On the same day the US government announced that al Qaeda in Iraq’s Al Nusrah Front was a terrorist organization, Al Nusrah and nine other jihadist groups banded together in the Syrian province of Deir al Zour and formed a Mujahideen Shura Council.
The 10 jihadist groups, headed by the Al Nusrah Front, released a statement yesterday announcing the council’s formation “on jihadist forums and pro-Syrian resistance social networking sites,” according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which obtained and translated the message.
“The jihadi Islamic brigades in the city of proud Deir al Zour in the Levant of Islam and garrison announce the establishment of the Mujahideen Shura Council in Deir al-Zour,” the statement said, according to SITE. The groups that joined the Mujahideen Shura Council in Deir al Zour are listed at the beginning of the statement, in the following order:
1. Al Nusrah Front
2. Al Ansar Brigades
3. Al Abbas Brigades
4. La Ilaha Ila Allah [There is No God but Allah] Battalion
5. Al Hamza Brigade
6. Al Sa’qah Brigade
7. Jund al Aziz Brigade
8. Izzuddin al Qassam Brigade
9. Abu al Qassam Brigade
10. Brigade of the Da’wa [Preaching] and Jihad Front
The Mujahideen Shura Council in Deir al Zour was formed to “unite the ranks of the jihadi brigades in the Cause of Allah, organize the efforts and the attacks against the soldiers of disbelief and apostasy, and distinguish the ranks of truth from falsehood,” the group stated.
“We call upon our sincere mujahideen brothers all over the strong Levant to unite their ranks in groups, pure of the filth of suspicious groups and the infiltration of people who have no qualities or faith, in order to clarify their banner and purify their path,” the statement continued.
Jihadist groups in Syria uniting
Jihadist groups in Syria are “beginning to coalesce under a single command, and are following the lead of the Al Nusrah Front,” a US intelligence official familiar with the situation in Syria told The Long War Journal.
“Al Nusrah isn’t the only jihadist group operating in Syria, but as part of al Qaeda’s franchise it has access to its resources and expertise,” the intelligence official continued. “Al Nusrah has the cachet to organize the local jihadists and integrate them.”
“The influence of the jihadist groups in Syria, and their prowess on the battlefield, is being vastly underestimated,” the official said. “Al Qaeda, through the Nusrah Front, is working to unite these disparate jihadist groups, just as it did in Iraq.”
In the summer of 2006, al Qaeda in Iraq formed the Mujahideen Shura Council to coordinate operations with various jihadist groups operating in Iraq. Later that year, al Qaeda in Iraq formed the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) to serve as the political front, and the Mujahideen Shura Council was folded in under the ISI’s military wing.
Just two months ago, jihadists in Gaza formed the Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem. Israeli intelligence officials believe the group was created for the purpose of uniting the al Qaeda-linked groups operating in Gaza.
The formation of the Mujahideen Shura Council in Deir al Zour takes place less than one month after 14 jihadist groups based in the Syrian city of Aleppo banded together to reject the newly formed National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces. Instead, the 14 groups, which include the Al Nusrah Front, called for the establishment of “a just Islamic State.”
Syrian opposition groups unite around Al Nusrah Front
Just as the US designated the Al Nusrah Front as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, calling it an “alias” of al Qaeda in Iraq and saying it was under the command of AQI emir Abu Du’a, 29 Syrian opposition groups rallied to support Al Nusrah, according to The Telegraph. The 29 opposition groups “signed a petition calling for mass demonstrations in support of” Al Nusrah.
“The petition is promoting the slogan ‘No to American intervention, for we are all Jabhat al Nusrah’ and urges supporters to ‘raise the Jabhat al Nusrah flag’ as a ‘thank you,” The Telegraph reported.
“These are the men for the people of Syria, these are the heroes who belong to us in religion, in blood and in revolution,” a statement on Syrian opposition Facebook pages said.
The spokesman for the Deir al Zour Revolutionary Council told The Telegraph that the Al Nusrah Front “is the strongest group here” and that the Free Syrian Army has selected commanders in the area that are “not representative” of the fighters in the province.
US recognizes the Syrian National Coalition
Despite the strong support for the Al Nusrah Front in Syrian opposition ranks, the US government has decided to recognize the Syrian National Coalition.
Last week, the Syrian National Coalition established a joint military command that is dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and individuals linked to the various Salafist-jihadist groups.
“Its composition, estimated to be two-thirds from the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies, reflects the growing strength of Islamist fighters on the ground and resembles that of the civilian opposition leadership coalition created under Western and Arab auspices in Qatar last month, France 24 reported.
Senior military officers who defected from the Assad regime as well as military commanders opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists were excluded from the joint command.
For more information on the Al Nusrah Front, see LWJ reports, US adds Al Nusrah Front, 2 leaders to terrorism list, and Al Nusrah Front, foreign jihadists seize key Syrian base in Aleppo.