Banner of the Al Nusrah Front. Image from the SITE Intelligence Group.
The US State Department will add Sheikh Abu Muhammad al Julani, the emir of al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, to the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists in a decision to be announced formally tomorrow. A statement in the Federal Register notes that Julani, also known as al Fatih, is designated pursuant to Executive Order 13324. The addition of al Julani to the US’s list of global terrorists takes place just one month after he reaffirmed his allegiance to al Qaeda’s emir, Ayman al Zawahiri, and confirmed that his group is part of the global terrorist network.
The US government added the Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in December 2012. Additionally, two senior Al Nusrah Front leaders, Maysar Ali Musa Abdallah al Juburi and Anas Hasan Khattab, were added to the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists the same day that the Al Nusrah Front was named as an FTO. Al Juburi and Khattab are both al Qaeda in Iraq operatives.
In the December 2012 designation of the Al Nusrah Front, the US said that the group is “a new alias” for al Qaeda in Iraq and is under operational control of AQI’s emir, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi al Husseini al Qurshi, or Abu Dua.
Last month, a public dispute emerged between Abu Dua and al Julani after the former announced the merger of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Al Nusrah Front. The new entity, called the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, was to replace all previous brands used by al Qaeda’s affiliates in Iraq and Syria.
One day after Abu Dua made the announcement, al Julani rejected the creation of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, and said he had not been consulted about the official merger. Al Julani indicated that the official announcement was premature, and said his group would continue to operate under the banner of the Al Nusrah Front.
But while he rejected the formation of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, al Julani noted that he was renewing both his and his fighters’ allegiance to al Qaeda’s emir.
“This is a pledge of allegiance from the sons of the al Nusrah Front and their supervisor general that we renew to the Sheikh of Jihad, Sheikh Ayman al Zawahiri, may Allah preserve him,” al Julani said, according to a translation provided by the SITE Intelligence Group. “We give a pledge of allegiance for obedience in good and bad in emigration and jihad and not to dispute with our superiors unless we see clear disbelief about which we have proof from Allah.”
Since the public dispute between Abu Dua and al Julani, the Al Nusrah Front has not released official propaganda. The disagreement between the two emirs is said to be being mediated by al Qaeda’s central leadership council.
The Al Nusrah Front was created in late 2011, and immediately began to impact the fight against the government of President Bashir al Assad. Leveraging the expertise of al Qaeda in Iraq, the group has launched suicide bombings and assaults, IED attacks, and conventional and guerrilla operations against the Syrian military and government.
Earlier this year, the US government estimated that the Al Nusrah Front has more than 10,000 fighters under its command. Since that estimate was issued, more than 3,000 fighters from the supposedly secular Free Syrian Army are said to have joined the Al Nusrah Front.
The group has overrun several major military bases and is in control of vast areas of eastern Syria, including the provincial capital of Raqqah. The Al Nusrah Front is administering sharia law in areas under its control.
The Al Nusrah Front has claimed credit for 57 of the 70 suicide attacks that have been reported in Syria since December 2011, according to a tally by The Long War Journal (note that multiple suicide bombers deployed in a single operation are counted as part of a single attack). So far this year, 17 suicide attacks have been reported in Syria; Al Nusrah has claimed credit for 14 of them.
For more information on the Al Nusrah Front, see the following LWJ reports:
US adds Al Nusrah Front, 2 leaders to terrorism list
Al Qaeda in Iraq, Al Nusrah Front emerge as rebranded single entity
Al Nusrah Front leader renews allegiance to al Qaeda, rejects new name
Free Syrian Army fighters defecting to Al Nusrah Front
Free Syrian Army commander praises Al Nusrah Front as ‘brothers’