Center for Strategic Communication

The Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, and an allied jihadist group known as the Ansar al Khilafah have both claimed credit for taking control of a town near the city of Aleppo and killing more than 100 soldiers. Both groups have conducted joint operations in the past.

The Ansar al Khilafah, or Supporters of the Caliphate, released a video showing the aftermath of the execution of more than 50 Syrian soldiers and officers following the takeover of the town. The video has since been removed by YouTube for violating its “policy on shocking and disgusting content.”

The mass execution took place after fighters from the Ansar al Khilafah seized the town of Khan al Asal, according to the the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which reports on Syria’s civil war.

“Activists from the town of Khan al Asal have confirmed to the Syrian Observatory that more than 150 regime forces were killed by the rebels who took over the town of Khan al Asal on the 22nd and 23rd of July,” the Syrian watchdog reported on its Facebook page. “About 51 of the casualties were summarily executed by the rebels, they include about 30 officers and line officers.”

Footage of the aftermath of the massacre was published on YouTube. The bodies of dozens of men in and out of uniform are seen in various locations in the town. Some appear to have been executed. Heavily armed men chant “Allahu Akbar” (“Allah is greatest”) at the end of the video.

Meanwhile, the Al Nusrah Front has also claimed to have “liberated” the town of Khan al Asal, in a detailed statement that was released on jihadist forums on July 23. The statement was obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group. Several images of the aftermath of the assault were released with the statement; one was nearly identical to a scene in the video published by Ansar al Khilafah.

The Al Nusrah Front said it launched a multi-pronged attack on the town, with mortars and rockets supporting an infantry assault. The town was taken after two days of heavy fighting.

The al Qaeda affiliate claimed that more than 100 Syrian soldiers and officers were killed, including two brigadier generals and a colonel, and that 21 more, including a colonel, were captured. The Al Nusrah Front said that “elements of the so-called Hezbollah” were fighting alongside the Syrian military.

Khan al Asal is a controversial town that has long been contested by the Syrian government and rebel forces. In March, both the Syrian government and rebels accused each other of using chemical weapons in the town.

Although neither jihadist group said that it fought alongside the other to seize the town, both have fought together against the Syrian military in the past. Additionally, elements of the Ansar al Khilafah may indeed be part of the Al Nusrah Front.

Background on Ansar al Khilafah

The Ansar al Khilafah in Aleppo was formed in December 2012 [see LWJ report, Syrian jihadists form ‘Supporters of the Khilafah’ Brigade]. A video on the formation of the group was released on YouTube, showing a commander surrounded by scores of heavily armed fighters, and children with several black banners of jihad flying among the crowd. The group’s commander pledged to impose sharia and establish a caliphate.

“We will work with the sincere people of our Ummah (Muslim community) to establish the Islamic Khilafah State,” the commander vowed. He said the group pledged to bring down the “wicked plan: the plan of a Democratic state.”

The Supporters of the Khilafah also indicated that they will seek to take the fight outside Syria.

“And that we will work with the sincere people of our Ummah [the worldwide Muslim community] to establish the Islamic Khilafah state, and to use it to end decades of colonization and enslavement,” the statement said. “And to return to the way we were — as the nobles of the East and the West.”

The Ansar al Khilafah also cautioned “our brothers” against taking Western aid and weapons.

The Aleppo group is made up of five brigades: Ansar al Shariah, Abdullah Ibn Al Zubeir, the Men of Allah, the Martyr Mustafa Abdul Razzaq, and the Swords of the Most Compassionate. A US intelligence official told The Long War Journal in December 2012 that the groups are local units that are part of the Al Nusrah Front.

One month later, in January 2013, a branch of Ansar al Khilafah was formed in Homs. In a video released on YouTube, a commander reads a short statement from a laptop that announces the formation of the group. Heavily armed fighters surround the commander as the black flag of jihad waves in the background.

“We have an absolute belief in the obligation of implementing the sharia [Islamic law] in all aspects of life, and the institutions of the State and resumption of the Islamic way of life,” the Homs commander states.

The Ansar al Khilafah has fought alongside the Al Nusrah Front for the People in the Levant, an al Qaeda affiliate in Syria. The Al Nusrah Front released a statement on July 12 that said it, along with the Ansar al Khilafah and another rebel faction known as the Amjad Al Islam Brigade (“Greater Glory of Islam Brigade”), killed 22 Syrian soldiers near Khan al Asal. The statement was obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.

In the statement, the Al Nusrah Front said that it served as “a planner and executor of the operation,” while the Ansar al Khilafah and Amjad al Islam “cut off the roads and supplies” so Syrian forces could not react to the attack.

Video announcing the formation of Ansar al Khilafah in Aleppo:

Video announcing the formation of Ansar al Khilafah in Homs: