Tag Archives: Jabhat an-Nusra

Al-Qaeda Explains its Split with the Islamic State

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on December 6, 2016

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On 20 November 2016, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS), al-Qaeda’s rebranded presence in Syria, published its first official account of how JFS, previously known as Jabhat al-Nusra, split from its parent organization, the group we now know as the Islamic State (IS). The statement was composed by Abdelraheem Atoun (Abu Abdullah al-Shami), identified as the General Judge of JFS. It is apparently drawn from the book, “Under the Shade of the Tree of Jihad” (p. 177-194), and the post was entitled, “The Establishment of Jabhat al-Nusra and the Events of al-Sham [Syria] from the Beginning of the Disagreement to the Announcement of al-Dawla [the State]”. On 27 November, Bilad al-Sham Media released an English language version of this statement, which is reproduced below with some editions for spelling, grammar, and so on, and some especially notable sections bolded. Continue reading

Syria’s Flawed Ceasefire Comes Crashing Down

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on September 21, 2016

A version of this article was published at The New Arab

Humanitarian convoy in Aleppo after the airstrikes by pro-regime coalition, 20 September 2016

The United States and Russia reached an agreement over Syria on 9 September that was supposed to lead to a week of reduced violence—a ceasefire or “cessation of hostilities” (CoH). During this time, there would be free distribution of humanitarian aid—followed by joint operations against the rebranded al-Qaeda branch in the country, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS), formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra. This agreement was essentially ignored by Bashar al-Assad’s regime, which Russia had pledged to restrain, and on Monday the agreement was torn up by the regime, returning Syria to all-out war. Continue reading

Moscow Rules in Syria, Again

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on September 11, 2016

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In Geneva on 9 September 2016, the United States and Russia announced an agreement to implement a ceasefire—formally a “cessation of hostilities” (CoH)—in Syria, which is intended to allow humanitarian access and restart the political process to end of the war, and then to begin jointly targeting the Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch, formerly Jabhat al-Nusra, recently rebranded Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS).

There is reason to wonder if the deal will ever take effect and the lack of an enforcement mechanism against Bashar al-Assad’s regime leaves open the possibility that the pro-regime coalition will, as it did after the February ceasefire, abuse this process to their advantage.

Most dauntingly, if this process worked to the letter it will legitimate the gains of the regime’s aggression, carried out under the cover of the last ceasefire, and has the potential to weaken the insurgency and embolden the regime, strengthening radicalism on all sides, pushing a political settlement further away, and thus protracting the war. Continue reading

The Structure of Al-Qaeda

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on August 14, 2016

Screenshot of Mostafa Mahamed (Abu Sulayman al-Muhajir) during a video interview, 12 April 2014

Screenshot of Mostafa Mahamed (Abu Sulayman al-Muhajir) during a video interview, 12 April 2014

Mostafa Mahamed (Abu Sulayman al-Muhajir) is an Australian citizen who was born on 14 February 1984 in Port Said, Egypt. Mahamed currently occupies a “senior leadership position” within al-Qaeda in Syria—formerly Jabhat al-Nusra, now Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS)—according to the sanctions levied against him in May by the U.S. Treasury. In an indication of Mahamed’s seniority, he moved from Australia to Syria in late 2012 and within a few months led the mediation efforts between al-Nusra and the then-Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), now the Islamic State (IS), that began with a breach in April 2013 and ended with al-Qaeda expelling ISIS from its command structure in February 2014. Mahamed is also one of the public faces of al-Qaeda in Syria, now calling himself the “Director of Foreign Media Relations of JFS”. In this capacity, Mahamed has inter alia recently communicated with CNN to further the narrative that al-Nusra/JFS has “split” with al-Qaeda—something, let it be noted, neither the leader of al-Nusra/JFS nor Mahamed have actually said.

With regard to both the ongoing narrative war between IS and al-Qaeda over what their actual relationship was in the lead-up to the schism and al-Qaeda’s structure—the two things very much interlinked—Mahamed gave a very useful interview on 12 April 2014, about ten weeks before ISIS became IS when it declared its caliphate. Mahamed also touches on other interesting matters, such as those jihadi ideologues al-Nusra/JFS regards as guides, and—small point—al-Qaeda’s continuing claim that IS’s founder, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi would have sided with them. (This is matched on the other side by IS continuing to feature Usama bin Ladin in their propaganda as one of their forebears, while regarding Ayman al-Zawahiri as deviant.)

In watching the video back, I ended up taking notes, which turned into a partial (though fairly substantial) transcript that will perhaps be of use to others as well, so it’s posted below. Continue reading

The West’s Kurdish Allies in Syria Can’t Escape Their Authoritarian Legacy

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on August 13, 2016

PYD/YPG fighters

PYD/YPG fighters

The Islamic State (IS) was driven from the city of Manbij yesterday, a key supply route to the Turkish border in northern Syria, the conclusion of an operation launched on 31 May by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a front-group for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), represented in Syria by the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG). The SDF was backed by U.S. airstrikes. It is difficult not to see the defeat of IS as a positive development. It is, however, worth more closely examining the forces that are being enabled by Western power to fasten their rule across northern Syria, whose vision is deeply problematic—even in narrow terms of the fight against IS. Continue reading

Did Assad Recruit the Leader of Al-Qaeda in Syria?

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on August 11, 2016

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In the course of al-Qaeda’s rebranding operation in Syria two weeks ago—the full implications of which are discussed here—the organization showed the face of its leader, Abu Muhammad al-Jolani, for the first time. Soon afterward it was revealed that al-Jolani’s real name was Ahmad al-Shara, originally from Deraa in southern Syria, who had lived in Damascus. A report in Al-Monitor has now added details that purportedly show the hand of Bashar al-Assad’s regime in al-Shara’s path to joining the predecessor organization of the Islamic State (IS), from which he eventually split, and underlines the role the Assad regime has played in fostering the terrorism it now claims to be defending the Syrian population and the world from. Continue reading

Al-Qaeda Rebrands, Marches on in Syria

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on August 2, 2016

First ever picture of the leader of Jabhat al-Nusra (al-Qaeda in Syria), Ahmad al-Shara (Abu Muhammad al-Jolani), 28 July 2016

First ever picture of the leader of Jabhat al-Nusra (al-Qaeda in Syria), Ahmad al-Shara (Abu Muhammad al-Jolani), 28 July 2016

The leader of Jabhat al-Nusra (al-Qaeda in Syria), Abu Muhammad al-Jolani, whose real name is Ahmad al-Shara, ostensibly broke the link between his organization and al-Qaeda last week. This is another stage in al-Qaeda’s long-term strategy of embedding itself into local societies so that it can more effectively reshape the faith and shield itself from the international community. Continue reading