An alleged biography of Abu Muhammad al-Julani – Some Ideas

In this post I will compile some sources and comment on what is supposed to be known about Jabhat an-Nusra’s leader

Ever since The Quilliam Foundation published it’s article on Jabhat an-Nusra there has been some speculation about the identity of their leader Abū Muhammad al-Jūlānī

The Leader of Jabhat al- Nusra

The leader of JN is a man who goes by the name of Abu Mohammad al-
Julani. A jihadist source confirmed to us that his name reflects his family ties to the area of the Golan Heights not currently under Israeli occupation. Considerable doubt still exists about the identity of al-Julani, and sources tell us that his face is always covered in meetings, even with other leaders.
Al-Julani is thought to be a Syrian jihadist with suspected close ties to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). His details are a closelyguarded secret, so much so that most JN members do not know much about their leader. This tactic of isolation follows the AQI model of behaviour, in which leaders keep themselves away from the media, only associate with specific military units and ensure that their movements are heavily dominated by security arrangements. Our investigation has indicated that al-Julani could bea Syrian member of Al-Zarqawi’s core followers during the campaign in Iraq. Although al-Julani’s identity remains unconfirmed, by investigating al-Zarqawi’s old network and using the process of elimination, we have narrowed down possible candidates to one individual. This man is mysterious, having been reported killed twice, in Iraq in 2006 and Syria in 2008. There is debate over whether his nationality is Iraqi or Syrian. Both of the experts we consulted, one a journalist and the other a retired senior intelligence official in Iraq, shared our theory on the identity of al-Julani. Both spoke of the ambiguity of the fate of this man, and neither was convinced of his death. As our investigation is still ongoing, we will not release the name of our suspect at this time.

After this important update, however, research on this man’s identity kind of stopped. After Assad’s media claimed al-Jūlānī got killed, on November 4th news got spread, an alleged biography of Jabhat an-Nusra’s leader Abū Muhammad al-Jūlānī was published.

The original article was published here. I recommend reading the article before reading what follwos.

Here are some of my ideas on this matter:

It is known that Abū Muhammad al-Jūlānī joined al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) under Abu Musab az-Zarqawi’s leadership and ascended in the ranks of AQI:

A native of Syria, he joined the insurgency after moving to Iraq, regional intelligence officials say. There, he advanced through al-Qaida’s ranks and eventually returned to Syria shortly after the uprising against Assad began in March 2011.

The man is an enigma really, nobody knows him. Yet here’s another detail: Iraqi, Jordanian and Lebanese security officials describe the 39-year-old al-Golani as one of the top leaders of al-Qaida.

And then the details come up:

After al-Zarqawi was killed by a U.S. airstrike in 2006, al-Golani left Iraq, briefly staying in Lebanon, where he offered logistical support for the Jund al-Sham militant group, which follows al-Qaida’s extremist ideology, the officials said.

He returned to Iraq to continue fighting but was arrested by the U.S. military and held at Camp Bucca, a sprawling prison on Iraq’s southern border with Kuwait. At that camp, where the U.S. military held tens of thousands of suspected militants, he taught classical Arabic to other prisoners, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were revealing information from secret files.

After his release from prison in 2008, al-Golani resumed his militant work, this time alongside Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of al-Qaida in Iraq — also known as the Islamic State of Iraq. He was soon appointed head of al-Qaida operations in Mosul province.

Shortly after the Syrian uprising began, al-Golani moved into Syrian territory and, fully supported by al-Baghdadi, formed the Nusra Front, which was first announced in January 2012.

And the details keep on following:

A leader of Jordan’s ultra-Orthodox and banned Salafi movement said al-Baghdadi sent al-Golani and Abu Jleibeen, a senior al-Qaida operative who has a relationship by marriage to al-Zarqawi, to fight in Syria, where al-Golani was named “general emir” of Nusra and Abu Jlebeeb an emir of the southern Daraa province, birthplace of the Syrian uprising.

The U.S. State Department, which placed Nusra on its list of terrorist organizations in December 2012, said the group has claimed nearly 600 attacks, including suicide attacks, small-arms operations and bombings in major cities.

“Through these attacks, al-Nusra has sought to portray itself as part of the legitimate Syrian opposition while it is, in fact, an attempt by al-Qaida in Iraq to hijack the struggles of the Syrian people for its own malign purposes,” the department said.

Al-Golani gained prominence in April, when he rejected an attempted takeover of Nusra by al-Baghdadi, revealing a widening rift within al-Qaida’s global network. Al-Golani distanced himself from claims that the two groups had merged into a group called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), as announced by al-Baghdadi.

Instead, he pledged allegiance directly to al-Qaida’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, who was said to be against al-Baghdadi’s bid to merge both groups, and said his group will continue to use Jabhat al-Nusra as its name.


Al-Golani himself was listed by the State Department as a “specially designated global terrorist” in May.


[Jabhat an-Nusra] is more popular in Syria than the ISIL, which is largely made up of foreign fighters and has been criticized for its brutality and for trying to impose a strict version of Islamic law in areas under its control.

Nusra, by contrast, is made up mostly of Syrians, many of whom fought American forces in Iraq.


A Jordanian security official said only the top echelon in al-Qaida know al-Golani’s real name, but he’s commonly known to them as “Al Sheikh Al Fateh,” the Conqueror Sheik. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to make statements to journalists.

As you might have noticed things don’t add up. Quilliam states clearly the man is unknown, but suddenly after a report he got killed, details about the man’s identity and role were made public. And here’s where you can start asking yourself whether all these details are just made up or general knowledge among (some) US officials. The claim he was arrested by US troops raises even more questions. If he really was arrested at the time US government should have a pretty detailed report on the man. All of this however isn’t clear at all, based on the official information available al-Jūlānī remains “unknown”. Even Jabhat an-Nusra sources remain silent.

On December 15 a new claim was published by some Syrian sources that al-Jūlānī got killed near Dar’ā:

On December 25, 2013, Iraqi security officials leaked this photo of the man:

Alleged picture of Abū Muhammad al-Jūlānī, known in Arabic as as-Shaykh al-Fatih – الشيخ الفاتح


As for now I can only conclude that the fog around Jabhat an-Nusra’s leader is thicker than ever. Future will point out what will stand …


On December 18 al-Jazeera broadcasted part of an interview with al-Jūlānī

Here is the video

On December 19 al-Jazeera published the full interview:


It’s sources remain unknown …

5 comments on “An alleged biography of Abu Muhammad al-Julani – Some Ideas

  1. shelly says:

    can you provide a translation please of this interview with him.

  2. […] al-Julani, the leaders of ISI and Nusra, respectively, see these posts by Pieter van Ostaeyen: 1, 2) Unconfirmed reports have recently claimed that Hajji Bakr has been killed Tel Raf’at, in Aleppo […]

  3. […] al-Julani, the leaders of ISI and Nusra, respectively, see these posts by Pieter van Ostaeyen: 1, 2) Unconfirmed reports have recently claimed that Hajji Bakr has been killed Tel Raf’at, in Aleppo […]

  4. […] Al-Julani, whose family is from the Golan Heights, fought US troops in Iraq alongside Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia there. He was captured and spent time at the American prison camp in Iraq, Camp Bucca. He became close to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq, the successor to al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia. But al-Julani has since broken with al-Baghdadi, now the leader of Daesh (ISIS, ISIL), on orders of core al-Qaeda leader al-Zawahiri. […]

  5. free opinon says:

    i believe he is a made up identity with so many stories given to us to throw us off to believe such person exists if he really existed he would have been known in the past to put it lightly his story is as real as superman its fiction i
    but you need to create such identity for such a cause lets remind each other in thr end as he will probably be killed by an american raid with body again dumped at sea lol ,,they owed the american people to catch him alive and interigate him surely it would have been a wealth of info or maybe they didnt wont the world to know the truth!!!

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