s elite commando troops.”
In December 2013, al-Nusra abducted 13 nuns from a Christian monastery in Maaloula. They were held in the town of Yabroud until 9 March 2014, The nuns reported they had not been harassed and could keep religious symbols. As of July 2013, al-Nusra controls Ash-Shaddadeh, a town of roughly 16,000.
On 28 August 2014, militants from the group kidnapped 45 UN peacekeepers from Fiji from Golan Heights in the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force Zone. The group demanded that it be removed from the UN’s list of terrorist organisations in exchange for the lives of the peacekeepers. In addition to UN personnel, the group routinely captures UN vehicles to use as car bombs. At the same time, two groups of UN peacekeepers from Philippines were trapped under fire in nearby Rwihinah. On 31 August, one group of 32 Filipinos soldiers was rescued and the other group of 40 soldiers escaped. The rescue operation was carried out by Irish peacekeepers.
Colonel Ezra Enriquez of the Philippines, who oversaw the operations, resigned over disagreements with Indian Lieutenant General Iqbal Singh Singha. Singha had allegedly ordered the Filipinos peacekeepers to surrender arms to ensure the safe release of the Fijian soldiers. On 8 September, Rodrigo Duterte, the mayor of Davao City, called for Singha’s death after he allegedly called the Filipinos soldiers cowards. On 11 September, the kidnapped Fijian soldiers were released. zIn late October 2014, al-Nusra began attacking the Free Syrian Army and other moderate Islamist groups that it was formerly allied with, in a bid to establish its own Islamic state in the cities it controlled in the Idlib Governorate and other neighbouring Governorates.