A lot of stuff happens in Syria these days, we had the massacres in al-Bayda and Baniyas, we witness the battle for al-Qusayr and the Hezbollah invasion in support of al-Assad, we heard about the regular use of chemical weapons, about Europe’s sanctions against Syria suffering a critical meltdown. That, and about 150 people that get killed daily …
But on a whole other front, parts of the opposition seem to be struggling with their own identity. The best example can be found in last month’s reporting by (and mainly about) Jabhat an-Nusra. After Ayman az-Zawahiri’s audio-message was released early April and the following reactions by the leaders of ISI (The Islamic State of Iraq) and Jabhat an-Nusra; there appeared to be some kind of schism within the al-Qaeda related groups in Syria.
All this left room for massive speculation; why would Jabhat an-Nusra remain silent ? What was to come was an officious form of communication only. The name Jabhat an-Nusra appeared occasionally, for example when the temporary coalition in revenge of the massacres of al-Bayda and Baniyas was announced (see previous post).
And then the first videos appeared where the name Jabhat an-Nusra wasn’t even used any more. There were several posts on different social media where JN was replaced by ISIS. The banner of Jabhat an-Nusra wasn’t used any more, it got replaced by the flag of al-Qaeda in Iraq (or ISI). For a moment it seemed that Jabhat an-Nusra was scored out by ISI, some even went that far as to declare that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was absolutely right in his claims and that Jabhat an-Nusra seized to exist.
And indeed mid-May more and more reports like these kept appearing. Perhaps the most striking was the killing of three alleged al-Assad officers in the strategic city of ar-Raqqa. On May 14 the Islamic State in Iraq and as-Sham appeared on of the central squares in ar-Raqqa, the black flag on the monument wasn’t the usual Nusra flag but the al-Qaeda one. (See previous post).
Because of this video the speculations only spread faster. It was widely believed that Jabhat an-Nusra was out of the picture. The Islamic State in Iraq and as-Sham took over … When al-Manara al-Bayda was taken down, conclusions were made by (some) Western media.
On May 17 Reuters published an article boldly stating that Jabhat an-Nusra had ceased to exist, ISIS had taken over. Yet some analysts reacted; so did @ElSaltador wrote: ‘Jabhat an-Nusra is still involved in at least four new combined offensives. an-Nusra fights under it’s own banner in defending Homs, participating in the Revenge of Banyas campaign in Idlib, the Battle of Furqan in Damascus and the Deraa offensive. Furthermore they still have an active role in defending the Hama countryside and fighting Hezbollah near the Sayyida Zaynab shrine in Damascus.’
About a week ago I concluded that Jabhat an-Nusra’s role in the Syrian Jihad was far from over. Although it was reported that Abu Bakra al-Baghdadi went to the Aleppo countryside to straighten things out, Jabhat an-Nusra still had a major role in the West of Syria. The Battle of Qusayr (see map) was a new opportunity for Jabhat an-Nusra to re-profile itself as the spearhead of the war on al-Assad and Hezbollah.
Yet, with new reports reaching us on the matter one might wonder what is really going on. We will still have to wait for official announcements by ISI(S) and / or Jabhat an-Nusra but we witnessed some new evolvements.
An apparent new logo for ISIS:
Yet, in this video we see another (rare) appearance of the Jabhat an-Nusra banner:
But what should we make of this ? It would seem that in the regio of Dara’ Jabhat an-Nusra gained a new level of independence, even using it’s own new banner:
On May 29, the Dara’ branch of Jabhat an-Nusra published an independent (semi-official) statement as published on http://www.as-ansar.com/vb/showthread.php?t=90319
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
(قاتلوهم يعذبهم الله بأيديكم ويخزهم وينصركم عليهم ويشفي صدور قوم مؤمنين )
ثأرا لإخواننا في القصير ونصرة لهم ولأهل السنة قام إخوانكم في جبهة النصرة بالتعاون مع لواء الحرمين التابع لحركة أحرار الشام الإسلامية ، لواء القادسية الإسلامي ، لواء اليرموك ،لواء الفلوجة ، لواء محمد بن عبدالله, لواء حافظ مقداد ,كتيبة أسود السنة , كتيبة مصعب بن عمير الإسلامية,
بالشروع في معركة تحرير بصرى الشام التي وعدت بها جبهة النصرة من قبل وطرد شراذم الروافض الأنجاس من أراضي أهل السنة والمجريات على الأرض بفضل الله ومنته أفضل مما نتوقع وقد تم بحمد الله تحرير طريق الكورنيش الشمالي الذي كان مغلقا من قبل الروافض، ومنطقة الفلل المؤدية إلى حاجز برد، مازالت المعركة مستمرة حتى الآن، ونقول لأهلنا في درعا عامة وفي بصرى الشام خاصة أن دماءنا قبل دمائكم وأبناءنا قبل أبنائكم وأموالنا قبل أموالكم ، الدم الدم والهدم الهدم ، وبهذا نتوعد كل من يعتدي على أهل السنة بهذا المآل .
( ولله العزة ولرسوله وللمؤمنين )
المجلس العسكري في جبهة النصرة ولاية درعا
After all, one might conclude that the al-Qaeda supreme command can hardly call itself pleased with this apparant schism within it’s ranks. A new, official, communication by either side seems necessary to stop these insinuations.
Thanks to my appreciated sources: