Center for Strategic Communication

Al Qaeda in Iraq claimed credit for the March 4 attack in Anbar province that killed 48 Syrian soldiers who were fleeing their civil war and nine Iraqi troops who were escorting them to Baghdad. The Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, claimed to have ‘liberated’ the border crossing the day before the Syrian troops fled and were ambushed.

The Islamic State of Iraq, which is al Qaeda in Iraq’s political front, released a statement yesterday on jihadist forums that claimed credit for the attack. The statement was obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.

“The preparation for this invasion began after the blessed operations carried out by our brothers in Syria to purify the land from the filthiness of the Nusayris [Alawhites], and after the liberation of the “al-Yarabiyah” crossing, which pushed tens of the Syrian regime’s soldiers and [thugs] to escape towards the Safavid [Iranian] army of the Baghdad government,” the al Qaeda in Iraq statement said, according to the SITE translation.

The “brothers in Syria” are fighters from the Al Nusrah Front, which is in fact al Qaeda in Iraq’s Syrian affiliate. In a statement released by the group on March 9, the Al Nusrah Front claimed it seized control of the al Yarabiyah crossing.

“Allah enabled your brothers in the Al Nusrah Front, in participation with some of the mujahideen brigades, to liberate the city of al-Yarabiyah in Hasaka province and its border crossing with Iraq,” the Syrian terror group said in a statement that was obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.

“They killed a large number of apostates after targeting their headquarters with mortars, while the rest withdrew to the inside of the Iraqi borders and fortified themselves there and started firing at the mujahideen, in participation with the Iraqi forces, which led to the martyrdom of 3 brothers,” the Al Nusrah Front statement continued.

Al Qaeda in Iraq said it carried out the March 4 ambush after monitoring the movement of the Syrian and Iraqi convoy. The Iraqi terror group claimed the Iraqi military was seeking to move the Syrian troops back into Syria via the “al-Walid crossing, or one of the unofficial crossings that are close to it.”

Describing the attack, al Qaeda in Iraq said it “spread ambushes on the road leading to those exits,” which included IED, machine-gun, and rocket and mortar attacks. The area “became a graveyard in which the blood of the filthy ones from the Rafidah [Shi’ites] and Nusaryis mixed.” The Iraqi terror group claimed it then fought off numerous attempts by the Iraqi military and even repelled a helicopter assault.

The attack in Anbar and the seizure of the border crossing in Syria serve to highlight both the al Qaeda resurgence in Iraq, and the growing power of its affiliate, the Al Nusrah Front, inside Syria. With the takeover of the Yarabiyah crossing and major towns and cities such as Raqqah, the Al Nusrah Front and its allies have effectively seized control of the Euphrates River Valley and have secured lines of communication with its parent group inside Iraq [see LWJ reports, Al Nusrah front spearheads capture of Syrian dam, claims suicide assault, and Al Nusrah Front seizes control of Syrian city of Raqqah].

The Obama administration has claimed that al Qaeda has been largely defeated after drone strikes killed some of the terror group’s top leaders in Pakistan. But al Qaeda in Iraq has been able to regenerate its strength since the US withdrawal from Iraq at the end of 2011. Al Qaeda in Iraq has stood up al Qaeda’s most effective affiliate, the Al Nusrah Front, which boasts 10,000 fighters and is capable of overrunning Syrian military units and seizing control of towns, cities, dams, and military bases.