Abu Abdullah al Tunisi, kneeling, right. Image from the SITE Intelligence Group.
In a newly released jihadist video, a Tunisian fighter from the Muhajireen Army, a terrorist group composed primarily of foreign fighters and Syrians who are closely tied to al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, urged clerics and Muslim men to travel to the country to wage jihad against the government of President Bashir al Assad. The video highlights the close relationship between the Muhajireen Army and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an al Qaeda affiliate.
The video, which was released on July 18 on Twitter and Facebook accounts run by the Muhajireen Army, was obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.
“The video’s title gives the name of the al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), suggesting a relationship between the groups,” SITE noted in a statement accompanying the translation of the video.
The Muhajireen, or Emigrants’ Army, fights alongside both the newly formed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and the Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant. Both groups are official al Qaeda affiliates. Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the emir of the ISIL, is vying for control of al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria. Ayman al Zawahiri rejected Baghdadi’s announcement of the formation of the ISIL and said that the Al Nusrah Front is its official affiliate. But Baghdadi rejected Zawahiri’s ruling [see LWJ report, Islamic State of Iraq leader defies Zawahiri in alleged audio message].
A large majority of foreign fighters associated with al Qaeda are said to have joined the ISIL. The Muhajireen Army appears to have sided with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant as well.
The video featured Abu Abdullah al Tunisi, who implored both Muslim scholars and men to fight in Syria as part of their obligation to wage jihad.
Al Tunisi’s call for clerics to preach on the battlefield echoes that of slain al Qaeda ideologue Abu Yahya al Libi, who, before his death in a US drone strike, would routinely castigate preachers who refused to fight in the theaters of jihad.
“You are also a role model for people, so when you talk about jihad, the scholars here must proceed to the land of jihad first for people to follow them,” al Tunisi said. “We shouldn’t lecture to people about jihad, jihad, jihad, and then we find the scholars and reciters staying at their homes or accepting to be among those who stay behind. Don’t say we are in a front and we bear the burden of preaching, for here is the place for preaching, and here is the place for the Caliphate.”
“You lecture about jihad and explain about jihad, so take the path of jihad,” he later said.
Al Tunisi also advised “the Muslim youth in general and the youth of Tunisia in particular” to join the fight, and called on Muslim “mothers and sisters” to “incite the youth for jihad and deployment.”
Background on the Muhajireen Army
The Muhajireen Army is commanded by Abu Omar al Chechen, a jihadist from Russia’s Caucasus region. Hundreds of fighters from the Islamic Caucasus Emirate are thought to be in the ranks of the Muhajireen Army.
In the past, the group has been known to fight alongside the Al Nusrah Front and has participated in overrunning several Syrian military bases with the al Qaeda affiliate.
In June, the Muhajireen Army, which does not have its own official propaganda media outlet, claimed credit for two suicide assaults on an airbase in Aleppo and for shooting down a Syrian Army helicopter using a surface-to-air missile.
At the end of March, Abu Omar al Chechen announced that the Muhajireen Brigade, which at the time consisted primarily of foreign fighters, had merged with several Syrian jihadist groups and formed the Muhajireen Army. The group has “more than 1,000 Mujahideen, Muslim volunteers from different countries, including the Caucasus Emirate,” stated Kavkaz Center, a propaganda arm of the al Qaeda-linked Islamic Caucasus Emirate.
The Muhajireen Army, the Al Nusrah Front, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant are considered to be the fighting units of choice for the more than 700 European jihadists estimated to be fighting in Syria.