Jabhat Al-Nusra

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Nusra Flag.png
Old logo used on Jabhat al-Nusra videos

Jabhat al-Nusra is a Salafist fighting group in Syria, formed in July 2011 as the initially unofficial Syrian wing of al Qaeda in Iraq[1][2] and allied with - but rejecting the perceived pro-West constraints on - the Free Syrian Army (FSA). The group is also called al-Nusra Front (Arabic: جبهة النصرة لأهل الشام‎ Jabhat al-Nusra li-Ahl al-Sham, meaning: "The Support Front for the People of the Levant [Greater Syria]") and bears the flag shown at right. [3] Generally considered one of the most effective and best-supported groups in the struggle against Syria's government (sometimes called "Syria's Best Rebel Fighters"), they became infamous for gross violations of Human Rights and were listed by the United States as a terrorist organization - in fact, as a different name for the organisation also known as Al-Qaeda in Iraq - in December 2012. More than one and a half years later on June 3, 2014, Turkey, often-accused of aiding al-Nusra, finally designated the group a terrorist organization as well.[4] According to some reports, only two weeks later it was removed from the list of terrorist organizations again.[5] As late as October 25, 2015, the Israeli cabinet declared the Nusra front and ISIS terrorist organisations.[6] In late July 2016 the group changed its name to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and formally split from al Qaeda.[7] In late January 2017 it merged with other Islamist groups into Hayyat Tahrir al-Sham under unified leadership.[8]


US journalist Martin Smith meets al-Nusra leader al Jolani in Idlib in January 2021

A January 2013 "strategic briefing" by Noman Benotman and Roisin Blake of the anti-extremist think-tank Quilliam Foundation gives a quite detailed report of origins, goals and strategy of the organization.[9] In February 2013 a leading Jihadi internet forum produced a "comprehensive strategy for Syria" paper in a collaborative effort which mentions Al-Nusra several times as "our brothers on the ground" and shines further light on ideology, goals and strategy. It was translated into English by Cole Bunzel of the monitoring site "Jihadica" in late February.[10]

Contrary to groups like the FSA, the fall of the Assad government is only a short-term goal for al-Nusra, while the end-goal is to establish an Islamist caliphate in all of what they call Bilad al-Sham (The Land of Sem) - not the modern Republic of Syria in its present borders - but basically the whole Levant including Jordan, Lebanon, Israel/Palestine and the present Turkish province of Hatay (ar: Iskandaroun). This caliphate would eventually encompass the whole Muslim world.

Jabhat al-Nusra is against democracy on principle, claiming that it is God and not mankind, who is the supreme authority. The people in a Muslim country, for example, does not have the right to oppose the introduction of Shari'ah laws. But the organization can accept elections inside an Islamic system provided that non-Muslims do not have a say, except in their own internal affairs.

The organization's problem with the Assad regime has thus nothing to do with democracy or freedom. The main problem is that this regime is secular and dominated by an apostate sect that should be put to death. The fact that Syria's population is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim compounds this problem. al-Nusra's mother organization "The Islamic State of Iraq" (al-Qaeda in Iraq), however, have the same line although Iraq has a Sunni minority. The schism of late 2013 between Al Nusra and ISIS, which had by then developed out of "The Islamic State of Iraq", was primarily about leadership and methods, with ISIS refusing to follow orders of formal al-Qaeda head Zawahiri.

al-Nusra, like many al-Qa'eda groups, is extremely sectarian and takfiri. The followers of other religions other than Islam, as well as Muslims not adhering to its own salafist interpretation of this religion, are counted as kuffar (infidels). Followers of other monotheist religions such as Judaism and Christianity can be tolerated as long as the Muslims have all the power. Members of other muslim sects, such as Shias and Alawis, as well as secular Muslims, are generally considered apostates who have converted from true Islam and therefore should be punished by death. The Economist asked a Nusra fighter what would be the fate of the Alawis of Syria:

"Allah knows what will happen to them. There is a difference between the basic kuffar [infidels] and those who converted from Islam. If the latter, we must punish them. Alawites are included. Even Sunnis who want democracy are kuffar as are all Shia. It’s not about who is loyal and who isn’t to the regime; it’s about their religion. Sharia says there can be no punishment of the innocent and there must be punishment of the bad; that’s what we follow."[11]

An Effective Force

The New York Times reported how rebel fighters had come to value Al-Nusra "because of its fighters’ bravery and reliable supply of money and arms." Further, they reported the Front "has never come under the banner of the Free Syrian Army, shunning the Western aid and input that other groups have sought, but it coordinates closely with many who do." [12]

(more forthcoming...)

A Criminal Force

The group has been identified as involved in a number of heinous and criminal acts across Syria, with a handy partial list at the Wikipedia page. Jabhat Al-Nusra was one of the few groups to explicitly refuse recognizing UN envoy Brahimi's late October Eid Al-Adha cease-fire proposal, to which both the government and the FSA agreed. The cease-fire was shattered almost immediately by, among other things, terrorist car bombings in Damascus thought to be carried out by the Front. They have claimed responsibility for a vast majority of the car bombings, suicide and otherwise, that have been carried out so far in the Syrian war.

Al-Nusra were described as prominent in the audacious repeated assaults on the border town of Ras Al-Ayn. They were involved in the destruction of an Al-Ikhbaria TV station near Damascus, and later the execution of a news presenter. Al-Nusra were blamed by locals and officials for the twisted Haswiyeh Massacre, also of Jan. 15, in Homs. It seems they operated the alleged bakery (a shipping center, actually) targeted in the Halfaya Bakery Bombing near Hama. They seem to be behind the killing of Shi'ite guards, executives, and workers at the Syrian Petroleum Company's center in Al-Shaddadi, Hasakah province, in mid-February 2012 (see Al-Shaddadi Petroluem Company Massacre)

Jabhat Al-Nusra has been especially active in and around Syria's largest city of Aleppo in the north. They documented themselves executing dozens of army soldiers there in September, 2012. They later declared a "no-fly zone" over Aleppo, threatening to shoot down commercial airliners if they felt they carried weapons. They've been blamed for the Aleppo University Attack of Jan. 15, 2013 (perhaps in part to help underscore the importance of their "no-fly zone"). They were blamed by some for the Queiq River Massacre, in which some 80 or more local men and boys were executed and found in a rebel-held stretch of the Queiq river in Aleppo in January, 2013.

These are examples, and nothing like a comprehensive list.

Balancing Act

Nusra Scale.png

There is a widespread but not necessarily true belief that Syria's rebels turn or will turn to Islamic extremist groups like Jabhat Al-Nusra, due to a lack of Western support, a mangled "Jihad vs. McWorld" conception. The young boy in Syria seen at left, partaking in an early December demonstration in Isqat (far north), apparently understands the perceived problem (unless he didn't really make the sign).

However, it's entirely conceivable, to put it mildly, for the opposition in whole to take the support of both the West and the Jihadists, and use them together for an end more in line with the goals of one side or the other. All the talk of balance might be nothing more than a clever opposition playing supporters off against each other to accelerate a competition of support they can reap profitably on both ends.

US Listing as a Terrorist Group

A photograph published by the Al-Nusra Front to Protect the Levant showing the execution of prisoners in Aleppo

The decision to list the Front as a terrorist organization, thus criminalizing privite support for the group, was announced in late November, during the lead-up to the "Friends of Syria" meeting set for December 12, 2012 in Marrakesh, Morocco. The actual listing by the U.S. State Department came on December 10, following immediately president Obama's extension of recognition to the new Rebel council as the legitimate representatives of the Syrian people. The Christian Science Monitor reported on the move made with "lightning speed":

The speed with which the US government moved to designate a fairly new group that has never attacked US interests and is engaged in fighting a regime that successive administrations have demonized is evidence of the strange bedfellows and overlapping agendas that make the Syrian civil war so explosive. [13]

The State Department confirmed earlier accusations that Jabhat Al-Nusra was a direct offshoot of Al Qaeda in Iraq. [13] One of its more prominent members killed in fighting in January, 2013, was claimed by Jordanian Salafists as a brother-in-law of Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, AQI's onetime leader.

Protest Against the Listing

Many rebels who'd been fighting with Al-Nusra, enjoying its often-stunning successes, and not being too upset with its cruel excesses, voiced displeasure with the decision and protested. As the New York Times reported:

But a growing number of anti-government groups — including fighters in the loose-knit Free Syrian Army that the United States is trying to bolster — have signed petitions or posted statements online in recent days expressing support for the Nusra Front. In keeping with a tradition throughout the uprising of choosing themes for Friday protests, the biggest day for demonstrations because it coincides with Friday Prayer, many called for this Friday’s title to be “No to American intervention — we are all Jabhet al-Nusra.” [12]

Lindey Hilsum, Channel 4 (UK) wrote on the more official response:

“There is nothing wrong with fighting in the name of Islam,” said the coalition leader, Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, a moderate imam, in his speech to assembled ministers and diplomats. He requested the Americans to reconsider their decision.
“We will work with everybody on the ground who has an agenda which includes ending the suffering of the Syrian people,” said Yaser Tabbara, a coalition spokesman. “If al-Nusra is on the same page, they will be dealt with using dialogue and containment.” [14]

Guardian reporter Martin Chulov, a reliable ally of the rebels all along, expressed shock at the protests with the following tweet:

Choking on coffees in Marrakesh: #Syrian oppn leader Khatib asks US to reverse decisn to brand Jabhat al-lNusra terrorists #news

Turkish officials reportedly complained on January 17 that the front should not have been declared terrorists until after the war was over.

Turkey also criticized the timing of Washington’s decision to declare the Jabhat al-Nusra front, an Islamist group at the forefront of the fight against the Syrian government, as a terrorist organization ... while noting U.S. support for Turkey’s efforts to combat terrorism and plans on stopping terrorism financing. [15]

This ironic set of statements came as the Turks planned another enabled border-crossing at Ras Al-Ayn, with Al-Nusrah jihadists driving tanks into the Kurdish town once again on the 18th, [16], and at the same time Turkey arrested 15 prominent lawyers and human rights activists under counter-terrorism laws, allegedly as part of a crackdown on some leftist group.

Relations with Islamic State

The relationship between JaN and the ostensibly rival sectarian-Salafist group Islamic State/ISIS/Daesh - disowned even by al-Qaeda - is complex and not covered much here yet. Soon after its appearance, by November 2013, Daesh was picking fights with JaN and they fought, as if to clarify the point that they were not allies. But consider that on many other occasions, they have freely cooperated in offensives including, for example, the one that yielded the August 2013 Latakia Massacres (some Islamist FSA brigades were also involved there).

Whatever the true relation, it's important how the world and its leaders see the relationship. In some ways, the alarming rise of ISIS sharpened awareness of the general problem of extremist groups proliferating amidst the regime-change campaign. But in the long run, the emergence of this brutal faction with alarming successes has made it, to a large extent, so that any group can be seen as acceptable just by not being ISIS.

At the end of July, 2015, the U.S.-trained and supported anti-ISIS "Syrian insurgent group" Division 30 - the one famously comprising about 60 members - came under attack by Jabhat al-Nusra instead, just days after entering Syria. First they captured the group's leader and another commander plus six soldiers, then launched a military assault on them that required US airstrikes to cover their retreat. No rebels came to their aid. The Times reports current and former senior administration officials considered it "a significant intelligence failure."

While American military trainers had gone to great lengths to protect the initial group of trainees from attacks by Islamic State or Syrian Army forces, they did not anticipate an assault from the Nusra Front. In fact, officials said on Friday, they expected the Nusra Front to welcome Division 30 as an ally in its fight against the Islamic State. ... This wasn’t supposed to happen like this,” said one former senior American official...' [17]

Reuters reports on the earlier abduction here, which the Pentagon first denied. "We warn soldiers of (Division 30) against proceeding in the American project," Nusra Front said in a statement distributed online. "We, and the Sunni people in Syria, will not allow their sacrifices to be offered on a golden platter to the American side." They claim division 30 had been helping call in air strikes against their own positions, which would be unwise to do without plans to then fight al-Nusra, which it seems were absent. The attack began at 4:30 AM on Friday, near Azaz, and killed 5 division 30 members. [18]

Alternate Sponsorship Theories

The accepted sponsorship theory being, like any terrorist organization, Jabhat al-Nusra gets its support from ideologically-aligned private donors and volunteers, and other non-state sources. Presumptively, no responsible government on the face of the Earth would openly embrace an official branch of al Qaeda. So, the "alternate" sponsorship theories will be mainly or totally accusations that certain governments or blocs of them are in fact consciously behind the group or at least its curious success.

Anti-Syrian Alliance Behind JaN

The basic evidence is that Al-Nusra Front, other Al Qaeda and other Salafist Sunni groups and rigades in Syria, are working against the secular Syrian state. In this they are directly supported, most people understand, by elites from the Persian Gulf monarchies, Erdogan's Islamist Turkish government, at one time by Morsi's in Egypt, and by Libya's post-Gaddafi non-government. Despite being listed technically as terrorists by the United States, it and its allies indirectly support al-Nusra in Syria in various ways, including allowing its aforementioned allies to continue their support.

But as awareness increased of how obnoxious the group is, the mouthpieces of the groups' supporters often turned to alternate theiories in which the terrorists are supported by or even created by the Syrian government and its allies, pretty much to make the opposition look bad, it seems. And no one was able stop them from looking bad, the plan was so clever.

This line of thought has had mixed help from the rise of rival Salafist group Islamic State/ISIS/Daesh

Syria or Allies Behind JaN


Iranian Support Alleged

The Treasury department said the Al-Qaeda network in Iran “has facilitated the transfer of funds from Gulf-based donors to Al-Qaeda core and other affiliated elements, including the Nusra Front in Syria.”
“The Iran-based Al-Qaeda network has also leveraged an extensive network of Kuwaiti jihadist donors to send money to Syria via Turkey,” the Treasury added.
  • Business Insider, February 1: Why Is (sic) Iran Letting A Top al Qaeda Operative Pump Fighters And Cash Into Syria? Al-Jazeera video report, picture of Mr. Suri (wanted, $10 million reward), and speculation that Iranian Major General Qassem Suleimani "is personally handling Iran's extensive contributions to the Assad regime and has allowed al Qaeda operatives a degree of freedom in Iran since several arrived after 9/11." But the writer, Michael Kelly, acknowledges "[The] reported arrangement is puzzling, given Iran's staunch backing of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad."

"Yasin al-Suri" is a pseudonym for Ezedin Abdel Aziz Khalil (Wikipedia). Al-Suri, as with Abu Musab al-Suri, seems to mean "the Syrian," as Al-Libi means "the Libyan." Thus, the two prominent al-Suri men are presumably unrelated, and look nothing alike. This one, the Wikipedia article says, has had his reward bumped up to $10 million (becoming one of only three global suspects in that category). It cites a State Dept. briefing as the source for Iran's denial of the "completely baseless" reports that Al-Suri is working with them or is even in Iran. But it's impossible to prove a negative like that, so true or not, if Treasury keeps saying it, it will remain widely accepted as true or, at least, eminently credible.

Created by the Syrian Government?

A rather strange article by Hazem Al-Amin (from Al-Hayat, Jan. 13, 2013, translated and re-posted by Al-Arabiya Jan. 20) seems to make a case that Jabhat Al-Nusra pre-dates the Syrian uprising by decades, and is essentially a creation of the Syrian government, as a "trap" for the opposition. It's quite the conspiracy theory, with no apparent support except arguing that in years past the same was done with "al-Talea" to ensare the Muslim Brotherhood. Some excerpts:

Any attempt at identifying al-Nusra Front with the revolution is supported by the way facts on the grounds are pushed to that direction. The regime has always been doing that so that it could establish al-Nusra as the only available alternative in case the Syrians decide to demand change.
Today the facts that are being revealed prove that the Syrian regime has to be toppled as soon as possible. Among those facts is the way the regime used al-Nusra and similar groups in its conflict with the Syrian people in the 1970s and 1980s as well as in its regional wars, especially with militant networks in Iraq, throughout the past decade. Now it is back to the same strategy through creating of al-Nusra the only opposition faction. Add to this the return of the militants previously sent to Iraq to fight the Syrian regime together with other fighters from Iraq and other countries.
The model of al-Nusra has always served the Syrian regime’s ends and which always revolve around stripping the conflict of its political dimension.

An awful lot of people who seem opposed to the government (regime) have been suckered, if Mr. Al-Amin is the slightest bit correct. All other evidence suggests he is not.

Oil Deals

(forthcoming - anyone want to grab this topic? Just replace this with something link-based...)

Alleged History of Teamwork

One background claim that will play into these accusations is the widely-believed claim that Bashar Assad's government had supported al Qaeda in Iraq when it was fighting American troops, and similar claims that came in especially over the years 2007-2009.

The ranks of Al Qaeda have been fattened in the past three years, once again with Saudi recruits. More than 1,000 Saudis are currently training in a Qaeda camp in Syria, which itself is the subject of contentious negotiations between Saudi Arabia and the Syrians, who still refuse to arrest them or shut down the camp. Young Saudi men are also training in Al Qaeda camps in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran.

Baghdad, 7 Dec. (AKI) - Former al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (photo) was approached by Syrian intelligence services to collaborate with them before he was killed in Iraq, according to a former al-Qaeda operative. "The late al-Qaeda leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, rejected a collaboration offer advanced by Syrian secret services," said Shahada Jawhar, former head of terrorist training for al-Qaeda.
Jawhar revealed the collaboration offer and other details of the internal operations of al-Qaeda in Iraq, in an interview with TV network, al-Arabiya, to be telecast on Friday night. "The secret services sent a mediator who met Zarqawi in 2006 outlining the possibility of obtaining any kind of help, but Zarqawi rejected the offer because he didn't want to fight the Americans for the political interests of Syria," he said. Jawhar said Zarqawi wanted only to defend Jihad, while the Syrians wanted to put pressure on the Americans and avoid opening a new front in the war in their country.
  • the Telegraph reported, on February 4, 2012 "The alleged terrorist mastermind behind the July 7 London bombings is reported to have been freed from a Syrian jail by President Bashar Assad's regime.":
Abu Musab al-Suri had been held in Syria for six years after being captured by the CIA in 2005 and transported to the country of his birth under its controversial extraordinary rendition programme.
But he is now said to have been released as a warning to the US and Britain about the consequences of turning their backs on President al-Assad’s regime as it tries to contain the uprising in the country.
Al-Suri, also known as Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, was al-Qaeda’s operations chief in Europe and has been accused of planning the London bombings, in which four British-born terrorists detonated three bombs on the Underground and another on a bus, killing 52 people and injuring more than 700 others in 2005.
In a move that has never been officially confirmed, the Americans then reportedly turned him over to Syria where he had been held for the past six years in the Aleppo prison, on its border with Turkey.
Quoting local sources, Syrian opposition website Sooryoon.net revealed al-Suri’s release last week.

It said: “The timing of his release raises a lot of questions and observers believe the release may indicate the regime is stopping security co-operation with the Americans and thus releasing all those Washington considers a threat to its interests.” So it's not even certain he ever was handed over to Syria, but presuming he was, reports say he was free by then, on government order. But that's not proven either. And even if it was so, and could be, is this something they decided on just as a "warning," or perhaps as part of some prisoner swap with rebel forces? Those were at the time taking civilians prisoner in drioves in the city of Homs. In fact just as this report came out, 138 apparent male prisoners were killed by rebels in the Khalidiya Massacre. That's a little late to explain this particular release as, say, a prompt (the women and younger children go next, unless...). But it seems likely that stiff negotiations of some type were going on in those particular days. A war with two sides has been unleashed there, and while one side can be imagined to support and use al Qaeda, the other side to some extent is al Qaeda, and this move managed to free a prominent one of their own.


This narrative, to the few deranged minds capable of accepting it, could hyptopthetically clarify the moral picture for them, untangling a murky picture where it's hard to see how there's a "good guy." With Al-Qaeda and its two nasty and nastier offshoots, Assad and his Army and "Shabiha," Iran, Hezbollah, etc. all on one side, damn. Where's the fugitive Serbian massacre commander? The forces of freedom* and human rights, the right reading of Islam, the right banking system, etc. all lined up on the other. Some of them are even actual Syrians. Yeah, if true, this would simplify things. If this were true, only these jointly-supporting forces would need to be overcome for the good forces to prevail:

  • Syria's al-Qaeda army,
  • Iran's al-Qaeda Army,
  • whoever else's whatever else is bad,
  • possibly direct Iranian military,
  • Hezbollah,
  • The Iraqi Shi'ite militias,
  • Syria's air defenses,
  • Syria's air Force,
  • Syria's army,
  • The Popular Committee/NDF "Shabiha" of every city and village of Syria,
  • The police forces of all Syria's cities and provinces
  • "Some portion" of Syria's civilian population (apparently a majority of some degree)

That is, virtually every force on the battlefield will need to overcome by something that, obviously, doesn't exist yet. And it's had three years to try and exist.

Idiocy Refuted

re-posted, by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, from http://www.joshualandis.com Posted 2014-02-12 07:42 GMT. This starts citing several tweets I'd never heard, including "For the first time in 3 years I hear something that makes sense from experts about Syria. Assad regime is helping al-Qa'ida." This "the recent opposition-in-exile's report claiming Assad-ISIS collaboration" I'll need to look up. Tamimi, no Assad loyalist, decided it was time to consider the idea. He cedes that ISIS and al_Nusra have worked to illustrate Syria's point about Takfiri terrorists dominating the rebellion, but he points out the other half of that domination, the Islamic Front, is equally part of that problem, and no one's yet claimed they too were created by Assad. Alleged oil deals are panned, alleged non-aggression pacts. The ISIS obsessive infighting and bridge-burning is addressed as a thing that will cause suspicion. But, Tamimi notes:

As for ISIS' behavior, there are much simpler explanations that do not require resort to conspiracy. One need only look at its name to see what its agenda is and the problems therein: Islamic State. ISIS does not merely consider itself a group (jamaat) or faction (faseel). It believes foremost in the setting up of an Islamic state as the basis for a Caliphate that should encompass the entire world.
Not content with being reduced to mere organizational status, it follows that ISIS believes that it alone has the right to rule, and so it is ultimately not amenable to power-sharing or submitting to independent authority, even with other groups who share its ideology of Caliphate and world domination. That ISIS' top priority is to set up its dream Islamic state in rebel-held areas where it is easiest to establish a presence hardly comes as a surprise. There is no need to explain what it does in terms of being a secret regime agent.--Caustic Logic (talk) 13:49, 12 February 2014 (UTC)

"Khorasan Group"

With the beginning of the US bombing campaign of September 2014, places of a so-called "Khorasan Group" were targeted, of which even experts hadn't heard before.[19] It is said to be a group of Al-Qaeda veterans plotting attacks on Western targets under the protection of the Nusra Front in Syria. Their leaders are said to be:

  1. Abdulmuhassan Abdullah Ibrahim al-Sharj (AKA Sanafi al-Nasr ), wanted Saudi AQ affiliate and recruiter who moved with the group to Syria from the Afghanistan-Pakistan area.
  2. Abdullah Suleiman Salih al-Dhabah, (AKA Abu Ali al-Qasimi),Saudi national, on Saudi Arabia's list of most-wanted AQ members, , waged jihad in Pakistan and Afghanistan before going to Syria, arriving as early as 2011. Killed in the city of al-Bab in Aleppo by a rocket from a MiG plane, SITE said, citing online messages posted by Islamists on Jan. 18.
  3. Muhsin al-Fadhli, long-time AQ financier, on the Saudi most-wanted list. Purportedly killed in recent U.S. airstrikes in Syria between September 22 and 23
  4. Nasir Abdel Karim al-Wuhayshi (also transliterated as Naser al-Wahishi, Nasser al-Wuhayshi), alias Abu Basir, is a citizen of Yemen and the leader of the Islamist militant group Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) [20]

On September 28, Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain observed in a deconstruction of media reports about the group that "once it served its purpose of justifying the start of the bombing campaign in Syria, the Khorasan narrative simply evaporated as quickly as it materialized."[21]

It later surfaced that a main target of those strikes has been a French agent "highly trained in Western intelligence trade-craft and explosives" who defected to the Nusra Front. Apparently the man survived the attacks.[22]

In an Al Jazeera interview in May 2015, Al-Nusra leader Golani said that while there are fighters from Khorasan (a historical name for a region of Central Asia including most of modern Afghanistan) in his organization, there is no such thing as a "Khorasan group" which has only been an invented pretext for the bombing campaign.[23][24]

According to the Pentagon the alleged head of the group has been killed by an air strike in Aleppo countryside in mid-October 2015.[25]

Formal split from Al Qaeda and name changes

Jolani in the video message
Hayyat Tahrir al-Sham emblem
HTS organization in the Idlib pocket[26]

Jabhat Fateh al-Sham

On July 28, 2016, Nusra Front leader al-Jolani announced in his first public appearance that his organization will split from al-Qaeda and change their name to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, the Levant Liberation Front. On the same day, al-Qaeda leader Zawahiri released an audio message in which he gave his blessings to the split if useful for the unity of Islamist fighters in Syria.[7] The changes will not affect the designation of the group as a terrorist organization, according to statements released by both Russia and the US.[27]

Around Aug. 1, 2016, one of Syria's al-Nusra Front commanders appears on CNN to tell why the group has changed its name and split off from al Qaeda - video . The video has since disappeared, but is on CNN website after a commercial.

In this Orient News video (English captions), in the first 7 minutes they state what are they up to; appear to present themselves as similar to any other group and limit themselves to Syria. Published on Jul 28, 2016, and contains the first sighting of the leader.

Hayyat Tahrir al-Sham

Following infighting in Idlib province, in late January 2017 JFS merged with some other groups like the notorious Noureddine Al-Zenki into Hayyat Tahrir al-Sham, while their opponents consolidated under the banner of Ahrar Al-Sham.[8][28]

According to sources, displaying an image with some US State Department announcement in Arabic (example), 'US declared the morphed group a terrorist organization' on March 11, 2017.[29] In early May 2017, the State Department told Canadian media that the March statement was a mistake, has been corrected to "al Nusra Front" and that HTS is, while closely affiliated, not a designated terrorist organization.[30]

US State Department official list has al-Nusra (ANF), does not have Hayyat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), as seen on the web on May 15, 2017. There is a reward for the leader, with reward text (May 10, 2017) stating that he remains the leader of ANF.

By late Summer 2017, after HTS won a "civil war" against Ahrar Al-Sham with many defections to them following, the Russians estimate the manpower of HTS at around 15,000, the majority of 9,000 of them in the Idlib pocket.[31]




  1. Al-Qaeda Announces an Islamic State in Syria - Aaron Y. Zelin, April 9, 2013
  2. Al-Qaeda in the Levant Awaits its Emir – Radwan Mortada, April 11, 2013
  3. Al-Nusra Front Wikpedia. Last modified on 12 December 2012 at 22:53
  4. Why is Jabhat al-Nusra no longer useful to Turkey?, Al-Monitor, June 10, 2014
  5. Turkey removes Al Nusra from 'terror list'!, Firat News Agency, June 18, 2014
  6. Cabinet declares Islamic State, Nusra Front terror groups, Times of Israel, October 25, 2015
  7. 7.0 7.1 Nusra confirms split with al-Qaeda 'to protect Syrian revolution', Middle East Eye, July 28, 2016
  8. 8.0 8.1 Infographics by some pundits on twitter, January 28, 2017
  9. Jabhat Al-Nusra: A Strategic Briefing, Noman Benotman and Roisin Blake, Quilliam Foundation, January 2013 (13 page pdf, 450kb)
  10. Al-Qaeda Advises the Syrian Revolution: Shumukh al-Islam’s “Comprehensive Strategy” for Syria, translated by Cole Bunzel, February 25, 2013
  11. "An interview with Jabhat al-Nusra", Economist (May 23rd 2013). Retrieved on August 13, 2013. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 U.S. Places Militant Syrian Rebel Group on List of Terrorist Organizations By MICHAEL R. GORDON and ANNE BARNARD, New York Times. Published: December 10, 2012
  13. 13.0 13.1 US designates Syria's Jabhat al-Nusra front a 'terrorist' group at lightning speed By Dan Murphy, Staff writer, Cristain Science Monitor, December 10, 2012
  14. Jabhat al-Nusra: Terrorists or opposition assets? Lindsey Hilsum, Channel 4 blog, Wednesday 12 Dec 2012
  15. Al-Assad in his last six months, US estimates Tolga Tanış, Hurriyet Daily News, January 17, 2013
  16. Syria Clashes pit Kurds against jihadists AFP via News 24, January 18, 2013
  17. Rivals of ISIS Attack U.S.-Backed Syrian Rebel Group By ANNE BARNARD and ERIC SCHMITT. New York Times, JULY 31, 2015
  18. Al Qaeda in Syria says detains U.S.-trained rebels By Sylvia Westall and Tom Perry, Reuters, July 31, 2015
  19. What Is the "Khorasan Group" and Why Is the U.S. Bombing It in Syria?, Aron Lund, September 23,2014
  20. https://news.siteintelgroup.com/blog/index.php/entry/290-the-khurasan-group-a-misleading-name-in-the-politics-of-war
  21. The Khorasan Group: Anatomy of a Fake Terror Threat to Justify Bombing Syria, Greenwald/Hussain, The Intercept, September 28, 2014
  22. Sources: U.S. air strikes in Syria targeted French agent who defected to al Qaida, Mitchell Prothero, McClatchy, October 5, 2014
  23. Abu Mohammed al-Golani’s Aljazeera Interview, Video plus English-language summary by Aron Lund, May 29, 2015
  24. Al-Jazeera: Full Translation of the first part of the interview with Abū Muhammad al-Jūlānī, June 1, 2015
  25. Pentagon says Khorasan Group leader killed in Syria airstrike, Middle East Eye, October 18, 2015
  26. Preventing a Jihadist Factory in Idlib, Fabrice Balanche, Washington Institute, August 31, 2017
  27. US and Russia Agree: Jabhat Al Nusra are Still Terrorists, Tony Cartalucci, July 30, 2016
  28. The End Of Mingling - "Moderate Rebels" Join Al-Qaeda In Syria, Moon of Alabama, January 28, 2017
  29. US declares newly merged Syrian jihadist group a terrorist organization, Al Masdar, March 11, 2017
  30. Syria's al-Qaeda affiliate escapes from Canada's terror list, Evan Dyer, CBC News, May 14, 2017
  31. Over 9,000 Islamic State terrorists active in Syria — Russian General Staff, TASS, August 25, 2017