Terrorism Profiles

Jabhat Al-Nusra (Al-Nusra Front)

Alternative Names:

Jabhet al-Nusra, The Victory Front, Al-Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, Jabhat Al-Nusra li-Ahl al-Sham min Mujahedi al-Sham fi Sahat al-Jihad (The Support Front for the People of the Levant by the Levantine Mujahedin on the Battlefields of Jihad), the Front for the Defense of the Syrian People and the Front for the Support of the Syrian People.

Location:

Syria

In 2013, Jabhat al-Nusra (al-Nusra) was active in 11 of 13 Syrian provinces. In January 2014, al-Nusra controlled dozens of Syrian towns and villages establishing Sharia courts and performing government services. 

Leadership:

Al-Nusra is secretive about its exact leadership structure, however, the organization is led by Abu Muhammad al-Julani and supervised by a Shura Council. Statements made by al-Nusra and public expulsions of individuals have suggested that the group has faced challenges with dissent in leadership.

Hamid Hamad Hamid al-Ali is a former Al Qaida member who has served as a leader for al-Nusra. He is credited with raising tens of thousands of dollars for the group, and organizing foreign individuals travel to Syria to join al-Nusra.

Muhsin al Fadhli (Unknown to July 21, 2015) was the alleged leader of the highly secretive Khorasan Group, an Al Qaida cell reportedly harboured by al-Nusra. He was killed in a U.S. drone strike in July 2015.

Saleh al-Hamawi, also known as Abu Mohammed (2011 to 2015) was a founding member of al-Nusra. Julani and the Shura Council expelled him from his leadership role. Hamawi was expelled for believing the group was too heavily focused on global jihadist groups, and not focused enough on Syria and Iraq.

Abu Muhammad al-Julani (February 2012 to Present) is a founding al-Nusra member and its current leader. He was originally a member of Al Qaida in Iraq/the Islamic State (AQI/IS) that transitioned to Syria and formed al-Nusra.  

Sami al-Oreidi, also known as Abu Mahmoud al-Shami (2014 to Present), is the top religious figure in al-Nusra.

Membership:

Estimates have been made by various organizations as to the size of al-Nusra’s membership. The most recent estimate made by the RAND Corporation states that al-Nusra has between 5,000 and 6,000 fighters.

Al-Nusra is second only to IS in attracting foreign fighters. These fighters are mostly from the Middle East, however, some also are from Chechnya, European states, and a smaller amount from further away countries like the U.S. and Australia. Al-Julani has claimed that al-Nusra’s fighting force is approximately 30% foreign fighters.

Funding Sources:

Al-Nusra’s funding largely comes from foreign donors. Many of its resources and equipment have been acquired from existing military equipment in Syria. Before its dispute, al-Nusra allegedly acquired half of its operating budget from AQI/IS. The acquisition of equipment from within Syria, former support from AQI/IS and al-Nusra’s foreign donors have made it one of the best equipped groups in the Syrian conflict.

Origins

Al-Nusra was formed in late 2011, when AQI/IS emir Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi sent al-Julani to Syria to organize jihadist cells in the region. By 2012, al-Nusra began to rise in prominence among rebel organizations in Syria for its reliable supply of arms, funding and foreign fighters. This supply chain came from a combination of foreign donation and the group’s ties to AQI/IS.

The group’s reputation grew among rebels and the Syrian population, eventually resulting in the U.S. designating it a terrorist organization in December 2012.

In 2013, tensions developed between al-Nusra and AQI/IS, when Bagdadi unilaterally proclaimed the two had merged to create the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Julani acknowledged that AQI had aided al-Nusra, but rejected the merger and renewed his pledge to Al Qaida leader al-Zawahiri. Tensions grew further when a number of al-Nusra fighters defected to IS.

Major Attacks:

January 6, 2012: A suicide bomber blew up buses that were carrying riot police to an anti-government protest in Damascus. (26 killed, 63 wounded)

May 10, 2012: Two suicide bombing attacks in Damascus. (55 killed, unknown wounded)

October 3, 2012: Three suicide bombers detonated car bombs in the centre of Aleppo. (12+ killed, unknown wounded)

November 5, 2012: Suicide bombing in Hama. (50+killed, unknown wounded)

January 24, 2013: Targeted the Syrian Military Intelligence headquarters in Damascus with a suicide bombing. (53 killed, unknown wounded)

February 10, 2013: Fighters, working with other rebel forces, took over an army encampment in Tabqa, securing large amounts of artillery and ammunition and giving them control of a key checkpoint in the town. (unknown wounded)

May 25, 2014: American citizen Abu Huraira al-Amriki carried out a suicide truck bombing in Idlib in what is believed to be the first instance of an American conducting a suicide attack in Syria. (No reported casualties)

November 3, 2014: Attacked and defeated the Syrian Revolutionary Front (SRF) and Harakat Hazzm in Idlib. (Casualties unknown)

March 2015: Attacks forced the U.S.-backed Harakat Hazzm to dissolve. Al- Nusra seized U.S. weapons from Harakat Hazzm after its defeat. (Casualties unknown)

March 2015: Alongside other rebel groups, al-Nusra seized the city of Idlib from the government after leading other Islamist groups in the battle for the city for months. It was the first time that rebel groups controlled the city of Idlib since the outbreak of the civil war. Throughout April and May, al-Nusra and its Islamist allies carried out a successful campaign to seize control of the remaining towns in the province of Idlib. (Casualties unknown)

July 31, 2015: Kidnapped several members of D30, a rebel group that received weapons and training from the U.S. and then attacked the group again a few days later. (5+ killed, 18+ wounded, 20+ captured)

Ideological Roots:

Al-Nusra shares many of the ideological roots as AQI and its eventual successor IS. The group is an Islamist, Salafi and Sunni militant group who seeks to institute a new religious state in Syria. Julani later confirmed that the creation of an Islamic state would only occur under the consensus from “sincere mujahideen and the pious scholars.” Julani argued that all factions would be involved in deciding whether or not to make Syria an Islamic State.

Objectives:

Jabhat Al-Nusra aims to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Al Assad’s Ba’athist regime, establish an Islamic state and expel the minority Alawite and Christian communities from Syria.

Tactics:

Al-Nusra targets Assad’s government forces and groups that support the regime, such as Hezbollah, and a group tied to the U.S. The group’s involvement in the war began with suicide and car bombings, which predominately targeted government forces.

In 2012, as membership increased, al-Nusra began to take part in more conventional military style operations. The group attacked regime bases, airports, checkpoints; maintained no-fly zones with anti-aircraft weaponry; and taken and governed territory as a more traditional military unit.

Al-Nusra has also conducted kidnappings to raise money through ransom and to motivate political and military action.

Updated on December 22, 2015. 

References


  1. “Jabhat al-Nusra.” Mapping Militant Organizations. Stanford University. Last Modified October 31, 2015. Accessed December 21, 2015. http://web.stanford.edu/group/mappingmilitants/cgi-bin/groups/view/493?highlight=al+nusra
  2. “Currently Listed Entities.” Public Safety Canada. Government of Canada. Last Modified November 20, 2014. Accessed December 21, 2015. http://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/ntnl-scrt/cntr-trrrsm/lstd-ntts/crrnt-lstd-ntts-eng.aspx#2049
  3. “Al-Nusrah Front.” Terrorist Groups. The National Counterterrorism Center. Accessed November 19, 2015. http://www.nctc.gov/site/groups/al_nusrah.html
  4. “Al-Nusra Front.” Global Terrorism Database. Accessed December 21, 2015. http://www.start.umd.edu/gtd/search/Results.aspx?charttype=pie&chart=attack&casualties_type=&casualties_max=&perpetrator=40103
  5. “Profile: Syria’s al-Nusra Front.” BBC World News. Last Modified April 10, 2013. Accessed December 21, 2015.http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-18048033
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